Sunday, February 24, 2008

What NOT to Say in a Job Interview

Question: What would you say your weaknesses are?

Answer: I talk too much. (What I hear is: I'm going to talk all day and never get anything done.)

Answer: I don't really have any. (Oh, really? And this is based on the 6 months of total job experience? On the limited software knowledge and experience evident on your resume? On the fact that you have somehow attained the perfection that the rest of the world is merely striving for? Oh, and you are looking for a job...why? Because if you are such an incredibly well-rounded and capable individual, you should be able to take the part-time position you are currently working and turn it into a Fortune 500 company in no time at all, right?)

Answer: I don't have any. (Oh, so you know everything there is to know in the field you specialize in and there is no room for improvement or further schooling in any aspect? You have experience and are considered an expert in every sub-specialty? Humble, too, aren't you?)

Of course, that is not what I say, although I do remind people that based on weakness I can see in their background, it might behoove them to recognize those weaknesses and to know what they have done and continue to do to overcome those weaknesses.

Things not to DO in an interview.....

1. Bring in an incomplete application. The application is test #1 of your ability to follow directions and be thorough and display the "attention to detail" you mentioned in your resume.

2. Ask for something NOT offered. If I offer you water, don't ask for a soda.

3. Don't show up more than 10-15 minutes early. Makes me uncomfortable trying to do my work knowing you are out there twiddling your thumbs. If you arrive that early, please find my office and then go hang out in the building lobby or in the car for a few moments if you must.

4. Don't just blow off the interview, assuming it won't matter and that you can simply reschedule later if your plans don't work. Call me. If you cannot find the number, do what one classy lady did and show up to explain in person why you won't be proceeding with the interview process.

5. Don't get defensive with me. Even if you feel some of my questions are trying to trip you up, there may be a reason I am asking. (Of course, I am NOT asking the forbidden questions.)

6. Don't offer me information I did not ask, especially information about your living situation, your sexual orientation, your child-care dilemma, or your breast-feeding difficulties. Save that for Oprah or your best friends. I cannot help but wonder how dependable you are going to be if you are extremely concerned about leaving exactly at 5 to get to day care, or if you cannot work before 9 because of dropping the kids off at school.

7. Do NOT come into my office with perfume or smelly hairspray or other chemical odors. You have no idea whether I am chemically sensitive, asthmatic, or simply hate the smell of your cologne.

8. A breath mint, please! Oh my. A speedy interview it will be if you smell in any way. I am human and don't want to subject others to the kind of odor I find offensive.

9. Women! Professional women do not show up at interviews with black, purple, sparkly, orange other wild colored nail polish. They do not show up in skin-tight attire with cleavage spilling over the top of their shirts.

10. Men! Don't sit too close, lean in too far or choose the "power chair". Beware of body odors. If you must have facial hair, it should be neatly groomed. Do not try to come across too high-powered with the interviewer.

11. Do not be rude or dismissive or abrupt with anyone. Ever. At the least, treat everyone in this office with respect in EVERY contact. People notice when you are rude to the waitress, to the telephone operator, to the janitor and to the parking attendant. Your rudeness speaks more loudly about who you are than your subsequent words ever can.

12. Do follow up after the interview with a polite thank you and express an interest in the job, but do NOT tell me how much you need the job, how you are the sole support of a disabled spouse, etc. That kind of emotional blackmail with likely backfire, even if you do not intend it that way. The more desperate you seem the more uncomfortable I am about your ability to handle the stress of the work environment, no matter how badly I feel about your personal situation.

13. I know you are concerned that your employer not be a jerk about you needing to care for a sick child, but if you ask me about that at the first interview, before there is a job offer, you have let me know that you are not as concerned about doing a good job as you are about your personal life. I need to know that you will not take advantage of my generous spirit or of the supervisor I place you with.

14. Don't bad-mouth ANYONE unless you are prepared to take a bullet for it. (Not literally, of course.) I had someone call and make disparaging remarks about someone I had worked with and considered not just a friend, but someone I respected and admired. I coolly informed the caller of that as she tried to extract her foot from her mouth. Also, you never know the context in which the person you are sitting across from may know that person. They may be a personal friend, a neighbor, someone who sits on a Board of a local charity, or even a relative. Even if they aren't related, or possibly share your dislike of the person, you will receive marks for your lack of discretion. Trust me. I have occasionally opened my mouth when I should have kept it shut, and listened while other people said things they should have kept to themselves.

15. Be prepared for the tough questions. Why did you lose that position? Why did you leave there? Why is your job history so spotty? What have you been doing for the past three years?
If your answers are emotional, practice responses that are true but not too revealing until you can say them comfortably and unemotionally. If you were fired, be upfront about the reasons, but be prepared to discuss what you learned from it (and you better have learned something from it, or you aren't ready to job-hunt.)

What Impresses Me As an Interviewer...

1. A professional appearance and relaxed confidence.
2. Respect for my time.
3. Listening when I speak, just as I will listen when YOU speak.
4. A neatly printed application, and other paperwork COMPLETELY filled out in advance.
5. Present me with a copy of your resume. Ask if I wish to see letters of recommendation and provide me with copies I can keep if I say yes.
6. Follow instructions. If I ask for "supervisory references", or the application requests "professional references", your Shao-Lin instructor does not count, nor does your Mother-In-Law, your best friend from college or your pastor, unless you were the church secretary or bookkeeper.
7. Someone who has done some research on my company (given that I send them a link to my company website when confirming the interview). Given that, it does not show much interest or initiative when you are unaware what kind of company we are.
8. Someone who knows who they are and expresses their abilities, education, experience and work style effectively. Truthfully letting me know who you are may mean that you don't get this specific position, but I may know of another position that would be ideal given all those factors, or I may refer you to another company where I think you would be a good fit. Also, you do not know what I am looking for. There may be something about the position you are unaware of, so you mentioning that you prefer a niche or routine, clearly-defined job may not be the killer you are afraid of. If you say you want an atmosphere where everyone really gets along like family, you better mean that that is a deal-make-or-break for you, as I may know that there is a challenging personality in the mix making you a bad fit. So be truthful, but don't overstate your wants as requirements.
9. A firm (not painful) handshake both on meeting and on concluding the interview. Please excuse yourself from handshakes if you may be contagious. I appreciate it when someone tries to spare me their colds/flu exposure.


1. Does it haf to be sed agin? Mispellins say "I dont car abuot ths job."
2. If you are going for an accounting position, don't go on an on about your pursuit of your degree in biology and your long-term goal of studying sperm whales in their natural environment. I know then that this is a stop-gap job. If this is part of your resume, please explain in a cover letter why you are looking for a particular position while you are attending four years of schooling in the local area.
3. Too much detail. The resume is the advertising teaser not your auto-biography.
4. Too little detail. Remember those ads for ING that were nothing but the letters? Who cared? Weren't we really just annoyed that someone was wasting our time saying something without really saying anything? A resume without any job details ends the process with the trash can.
5. An unrealistic salary expectation. Why are you listing a salary expectation anyway? The salary is something we discuss once there is an offer on the table, after you have peaked my interest and sold me on your stellar abilities and charm.
6. Personal detail. Don't need to know you are married, have four kids, your height and weight, or other such personal details.
7. Don't try to snow me by trying to make your previous job duties sound more impressive and extensive than they were. I know that someone seeking $12/hour did not run the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for instance.
8. Wild colors. Ick!
9. LOSE THE OBJECTIVE! Unless you are exceptionally good (and you aren't) and willing to tailor your objective to each job (and you won't, or you would be L-Y-I-N-G, at least to some). Just leave it. A Skills Summary or Summary of Relevant Experience is much more useful TO ME.
10. If you've done some weird or interesting project as part of a job, do list it. It might be the one thing that keeps your resume out of the trash. I, for instance, have gotten job interviews based on my "Bomb Squad Detail", which consisted of putting on safety gear and walking around a construction sight on two occasions looking for bombs following bomb threats.