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What NOT to do in an Interview

Being both a recruiter and a career coach, a lot of people ask me how to prepare for interviews. And while the list goes on about basic things TO do, like researching the company, showing up on time, asking good questions, etc., the list of what NOT to do I thought might provide more insight to less informed souls…

Here are five examples of situations that I’ve seen many, many times in my career that automatically go on the What Not To Do list…

  1. Apply for a job then go on vacation, not checking email while you are out and not letting the prospective employer know your availability. Seriously, do you want this job? Trust me, I understand going tech-free during a vacation, but if you are a job seeker, if you decide to apply for a job knowing you’ll be traveling, you’ve got to remember that the rest of the world is still working even while you’re on the sunny beaches of Maui, and rarely will wait for you to put the sunscreen away two weeks later. If you don’t want to respond to employers while you’re out? Don’t apply for jobs until you get back! And by all this, I don’t mean you have to fly back for an interview during a vacation, but you should include your availability on your cover letter if it’s restricted due to travel, and be able to answer their questions, participate in a phone interview, and other preliminary stages in the process. One of my favorite hires was an engineering manager who literally applied for a job while on another continent, as she and her husband were doing an epic road trip, driving from the tip of South America all the way home to Portland. Yet she managed to communicate with us regularly, whether it be by phone or email or Google hangout. ln fact, during the 2 week process, we managed to get her resume in (she had a great LinkedIn profile so it PDF’d nicely into a resume), written prescreen, phone interview with me, and three interviews – all from the road going from South to North America. She told me exactly what days she’d be available, when she’d be able to check emails, and kept me posted on how excited she was about the position as well. By the time she reached Portland? All we had her do was come in and have lunch with the team, and that same week we offered her the job. If she’d have waited til she got home to make time to talk to us? We’d have already filled the position and the match never would have been made.

  2. Ask an employer to interview you outside of normal hours. So you are asking them to take personal time off to interview you for a job with them? Really? Okay, so before anyone freaks out, I’m not saying that you can’t also provide after-hours availability as an additional option, but when you ONLY provide times before 8am and after 5pm or on weekends, you’re seriously disrespecting the interviewer and telling the employer “you need to work around me”. Yes, finding times for interviewing can be a serious pain in the ass, but if you want the job, you get creative, and you find something that MUTUALLY works. Because I’m self-employed, I try to make time on weekends for candidates, and I have had a few managers that are more than happy to do an early coffee or meet for dinner in certain situations, but for the most part? They are working their tails off to not only do their job but also interview a ton of people for the position they’re trying to fill, and expecting them to talk to you when you want them to shows that you are neither flexible nor thinking about the people at the organization you claim you so very much want to work for.

  3. Ask a prospective employer to change the interview time to accommodate your interview at another company. Ooooh lordie. I have had this question asked enough time where it warrants being on this list. Gee, sure I’d love to make it more convenient for our competition, that’d make the hiring manager thrilled as punch to consider you! Everyone doing the hiring wants to think the candidate is actually interested in them, is excited for the chance to work with them, and by saying you want our interview team to change their plans to accommodate you so you can try and impress ANOTHER company instead? Seriously poor taste. (By the way, when a candidate asks me to do this? I say no.)

  4. Advise the prospective employer that you won’t be following the suggested interview dress code because you’re “coming from work and don’t want them to know you’re interviewing.” Oh. My. Gawd. Has no one heard of changing your clothes in a restroom on the way to the job interview? If you’re working in a t-shirt and jeans place and you’re applying for a job where you’re clearly going to need to be wearing a suit, you need to find a way to dress the part. I laugh OUT LOUD thinking about what one of my past VP Sales would have done if one of his sales rep candidates came in not dressed as he would to meet with their clientele. And this goes the other way around as well. If you normally wear a suit, and are interviewing at a startup or other environment where the recruiter lets you know the dress is more casual?  You dress down. You dress for the job you’d be doing at this company, not the job you are currently in elsewhere. I remember when I worked for a big name athletic retailer, and I’d tell candidates, if you want to work here, find a way to incorporate our product in your outfit, and for god’s sake, do NOT wear a suit! Some would happily comply, some would complain they didn’t own anything of ours (gasp…please don’t tell me that if you want to work for a major brand…just go to the store and buy a small thing of ours, for reals), and others would ignore my advice, some actually saying that they would not feel comfortable not wearing a suit to an interview so they overdress anyhow. And then, as predicted, the hiring manager then saw, time and again, that those individuals a) didn’t follow directions, and b) clearly did not know their audience. Trust your recruiter’s advice (and ask for it if you’re not sure), y’all.

  5. Ignore the recruiter’s interview and process suggestions. The recruiter does NOT work for you, remember this! BUT…they can definitely be your partner, and your advocate if you play your cards right. Recruiters will often tell you about how the format of the interview will look, who you’ll be meeting with, how to learn more about the company, team, etc., and make suggestions on what to focus on. Some, like me, will even give you feedback on how their phone interview with you went and what you can/should focus on with the hiring manager. Along with that, many of us will ask you to follow up and let us know how the interview went, and to please keep us cc’d on any communications you do with other members of the hiring team. Listen to me – we don’t do this for giggles. We want to see if you’re listening, if you can follow directions, and set you up for success. We want your honest feedback on how the interview went (not just an “It was fine” answer, by the way), what you got out of it, anything you thought was particularly cool, if you have questions, etc. And we want to be included on communications as we are part of the hiring team. Recruiters are sadly treated by many as glorified secretaries, when candidates don’t realize that they are keeping in touch with the hiring manager throughout the process. We’re not just scheduling appointments. So if you don’t send out thank you notes, if you don’t follow instructions during the process, if you get all high maintenance or whiny or if you’re rude, all that is not only noticed but also gets communicated to the hiring manager. We communicate the good AND the bad, as one learns a LOT about candidates in the interview process that has nothing to do with their qualifications. So pay attention and build that relationship with the recruiter, and I can promise you that it will not only improve your odds but also even if the job isn’t ultimately a fit, there are a lot of recruiters -including myself – who will remember you for that next role at their company, or even when they move on to their next company.

So, are you noticing a pattern?

Interviewing is about positively impressing the prospective employer and showing them you are not only interested in the job, but also can be flexible, collaborative, with a strong attention to detail and a focus on building relationships. Don’t tell the recruiter one thing and tell the hiring manager something else. Don’t go in there unprepared after the recruiter told you where to get more information. Don’t act like you are the shiznit (even if you are) – trust me, we will determine if you’re what we need by how you act AND what you bring to the table.

If you go into the process expecting everyone to accommodate you and thinking you know better than the people who work there? You’re setting yourself up to fail. If you insult the players in the process with your words and/or actions? You’re setting yourself up to fail. And in this job market, employers (and recruiters) are often like elephants. They never forget.

(And I’m not sure if elephants do this, but here in hiring world? They not only don’t forget, they often tell their friends as well.)


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