… know when to say “I don’t know…”

Our candidate was as perfect a fit as we were ever going to find. Our client needed a great candidate but also insisted upon a very technical background. It had taken us 67 days to find the guy and he made it through the first interview with flying colors. Eight people had preceded him and all failed.

Candidate calls and says, “I nailed this… I’ll get this offer.” We warned him that he could never let his ego get bigger than his game and he just needed to keep on interviewing well and then gracefully, humbly get the job. He was feeling pretty strong about being the only one of many candidates who got through the initial interview and went into the second interview with a panel feeling really confident. Well, as we’ve discussed before, a panel interview is totally different than a one-on-one interview. But that didn’t turn out to be the problem.

The problem came when one of the members of the panel asked him a relatively technical question that, in reality, had no real answer. The guy that asked the question was trying to show off among his peers. Our candidate took the bait and just started talking and talking and talking and talking. He knew in his heart that he really didn’t have the answer and was simply trying to baffle them with bull shit. Everyone in the room, including our candidate, knew exactly what he was doing. This all happened yesterday.

We’re not sure what’s going to happen. We haven’t been able to get feedback from our client. The people in the company know how hard these kinds of candidates are to find and, if they have any sense, they will still try to hire the candidate.

But the lesson loud and clear is: don’t act like you know something when you don’t. When you don’t know the answer simply say, “I really don’t know.” Trying to BS your way through an interview will only lead to disaster.


It happened twice this week, and happens all the time. Candidates are asked a reasonable question and give not only Too Much Information, but way too much information and it ends up costing them the job. We had a well-qualified candidate for senior-level inside sales manager’s job. She made it past the first interview and when she went to the second interview for some reason or another she felt compelled to explain to the female hiring manager why she wore a wig. It was a very expensive wig and unless you look closely you couldn’t even see that she wore one. She went on and on, according to the hiring authority, for five or 10 minutes about the condition of her hair. It had absolutely nothing to do with the job… nada! On top of thinking that the conversation got weird, the hiring authority totally lost interest in the candidate. And what’s worse, the candidate didn’t even detect it.

The second situation had to do with a very well-qualified V.P. This guy is in his late 40’s and has 20 years of solid experience and you think you would know better. Somewhere in the conversation with the CEO of one of our clients, he started talking about all of the problems he was having with his 16-year-old. Now most of us who have raised kids know parents always have problems with a 16-year-old, especially a male 16-year-old. For some crazy reason our candidate felt so relaxed with the CEO, he told the CEO about his kid’s problems at school, his kid’s challenge with hanging around the wrong kinds of other kids and, can you believe this, his kid’s drug problem. End of interview! Although the CEO had a tremendous amount of empathy for the candidate’s situation he didn’t feel comfortable at all hiring someone who might be so distracted by his 16-year-old that he might not travel or work like he should.

Some years back, we had a very accomplished female candidate. She had recently gone through a rather ugly divorce and didn’t mind sharing her woes over the divorce with prospective employers. We warned her not to do this under any circumstances. Many people however in situations like that can’t help themselves. She made it past three interviews with one of our clients and was a finalist. In fact, we were told it was hers to lose. In the final interview with the executive VP she ended up telling her personal story. After the interview she told us that even though she had gone into her personal story more than she would like, the hiring VP totally understood her situation. The executive VP told our candidate that she had recently gone through the same kind of ugly divorce and they spent 20 minutes commiserating. Our candidate knew that, this time, talking about her ugly divorce only helped her, because the executive VP really understood and empathized with her because he executive VP had just gone through the same kind of ordeal. Unfortunately, she was totally wrong. The Executive Vice President wasn’t going to hire her because, according to the EVP, she knew what a basket case someone is when they go through that kind of thing and since it had just happened to her she knew, from experience, that a person going through that ordeal wouldn’t be focused for at least a year.

Here’s the lesson:Don’t give TOO MUCH INFORMATION !!!It will work against you

“We Just made a mistake in hiring the last person and we don’t want to make another one”…”


When a job seeker hears this from a prospective employer, he or she had better be prepared for an arduous interviewing process. In fact, this kind of situation where a company has started to replace what they consider to be a big hiring mistake is the hardest interviewing environment that a job seeker can experience.

Hiring authorities are so afraid of making another hiring mistake, they start operating from fear of loss rather than vision of gain. They are so obsessed with the fact that they made a mistake, they start thinking of ways they (think) will keep them from making another one. The first mistake they make is they keep telling themselves, and candidates, “We don’t want to make a mistake… We don’t want to make a mistake… We don’t want to make a mistake…” It becomes a mantra that they keep saying over and over before every interview and before every conversation about hiring a new person. The second thing they do is to contrive more “steps” in the interviewing process, thinking that if more people interviewed the candidates they wouldn’t make a mistake. The truth is that more people involved in the interviewing process does not decrease the probability of making a poor hire. In fact, having more than three people involved in the interviewing and hiring process increases the odds of hiring a “safe” candidate but not necessarily a better one.

Recently we had a client get 16 people involved in the interviewing process for a major accounts salesperson. They had made such a disastrous mistake in hiring the last person, they figured if 16 people were involved in the interviewing process, they wouldn’t make another mistake. There are very few candidates that will be liked by 16 people, especially if the previous employee was a big mistake. I have now been interviewing for three months, primarily because the logistics of getting 16 people to interview one candidate is a nightmare. Nobody in the organization has guts enough to say, “This is stupid. We’re never going to get anybody hired this way.” Another client we have recently worked with… a $250 million company… has the CEO do a final interview with everyone the company is going to hire. They were applying this idea to inside sales/business development people (even after six interviews). The CEO travels worldwide and he’s gone a lot. In the last six weeks they have lost hiring three really good candidates because the CEO simply isn’t  around to speak with the candidates, even by Skype, and the candidates have moved on to other opportunities. They had made two recent mistakes in hiring business development reps and they figure this is the way to keep it from happening again.

Another strategy companies have after they’ve made a disastrous hiring mistake is to “hire” third-party consultants to interview the candidates or come up with a battery of tests and assessments for the candidates to take. At least that way, if they make a hiring mistake, they can blame someone else instead of themselves or say, “Well, she did really well on the tests.”

Enduring this process can be a nightmare for a candidate. First of all, the candidate needs to be damn near perfect. Since there are very few “perfect” candidates, most candidates that are well-qualified and should be considered get eliminated. When a candidate knows that they are being interviewed for a position recently vacated by a “hiring mistake” he or she should expect a difficult process. Whatever risk factors the candidate may have will be accentuated and magnified at least 10 times. Getting frustrated over this will not do any good.

So, if you’re a job seeker and you’re pursuing a job vacated by a “mistake,” be prepared. The proctology exam will be long and painful.


Ned: “I just made a mistake in the job I have now and I don’t want to make a mistake again.”

So, we get Ned an excellent interview. We warned him when we interviewed him that he was focusing so much on “not making a mistake” and that he wasn’t selling himself in the right way. He kept going over and over and over the fact that he had made a mistake and he didn’t want to make a mistake again. We totally understand Ned’s situation. When anyone makes any kind of mistake, especially in taking a job, they don’t want to make another one.

Unfortunately, Ned went into the hiring authority and, according to the hiring authority, “he interviewed me. He had a whole list of 15 or 20 questions that he asked me before I got a chance to even interview him. Apparently, he made a mistake in his last job and he is so worried about making a mistake again, he interviewed me. I’m not interested in him.”

The lesson here is real simple. No matter how much of a mistake you made in the last job decision you made, you have to focus on interviewing well for the next job. You have to sell your features, advantages and benefits to the prospective employer. If you sell yourself well enough, the organization will give you every reason in the world that you should… or shouldn’t… go to work there.

Ned got so wrapped up in protecting himself that he didn’t interview well. What’s even worse is that when we mentioned this to him in a follow-up conversation after we spoke to the employer, he further justified the way he approached it by saying that, “he just couldn’t afford to make a mistake again.”

Ned isn’t going to get hired by anyone if he keeps approaching interviews in this manner.

… Spiritual virtues in your job search

No matter what anybody ever tells you there is a spiritual side to our job search. There’s a spiritual side to every human endeavor but the job search is often so traumatic that it’s important for us to “feed” our spirit while we are searching for a job. Along with the emotional ups and downs of a job search, a person’s spirit is affected by the difficulties the body and mind go through. In speaking about feeding our spirit it’s really important to be reminded of  the four cardinal virtues.

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and choose the right means of achieving it. No matter how difficult the job search can become with phenomenal instances of rejection and refusal, we have to be convinced that good will come of it. That’s really easy for someone else to say about our personal circumstances. When a person’s been out of work for six months or so and just can’t seem to get a break in finding a job, trying to find the “good” in their experience is hard to justify. But it is there. Even if for no other reason than to keep us humble there can be good in the experience.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good. This is one of the most important virtues the job seeker has to pray for and practice. The firmness in difficulties… the difficulties of either being out of work or having to find a job when you already have one… the difficulties of being rejected so many times that you can’t count them… the difficulties of doubt, uncertainty and fear… and still have the firmness to continue on looking for the good.

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. In the job search it is temperance that keeps us from going to play golf when the weather is nice when we know we should be on the phone trying to get an interview. It is temperance that keeps us on track with our routines daily to ensure we do all of the things we should be doing to get a job. Its temperance that keeps our ego and anger in check when things don’t go our way.

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will give due to God. This is a really hard virtue to come to grips with, especially when you’re looking for a job and it’s been a long hard road. For some reason, we all expect justice and fairness on this earth. Life isn’t fair nor is it Just. Justice is in God’s hands. Searching for fairness and justice in this life, especially regarding a job search is futile. Understanding that releases us emotionally from the emotional drain of the rhetorical question of “why isn’t life fair?”

Seeking to practice these virtues in our hearts and minds makes our job search… and life.. a little easier.



Have No Expectations About Outcomes

One of the most discouraging aspects of a job search is for job seekers to continually get disappointed about the unsuccessful outcomes of their activities. When they don’t get an interview they get frustrated. When they do get an interview and don’t do well on it and get rejected, they get frustrated. When they are told that they are a great candidate or when they come in “second” and are chosen, they can get downright mad. In fact this may be one of the biggest reasons people stopped looking for work. They are so frustrated at the outcomes that didn’t live up to their expectations, they quit.

We should look to the example of elite athletes to find that they have no expectations for outcomes. They do, and I repeat, do have expectations for their own performance, but they do not have expectations for the outcomes. A batter doesn’t go to the plate thinking about winning the game. An elite basketball player doesn’t shoot the ball worried about winning the game. They focus on their own expectation of themselves doing their best and letting the score, the result, take care of itself.

Job seekers would have a lot less emotional strain if they had no expectations about outcomes. They should have expectations of their own ability to get a lot of interviews. They should have expectations about their ability to perform really well in initial interviews, but no expectations about moving beyond the initial interview. They should have high expectations of themselves to perform well on secondary interviews, but no expectations about why they did or didn’t go beyond the secondary interviews. They should have high expectations of themselves being able to negotiate a job offer, but no expectations about getting the job offer. If jobseekers have expectations about outcomes, they will spend most of their time being emotionally flattened.

Maximizing expectations of ourselves and minimizing the expectations of the results allows us to channel our emotions toward what we can control and not lose energy over what we can’t control.




Spiritual Beings Acting Human

Let me share with you a practical way of “giving”…and the wonderful return.

It was Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit philosopher who wrote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” In the everyday world, our human experience and being human seems to grossly overshadow our desire to reach the higher level of spirituality. In fact, people are a pain in the butt… and so are you!

Unfortunately, most people in a job search are going to painfully “experience” the human side of lots of people…the pain in the butt side. And that human side ranges anywhere from insensitive to downright rude. These are the people, hiring authorities, interviewing authorities, even friends of yours…anyone you encounter in the job search, who don’t return your calls, leave you hanging with the statement, “We’ll get back to you” and never do, or tell you what they think at the moment that turns out to not be the truth…(lie!), like, “You’re perfect for this job…” and then after the interview, perpetual silence.

You know that you are vulnerable; looking for a job is very emotional and difficult…you are sensitive to what people tell you and how they treat you…and often, it just isn’t nice. It’s very hard to deal with and almost impossible to understand from your point of view. You are sensitive, often times, downright afraid. You take it all personally.

By recognizing that these people are spiritual beings acting human, it will be easier for you to be kind, patient, understanding and even forgiving. Your anger and frustration is understandable. Realize that these people are often bumbling through their lives the way many others, including you, are.

By recognizing that they are “acting human” you will feel better. It might make you more sensitive to the times that you are more human and spiritual.



Holy Indifference….a great approach to the job search


…Holy indifference….St. Ignatious of Loyola describes it as

…A complete indifference with regard to all created things, not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, a long life to a short one…

The concept is that one accepts things just the way they are…being respectful, accepting, reverent…yet holy.

It is the spiritual equivalent of being peaceful with what you get rather than seeking happiness in getting what you want…

How does this apply to your  job search…well, it teaches you to accept the rejection, refusal, neglect and disrespect you perceive you are getting from companies and individuals you are trying to go to work for…folks you have interviewed with …who have lied to you about getting back to you…about hiring you…with holy indifference.

You do your best at getting interviews, performing well on them, selling yourself as hard as you can…then accepting the results with grace, and, yes…holy indifference..

It makes looking for a job a lot easier…soon you focus on the process and not the result…you even accept a new job with holy indifference.

…how to find out how you stack up

this is so simple it’s almost stupid and very few candidates do it. This idea applies not just on finding out where you are in the order of interviews, but also applies in finding out how you stand in the whole interviewing process. A few examples will give you the idea and a good candidate just needs to remember to practice them, then execute.

these questions are not as effective when you are dealing with an interviewing authority. They are most effective with actual hiring authorities. Now, you can ask somebody in the HR department whether you’re the first or last candidate to be interviewed, but it probably wouldn’t matter that much. But asking the real hiring authority where you are in the interviewing process does make a big difference. Most candidates are not going to have the courage to ask and if you do, the hiring authority will have a lot more respect for you.

so, when you go to make the initial interview with the hiring authority you simply ask, “Mr. or Ms. hiring authority, how many people are you interviewing and in what order of the process am I?” As we discussed in the last post, if there are number of people in the process and they are being interviewed over a long period of time it certainly would be appropriate to ask the hiring authority, “if I may, Mr. or Ms. hiring authority, I’d like to go last in the interviewing process. Would that be possible?” Most hiring authorities will accommodate you, especially since you will probably be the only one to make this request.

if the hiring authority asks you why you would make such a request, it certainly doesn’t hurt to say, “well, once you have seen a number of the people on the market for this position you will better be able to make an evaluation of my abilities and experience. you will also be able to give me feedback as to how I stack up with the other candidates.”

At the end of the interview, especially the initial interview it is very appropriate to ask at least these three questions:

“do you need any clarifications about my experience or my background as to how it fits this particular job?”

“How does my experience and ability stack up with the other candidates that you have interviewed?”

“What, in your opinion, do I need to do to get the job?”

These are very bold questions and most people don’t have the courage to ask them. Mainly because they don’t want to be rejected. For some crazy reason people want to postpone being rejected. Remember, if you’re in a job search “no” is the second best answer you can get. And if the answer is going to be no, the sooner you get it the better soon you can move on to other opportunities.

the parting thought on these questions has to be that they take practice. No matter who you are, unless you are interviewing on a weekly basis, you aren’t used to asking these questions and will be reluctant to do it unless you practice them in mock interview situations with your spouse or a friend. A savvy hiring authority will admire your courage and you will find out really quickly where you stand in the interviewing process.

… is it best to be first or last in the interviewing process

We had caller on our radio program this week who asked, “Is it best to be the first or last in the interviewing process?” He was referring to the initial interviewing process and went on to add that he wanted to know whether it is best to be first or last in the follow-up interview process, as well. This is a really good question. It’s been my experience in the last 43 years of seeing people get hired:

If you know the initial interviewing process is going to be short, like all in one day and there are going to be no more than four candidates interviewing, it probably doesn’t matter whether you are the first or the last. Some people say that it is best, in this situation to be first because you “set the bar.” Others will say it is best to be last, because of the law of recency that will be discussed in a few minutes. But, my experience has been that even being in the middle is fine because if you interview well enough (and that is a big if for lots of people) and you show yourself to be an excellent candidate, your succession in the intervening chain  won’t matter. The thing to do is, as you set the interview, ask the hiring authority how many people he or she is going to interview and over what period of time. We will discuss this next week, but asking these questions is as important as jockeying for position in a group of interviewees. Most hiring authorities will be more than happy to tell candidates about the  people they have interviewed or plan to interview and a candidate can make his or her decision about asking to be a particular position at that time.

The biggest challenge of being first or last in the initial interviewing process comes when the interviews take place over a longer period of time. I’ve been involved in initial interview processes that take from one day to seven or eight months. If the candidate knows that the initial interview process is going to be greater than any one or two day period of time, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to request being the last one interviewed. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is the law of recency. It simply states that people remember best the most recent candidate they have interviewed. If a candidate interviews reasonably well, he or she is looked upon more favorably than the other candidates. (Candidates who interview poorly will certainly be remembered but that memory won’t be positive.)

The second reason is that as most hiring authorities move through the intervening process they get a better idea of what they are looking for relative to the talent that might be available. They, therefore, are a little more realistic about evaluating candidates and are more likely to be positively impressed with the fourth or fifth candidate over two or three weeks than they would be if the candidate was the first one.

Being the last to be interviewed doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job. You still have to interview really well and impress on the hiring authority that they ought to hire you. The candidate can certainly try to position themselves to come across in the best light. Only about 30% of the initial interviewing processes that even us, as professional recruiters, participate in, are accomplished in one or two days.

So, if the initial interviewing process you are involved in is no longer than a day or two, try to be first, then maybe last. If you find the initial interviewing process is going to be over a week or two, try to be last.

Next week will discuss the questions a candidate should ask to find out if he should jockey for position or even if he or she can.

(The caller on the radio program revealed that he found out the interviewing process that he was going to be involved in had already been going on for almost three months and  they had already interviewed 18 candidates. It’s obvious that these folks have no idea what they’re looking for. Being first or last won’t matter in this situation. They are still going to be confused.)