A bad job interview won’t score you a position, but it’ll certainly make you stand out. In fact, a dash of eccentricity may even turn you into an office legend. Make too much of a fool of yourself and your story may be retold for years to come, Alina Seagal writes.
Nerves and performance anxieties have led to countless job interview blunders, but those awkward memories fade with time. The truly terrible, however, live on in HR hell — the memories of the employers who were on the receiving end of those interviews. And once you’ve been inducted into the Interview Hall of Shame, there is no escape.
Employers never forget — especially if you asked them out, specifically requested a “relaxing” job or indicated that you might sue them. Do you want that big job? Don’t act like these people.
Don’t hit on the interviewer.
Harcourt Recruiting President Judy Harcourt will always remember the dashing twentysomething she interviewed almost eight years ago. This candidate seemed to have stepped right off the cover of GQ magazine. Presentable, articulate, charming — he was perfect for a sales position at her client’s pharmaceutical company.
That afternoon, the applicant marched through the doors of a hotel conference room. Harcourt’s client, a young entrepreneur sporting a strict navy skirt suit, was there to interview him. But despite the woman’s attempts to distract him, the candidate’s gaze remained somewhere else.
Suddenly, he looked up. “You’ve got great legs! Would you like to go for dinner and dancing with me tonight? Or, we could just go up to your room and order from room service.”
The entrepreneur’s admirer was sent away and another applicant was hired shortly. As for the client, she lived happily ever after — without Mr. GQ.
Lessons learned: Isn’t it obvious? You can’t get much more unprofessional than trying to pick up your prospective employer. The interviewer is there to determine whether you’re suitable for the position — not to fulfill your quest for a date.
Similarly, it’s also bad form to come off as too casual — even though it might not be as bad of a faux-pas as the one our lusty friend committed. An interview is a business meeting, regardless of whether it takes place in a boardroom or coffee shop.
Don’t lie. We’re not kidding.
Karen Cole looked him up-and-down as she went through her regular interview spiel. Here was an average kind of guy — short hair, casual clothes and no smile. Cole, the co-owner of MacDonald-Cole Associates, then transferred her attention to his resumé. He seemed to be drifting between restaurants.
“Why did you leave your last serving job?” she asked, as employers often do.
“Well, my employers were jealous of me,” he said. “I’d walk in and light up the room with my smiles. And my managers didn’t like that everyone would look at me.”
Lost, Cole searched the candidate’s face for a trace of a grin, even the smallest hint that he was kidding or that he knew he obviously wasn’t telling the truth. None came: he sat before her, grave and tense. Ten minutes later she escorted him out. “We’ll call you if we get something,” she said.
Lessons learned: Does this sound like someone you can trust? It may be the case that this gentleman had an extremely deadpan sense of humour, but it’s more likely that he was trying desperately to hide his real reasons for leaving his previous jobs — and it sounds as though his “grave and tense” personality had something to do with it.
Questions about your previous jobs (including your reasons for leaving) are fair game, so it’s important for you to anticipate and prepare for questions such as these. And be honest — there are few things worse than being caught in a lie at the interview.
Don’t be cocky. Young, check. Presentable, check. Confident, check. The recent graduate Dave Lefevre, a chief estimator at Tridel, was interviewing, seemed too good to be true. Lefevre was determined to acquire a stable project coordinator to join his condominium building team.
But like most things that seem too good to be true, this applicant really wasn’t that good.
He sat comfortably in front of Lefevre and initially performed well, but his tone eventually gave the estimator pause. The articulate-yet-cocky 24-year-old all but claimed to be God’s gift to construction.
The revelation came 50 minutes into the interview. “My dad is in this industry too, but he is doing custom housing,” the candidate asserted.
“Oh, why aren’t you working with him then?” Lefevre asked. It seemed a little odd that a recent grad’s father — who obviously understood the demands of the industry — wouldn’t be giving his son a place to start out and hone his skills so soon after he finished school.
But the candidate’s response proved that Lefevre’s suspicions were correct. “Well that’s what I’m planning to do in two or three years. We want to start building condos too.”
He’d just promised to take off after mastering Tridel’s secrets of the trade.
Three weeks later, a more modest Ryerson grad was offered the job.
Lessons learned: The last thing any employer wants to hear is that you plan to use their company to help the competition later on. That’s tacky and unprofessional, not to mention a huge blow to your credibility. If you’re not interested in working for this company, why did you apply?
Speaking of which, no one will be particularly impressed by “I applied because it seems as though you guys pay well.” Show some interest in what the company does — as long as it’s not just passion for cash.
No one wants to be thought of as a stepping stone — can you imagine going on what you think is a serious a date and being told that your companion just wants someone to hang out with for a while until he or she finds a steady relationship?
And remember, the person interviewing you knows more about both the company and the position than you do. Acting as though you’re God’s gift to the opening at hand won’t win you any support. There’s a big difference between confident and cocky.
It’s about more than money.
A formal white shirt, beige pants and a brief case — here was someone who meant business. He cheerfully listed his past job experiences and aspirations to Ashraf Samji, a recruiter with MacDonald-Cole Associates.
As she listened to the middle-aged candidate, she considered offering him a job. He was chatty, friendly and professional — he seemed like a natural telemarketer.
“So, tell me about this last job of yours. Why did you leave?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s complicated,” he said. “We had a few disagreements.” He paused. “And I sued them. Obviously, I had to leave afterwards.”
Samji smiled. “Did you win?” “Yeah, I got quite a bit,” he said. “Quite a bit” turned out to be $20,000.
“So, why are you even looking for a job now?” Samji asked. She wasn’t sure why someone who’d just received such a large cash settlement would be in the market for a business job.
“I am running out of money,” he laughed. “So, tell me a bit more about your company?”
Ten minutes later, the interview was over. As she watched her money-hungry applicant leave, Samji couldn’t help but wonder whether he would sue her company too.
Lessons learned: Don’t give your interviewers reason to believe you’re going to bail after you’ve gotten what you wanted (i.e. money). Unless you come across as a serious candidate, you’re not going to stand a chance in the application process.
Your overall attitude is extremely important. No company wants to hire a candidate who is more concerned about money than about the job itself. (Yes, you’re obviously concerned about money. But hold off on the salary and expense account questions until later.)