INTERVIEW WARNING: Don’t Say (or Do!) Anything Stupid!
Who among us has never said or done something so ill-advised (read: STUPID!) that we wish we could immediately take it back? A very human occurrence, unfortunately. And in most circumstances the backlash from our words or actions is usually limited to brief embarrassment and chagrin. Not so when it comes to a job interview, though.
Putting your mouth in gear before completely engaging your brain during a job interview, or taking (or failing to take) certain actions can—and quite often does—result in being summarily dismissed from further consideration. Let me give you some recent, real examples of what I’m talking about here.
The ‘Insensitive’ Candidate
Today, most people are highly sensitive to both implicit and explicit “categorization” based upon nothing more than, at worst, latent prejudices, or at best, just extremely poor judgment in word choices. Detractors usually refer to this as “political correctness,” of course. Realists understand that it’s simply a matter of all of us wanting and deserving respect as human beings. Here is a case in point.
During the warm-up phase of a job interview, which took place just before Christmas, a candidate (a man) was engaging in small talk with the hiring manager (a woman). The hiring manager commented that she had more presents for one of her children than for another. She said that she therefore had to get additional presents to even out the number of presents between the two children. Here is how the candidate responded to that comment:
“You just feel that way because you’re a woman. Women are always more sensitive to that sort of thing than men.”
An “innocent” response? Perhaps. An extremely ill-advised response because it at least implied a sexist attitude on the part of the candidate? Absolutely. The result? The candidate was eliminated from further consideration because he was deemed to be too “insensitive.”
Now, I know what some of you (particularly some of you men) who are reading this post are probably thinking: This woman (the hiring manager) is the one with the “sensitivity” problem! She was being too sensitive, too “touchy.” Maybe, but probably not. Historically, women have experienced—and continue to experience—inequalities, and oftentimes, gross inequalities, in the workplace. In my opinion, the fact that women have become much more sensitized and resistant to being categorized solely on the basis of gender should not be surprising, it should be expected!
The Flippant Candidate
There is certainly nothing wrong with a candidate employing humor to make a good first impression during a job interview. As a matter of fact, the use of humor by a candidate during an interview can be very effective. But, in order for it to be effective, the candidate must ensure that his or her statements are perceived as being humorous by the hiring manager. Plus, it must be introduced at the appropriate times, in the proper tone and in the proper context. Otherwise, an attempt at humor can easily come across as—and be perceived as—mere flippancy. The result usually will not be laughable. Another case in point:
As the job interview was winding down, the candidate was asked this rather common end-of-interview question:
“Where do you see yourself in, say, five years?”
Unbelievably, here was the candidate’s deadpan, one-word answer:
Ironically, if the candidate had followed this inane statement with a laugh, or even a comment such as, “just kidding,” he might have been able to salvage his candidacy. But he didn’t, and as a result, his comment was perceived by the hiring manager as flippant and his attitude as being haughty and lacking the necessary degree of seriousness the hiring manager sought in a successful candidate.
The ‘Prima Donna’ Candidate
Few people can easily tolerate someone with a “prima donna” or a “playing hard-to-get” personality. That goes at least DOUBLE when it comes to a job candidate. I mean, after all, if you were hiring someone, would you seriously consider a person with such a personality? Let me assure you, hiring managers definitely do not and will not! Here is the final case in point.
This fortunate candidate actually had an offer on the table for the position she sought. No immediate response or reaction to the offer. And after five days . . . still no response or reaction to the offer! What’s up? the company inquired of the candidate. Did you in fact receive the offer? Well, yes, the candidate responded, she did indeed receive the offer. Her explanation for the unusual delay in responding?
“I am still mulling it over,” she said.
Not surprisingly, the hiring manager, who was somewhat desperate to fill the position, said she was “dumbfounded” and not just a little “flabbergasted” by the candidate’s action, or more precisely, her inaction. If the candidate felt she needed more time to fully consider the offer, she should have at least have requested that time shortly after receiving the offer, the hiring manager said. Certainly, a reasonable expectation.
The result of the candidate’s waffling? The offer was summarily rescinded and the job candidate was immediately back to square one in the job hunt. All quite unnecessary and all quite avoidable, if the candidate had just acted more professionally.
Unfortunately, the three examples featured in this post of how candidates are sometimes their own worst enemies during a job interview are hardly isolated incidents. Most hiring professionals can tell similar (an even more outrageous!) stories of how otherwise intelligent, highly qualified men and women sometimes seem to go out of their way to undermine their own career success.