Job Interview Advice Hiring Managers Wish They Could Tell You

When I worked in recruiting in the software development industry, job seekers would say things in job interviews that would immediately rule them out for consideration. I was very tempted to give them extensive feedback about how to do better the next time, but my company’s legal department forbade me from doing so. All that I was allowed to say was, “We hired a candidate whose qualifications were a better fit with the position.”

Job Interview Advice

Not much has changed in the last twenty years. Hiring managers are still usually prohibited from giving honest job interview advice because HR and legal departments are concerned about legal liability. So here is the job interview advice that recruiters and hiring managers wish job seekers knew:

Prepare For Job Interviews

These days, job interviews are like gold, so you should treat them seriously. This means you have to prepare for all interviews. Preparation means researching the company, the position, and how your accomplishments and characteristics are a good fit for both. If a recruiter calls you and says that he or she “just wants to chat,” recognize that this “chatting” is really a screening interview. If you don’t feel prepared, schedule a different time to talk. You never get a second chance to make a good impression, so do your best to do well the first time.

All Contact Counts

All contact with the organization counts as a job interview. This includes all conversations with human resource employees or administrative professionals who are helping to schedule your appointment, it includes the time you are sitting in a waiting room making small talk with a receptionist, and it includes any social “getting to know you” events with current employees of the organization. In one situation I heard about recently, it also included the taxi driver who was hired by a company to pick up a candidate from the airport. The candidates didn’t realize that the taxi driver was contracted by the company for these recruiting trips, so some candidates made the mistake of saying negative things about the company while on the ride to their interview. The taxi driver relayed all this material to the hiring manager. When I tell this story, some people get very angry or outraged because they think the candidate’s privacy was violated. That may be the case, but just let me reiterate that everything you do or say in an interviewing process will determine whether you land the job or not.

You Can Tell Me Anything (But The Same Is Not True Of Hiring Managers!)

Hiring managers or recruiters are not your career counselor. With your career counselor, you can be completely honest about your personality and preferences and you can work with your career counselor to identify the best work environments and jobs for you. But with a hiring manager or recruiter, if you admit that noise bothers you or you have trouble meeting deadlines or getting along with bosses, you probably won’t land the job. This is because an organizational decision maker needs to find the best candidate for the opening and it is too risky to hire someone with known challenges in getting the job done. While I don’t condone lying in a job interview, I don’t recommend compulsive self-disclosure, either.

Don’t Admit You Want Career Advancement Next Month

Hiring someone can be a time consuming, energy draining process. Most hiring managers are hoping that if they select a great candidate, they won’t have to turn around and replace that person within a year. When you are asked about your career goals, it isn’t a strategic response to say that you would like to do this job for a year and then move up. Just so you know, most hiring managers are hoping you will be happy with a job for two years or probably longer before you are thinking about the next move.

Prove You’re A Team Player

Job candidates underestimate how much hiring managers care about interpersonal and communication skills. Most of all, hiring managers want to find employees who can get along with other people. This means that when you are preparing responses for potential questions, you should include a lot of material demonstrating previous success in working as part of a team. Achieving results congruent with an organization’s or manager’s business objectives is terrific, and being able to do so while preserving relationships is even better.

Attitude Counts

If a hiring manager has to choose between a functionally brilliant candidate with mediocre motivation and enthusiasm or a candidate with average functional skill but exceptional motivation and enthusiasm, the highly motivated and enthusiastic candidate is much more likely to be the candidate of choice. This is because skills can be taught but attitude is very difficult to change. Don’t be afraid to let your genuine passion for the job shine through. If you are just interviewing for something because it is a survivor job until the economy improves, try to find something about the job that does excite you and focus on that.

Timing Matters

You should ask challenging questions about the job opportunity and the company to decide if the position is right for you, but be careful not to do this too soon before the hiring manager has decided to choose you. If you are still one of 12 candidates and you launch into interrogation mode like an MBA student conducting a case study and looking for weaknesses in the organization’s business model, it will seem a bit premature. First round interviews are not the time to ask about weeks of vacation or employee share of health care costs when the hiring manager is still trying to figure out whether to advance you to the next round of interviewing. Due diligence is essential but be smart about when you do it.

Positivity Is Persuasive

My most important piece of job interview advice is, “Be positive” when you are talking about your career history. Even if the interviewer asks for your biggest failure or your worst boss or anything else that is negative, find a way to spin it so that you come across as a person who is agreeable, who learns from mistakes, and who recovers from setbacks in a positive way. Discipline yourself not to go on and on about how horrible your last boss was or what a bunch of losers were on your last team. It doesn’t take much negativity before the hiring manager will be too afraid to hire you.

“So What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”

Please think of something reflective to say when you are asked about your greatest weakness. Two responses that have been used to death are the, “I’m a perfectionist,” and, “I work too hard,” responses. Even if these things are true about you, hiring managers don’t want to hear these answers for the thousandth time. Dig deeper to find something unique to say, and make sure you can explain how you are overcoming this weakness so that it doesn’t raise a red flag for the interviewer.

Calm Your Anxiety

If you are worried that your nerves might get the best of you, here’s an article I wrote about calming your job interview anxiety.

Conclusion

This job interview advice might seem like common sense to many readers, but the anxiety of interviewing can cause candidates to temporarily forget common sense if they haven’t recently reviewed interview basics. I hope this job interview advice helps you to land the next job you pursue!


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I just had a second phone interview today with (company name removed to protect privacy). After speaking with the managers over the phone, I feel that I have answered all questions the best to my ability otherwise I would’ve made it that far. The interview lasted for about 30 mins the same as the first one. The manager then told me the next step in the process is that they were gonna review all the candidates and get back to me within 7-10 days. Not sure on how to take this because usually when they tell me this I don’t get the job. I’ve been out of work for 6 months now and it is starting to became a hassle with no income. I’ve followed all of the advice that there is and even people telling me that if I made it to the second interview I basically have the job. This is true in some cases but not all. This is the first time since interviewing that I have actually made it for a second interview. I’m more nervous then ever to hear a call back. I’m still actively looking because I could get a job offer while waiting for this position to offer me a job. Keeping my fingers crossed in the mean time. Hopefully I could have a job by the end of the month.

  2. Anonymous, I hope you get the job! I removed your real name and the company where you interviewed because of how many employers Google candidates and I wanted to protect your privacy online. You are doing the right thing to keep job searching while you wait because you never want all your eggs in one basket. If you find that you keep interviewing and aren’t landing job offers, the first thing I would do is find some interview coaching in your local geographic area. If you email me and tell me where you live, I will help you find resources wherever you are.

  3. So I applied for a job position that was currently opened at my previous temp place. I left the temp due to maternity leave. I was told to go back if the job was still active. I’m still on maternity leave but actively looking for full time job and found that my temp company is looking to hire permanent for a different position but within the department that I had worked. I emailed my previous boss that I was interested and was offered a phone interview with the hr. Now, what should I expect from this phone interview? I’ve worked for this same manager and I’ve talked with the hr on a personal level at the time of working as a temp. I just need to know how to treat this interview as and how to prep myself. Not only that I’m a little worried because I went back to the site to see the job description again but it said the job is no longer available at this company. I’m not sure what that means but I still have a interview with them next week. It’s a small company so I’m hoping that it gives me a better chance to get the job!

  4. S.C., treat this interview like any other interview. It is a common job search mistake for internal candidates or people who already know the boss to fail to sell themselves well because they assume the boss knows their strengths already. To prepare, review the job description and plan how you will describe how your accomplishments match each requirement. If you didn’t save the job description, you can probably find it again by using Google and locating a cached copy. Good luck!

  5. I did save the job and it actually took me to the site that I found the job. It still shows the job posting and the description but it also shows that the job is no longer available at the company that applied. I’m assuming that they mean that the job may be filled. But yes, I assumed that I should treat it as any other interview! Thanks for the advice!

  6. Why do some companies have hiring banners or advertise for over a month? I don’t get the productivity of this since some of these companies interview on the spot then want you to take an online assessment, it seem such a waste of time for everyone in the situation if they are only creating a candidate pool of people for one position.

  7. Lo, I don’t know why. I assume there is some sort of delay between when the hiring managers ask HR to take down the job ad and when it actually gets done. Or if the company isn’t large enough to have an HR department, maybe recruiting gets added to someone else’s job responsibilities and it isn’t a priority to maintain the job postings as up-to-date.

  8. How are former entrepreneurs viewed by hiring managers? I hear not well so I changed my title from director to manager but nothing resulted. I am long term unemployed now (1 year +) and need something more than a commission sales job so am considering giving up and heading overseas.

  9. Josh, it really depends on the hiring manager and the culture of the organization. Some hiring managers are threatened by entrepreneurs, for sure, but others appreciate the initiative and innovation that many entrepreneurs bring to the table. The challenge is to convince the decision-makers that you can work well as part of an organization that you didn’t start.

  10. An interview is always a 2 way street, I OBSERVE completely how the people are there, and the style of the interviewers as it CONVEYS a lot about the company, some people fit in on a slow pace and medium pace, some crave the fast pace, it has to be a fit.

  11. I interviewed the company A about a month ago, the meeting went very well. However according to the hiring manager that they want to meeting as much candidate as they can since the position is not time concerned. So I sent a follow up email last week, and he replied that they are still screening candidates, haven’t made any decision for the 2nd round yet. Meanwhile, I interviewed company B, but the opposite is that they need to fill out the spot immediately. So I am scheduled for the 2nd round next week. My question is: should I tell A that I am currently on the 2nd interview with B, in order to speed up company A’s interview process?

  12. Bob, it can’t hurt to mention it to Company A but you’d have to be very careful about how you do it so that you don’t annoy them – you could say something like, “You’re my first choice but I am in an interview process with another company who said they are planning to hire soon. Should I contact you to let you know if I’m put in a position of having to decide quickly?” It might not result in the outcome you want but if you don’t say something, the odds are that the timing won’t work out.

  13. Anonymous 2 says:

    I interviewed face to face with a hiring manager about 3 weeks ago. I followed up with a thank you email and received no response. I followed up with another email to the hiring manager and the HR recruiter wrote me back and said they were still hiring and would let me know when a decision is made. This seems like a blow off. Would you agree?

  14. Anonymous 2, it could be a blow off, but it could also mean the company has a very long and thorough recruiting process. I would touch base in a non-threatening way every few weeks, “Just checking in as I remain confident I would be a good fit for this position…” AND I would look for other opportunities in case this one doesn’t pan out.

  15. Michael says:

    After final interviews with 9 different people which include 2 division presidents 4 VPs and 2 managers and senior recruiter, I was told to have feed back in next 4 days. This is what I received from the senior recruiter ” I should have your feed back next week Tuesday or Wednesday, give me several options and lets coordinate time.” What does it means? do I have the job? please help ASAP

  16. Michael, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the job but that the recruiter wants to continue the conversation. I would follow the instructions to give the recruiter a choice of a few times on Tuesday or Wednesday to talk and see what the recruiter has to say.

  17. Moranga_H says:

    I interviewed with the hiring manager on June 1st and it was very positive and was told they are in a rush to fill the position, June 5 was contacted to submit for background check which I did on the same day, few days later the recruiter contacts me to tell me the process is going well and that I am a top candidate for the position. A week after that I send the recruiter an email to check on the status of my application, he told me that the hiring manager told him again that I am a top candidate for the position but she hadn’t made a decision yet… Thoughts?

  18. Moranga, it is hard to know what is happening but I would wait a couple weeks before contacting them again AND I would continue to job hunt in case this offer doesn’t materialize. When you contact them in two weeks, keep the tone light and casual, “I am just checking in,” and if it drags on indefinitely, it likely means they are leading you on and the probability of a job offer might not be high.

  19. I had a phone interview a few weeks ago with a company that outsources their employees to major corporations. I then had a phone interview with the corporation and they immediately hung up and called the outsourcing company and informed them they wanted to get me in ASAP for a face to face interview, two days later I was informed by the outsourcing company that the major corporation hired someone they interviewed directly. Today I get a call from the outsourcing company the individual hired was a no show, and the corporation now wants to interview me again. How do I capitalize on the fact that the major corporation for lack of a better phrase”chose the wrong candidate” and is now back peddling to fill the position. I know I need to conduct myself as if this hadn’t happened but I would like to know if there is a positive way to spin it?

  20. Andy, I agree with your proposal to conduct yourself as if this hadn’t happened. Taking the high road is a great strategy. I would focus on making the case that you are an excellent fit for the job and ignore their recruiting disappointment with the other candidate.

  21. I’m hoping you’re still available to answer questions and give advice even though this post is a year old! Maybe there is a more appropriate article to ask this question in but I can’t find any.
    I just had my first job interview (I’m 19) ever this past Tuesday. Wednesday I personally delivered thank you letter, and this morning they called to say I was selected and to go tomorrow morning to accept the job offer and fill some forms. Since I have no experience or anyone to give me orientation on this, and I can’t find much information about it online I need your help.
    Am I supposed to write an acceptance letter the way I did the thank you? What do I say in it? Do I have it typed and printed by the time I need to see them tomorrow? I’d really appreciate a response, I want to do my best, this is going to be my first job and I want to follow through the correct process.

  22. NormaG, congratulations on landing the job!

    Companies have different policies on how they want job offers to be accepted. Since in your case, they asked you to go in person to fill out forms, take a typed letter that says simply, “I am happy to accept your job offer to start as a (title) on (start date).” So if you were going to be a Customer Service Representative starting September 1, 2015, the letter would say, “I am happy to accept your job offer to start as a Customer Service Representative on September 1, 2015.” Note that many companies have a letter already prepared that outlines more details about the job and they will ask you to sign that letter. If this happens to you, sign the offer letter rather than offering your own.

    Hope this helps.

  23. Question –
    I just met an employer for an in person interview. Now I was called in to meet the staff members next week. What should I expect? Should I bring cookies? I know they are trying to make sure the staff members will work well with my personality…
    Thanks

  24. Mo, no need to take cookies. Just go to the second interview and be prepared to answer questions about your work style and the job.

  25. Good day. I was hired in a company on the same day of my interview. It was a one day hiring process. They asked me to submit the requirements that their company needs and I was able to submit all the requirements after 2 working days. The recruiter told me that the processing of my papers would take long and she doesn’t know when will the process could be finished. They would just let me know when will I start then told me that it is rest assured that I’m hired. After 5 working days I haven’t heard from them, is it time for me to follow up? If yes, how could I tell the recruiter? Thank you for the answer. It will be a great help.

  26. Jes, I think it is fine to follow up but just try to do so in a pleasant, friendly way. Something like, “Hello. I am writing to follow up to see if there is any news about my start date. I can be reached at (insert your contact info).” Either leave a voice mail or send an email, depending on what contact info you have for the recruiter.

  27. Hi! I just came across this blog and loved the advice you gave out so far. Is it possible to get your insight?

    I made it through the phone interview and two in-person interviews. I was told that the second in person interview would be the final one – especially since it was with the president of the company. I was told I would hear hiring decision within a week. The week passed and they asked me to come in for a third in person interview. Is this most likely an offer meeting, or “an actual” interview? And how would I prepare if it’s another interview and not an offer – I already asked all the questions I wanted to know in the last interview I had.

    Any advice, insight, help would be appreciated. Thank you!

  28. Hello, Nervous, since there is no way to know whether the next meeting will be an additional interview or an offer meeting, the safest strategy is to prepare for both. You can always find more questions to ask by Googling: questions to ask at the end of an interview. Some of the best are: How would you describe this company’s culture? What do you like best about working here? In the first 90 days on the job, what would be the most important priorities for the person you hire? Is there anything else I can tell you about myself to help you make a hiring decision? What is your timeline for making a decision?

    To prepare for an offer meeting, decide your strategy for negotiation. For professional level positions, I recommend asking for the offer in writing and asking for a day or two to review the details before accepting.

  29. I had a phone interview with the HR person and it went well. The hiring manager then asked me to send my transcripts and degree info. I got an email back about a week later that they want to fly me out to do a face to face interview in a week. I am in Indiana- the job is in Connecticut. Even though this is s fairly large company, I would think that they would limit the number of individuals that they fly in for interviews. What are your thoughts on this? It is a managerial position in a very specific field, so my assumptions are there are not many local candidates.

  30. Sarah R., while we can’t know for sure, I would make the same assumption as you. Flying people cross-country for interviews is expensive so they are probably doing that with only a limited number of individuals.

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