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 HR and legal departments 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.”
Not much has changed in the last twenty years. Hiring managers are still usually prohibited from giving honest job interview advice because employers 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 to 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.
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.
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.
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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