Category Archives: interviewing

… 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

…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.)



Salad Dressing on Your Tie

I know, you are asking yourself, “Why is he writing about that?” Well, it is because at least twice a month one of our candidates loses an opportunity for a job offer because of their manners…mostly table manners.

Just this week…the reason I’m writing of our v.p. candidates lost an opportunity because he went to lunch with the CEO and two other vice presidents and, to quote the CEO, “he acted like it was the first meal he had all week.” On top of that, he ate his salad so fast, “he sent dressing flying onto his tie.” End of consideration. The group doing the hiring was appalled.

We had a candidate sometime back who lost the opportunity because, at a meeting over coffee at the local Starbucks, he slurped his coffee instead of drinking it. The hiring authority was so annoyed he decided not to hire the candidate.

it seems to me that many of the generations in the workplace just aren’t as concerned about manners as they used to be. My casual observation of the generations behind me (… I’m a boomer) is that people’s table manners just aren’t as good as Mama taught us. This isn’t  a criticism so much as it’s an observation.

So, here are some thoughts about interview “meals”:

  • Practice your table manners with someone who loves you or likes you enough to be willing to criticize/help you with any glaring problems you may have… Slouching over your food, talking with food in your mouth, or eating sloppily
  • Try to avoid these kind of interviews if you can
  • Never, never, ever drink alcohol in this interviewing setting
  • Order your food after you see what your host is ordering. Don’t appear to be taking advantage of a “free lunch” by ordering something on the high side of the menu
  • Order something easy to eat… A small piece of meat, a chicken breast, etc.… that can be cut into small pieces
  • Take bites small enough that you can talk with them in your mouth… This means very, very small bites
  • Stay away from soups, chili, spaghetti, etc. or anything eaten with a spoon or that can be easily spilled
  • Eat a little something before you go to the interview so you don’t appear ravenous or even hungry
  • Remember, it’s an interview, not a meal

Don’t let that interview “meal” be your downfall.

… “that was a mistake… poor business judgment… If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it”

It’s really easy these days and for the past few years to make a mistake in taking a job. Companies are a lot more erratic than ever. In 1973, when I got in this business, the average company was 59 years old. In 2012, the average company United States was 15 years old and in 2014, the average age was 12 years old. Companies come and go more than ever.

It is easier to make a mistake in taking a job today than it ever has been. Business is more treacherous. Unfortunately when candidates have one, two or even three of these unfortunate incidences on their resume, they have a tendency to justify the mistake. When the hiring authority questions the moves, most candidates want to defend them and claim it just wasn’t their fault. And, most of the time, it wasn’t.

But I have to tell you that taking a defensive stance of “it wasn’t my fault,” will only lead to disaster. The more a candidate defends themselves this way, the worse off they are. They will never win that argument.

The thing to say, and this can apply to any apparent mistake in your career, is to admit that it was a mistake. Now, the fewer you have of these better, but most every hiring authority with any experience will appreciate other people making a mistake. Having said that, however, the candidate better have a good number of reasons, and good business reasons, as to why they were mistakes.

This kind of humility, along with brevity in the discussion, will go a long way in neutralizing the majority of pejorative feelings that the interviewing or hiring authority may have towards the issue. Now, saying something like, “That was a real mistake… those people are really stupid. I can’t believe they were so dumb!” won’t work! Something along the lines, “If I knew before I went to work there that they were grossly underfunded and the company was in the middle of a hostile takeover, I wouldn’t have made the move,” would be a lot better.

So if you have some glitches in your background, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that one or two of them were just plain mistakes, human error! Every business person has made tons of mistakes and, if it is presented in the right way, mistakes will not be held against you.

…your risk factors

In all the years that I’ve been doing this, I never met a candidate who thought they were any kind of a risk to a perspective employer . Every candidate I ever met thought that they demonstrated being an absolutely perfect employee in every regard. What’s so paradoxical about this idea is that when hiring authorities are interviewing and hiring, they look at every candidate in the most critical fashion. But when these hiring authorities become candidates, they don’t seem to see the risks that they pose to a potential employer. They don’t apply the same critical eye to themselves as they do to others.

Every candidate, no matter how perfect, poses some kind of risk to a potential employer. The candidate that has had three jobs in three years communicates the risk of being a short-term employee. The candidate who has been in their last job or company 10 years presents the risk of, “why would anybody be in the same job, or with the same company 10 years?” The candidate with a phenomenal, stellar track record is often considered “overqualified.” The candidate with a poor track record is considered a risk in spite of circumstances that may be beyond his or her control.

Risk factors account for 40% of a hiring decision. No hiring authority wants to run the risk of hiring an employee who doesn’t work out. Most hiring authorities are extremely sensitive to the risk factors that a candidate might pose. Many hiring authorities get grossly oversensitive to some of the “risk factors” they even imagine they see in a candidate. “Well, he really didn’t come after the job very hard…”  “why did she answer a question that way?… I would’ve said…” “I don’t know, I just didn’t get a good feeling about him…” “he wore a custom-made suit to the interview, when we are casual here”… “he didn’t finish his degree so therefore he must not be a person who finishes things…” “I never heard of the firms she worked for…”  Just the other day a client told me that, “the candidate is just too perfect… there’s got to be something wrong with somebody who is too perfect…”

Every job candidate poses some kind of risk factor to a potential hiring authority, even if they are a “perfect” candidate. It’s absolutely essential that every candidate know what their risk factors are when they go into the interviewing situation. They need to be able to offset those risks during the interviewing process with, preferably. good business concepts. Even if one or two of those risks are offset by the reason that, “I made one great big business mistake. And if I had to do over again, I’d do it differently.” (and a statement of, “this is what I learned from the mistake…” goes a long way to making lemonade out of the lemon.)

Every job candidate needs to ask themselves, “in the eyes of an employer, what kind of risk do I pose?”


… “I was just too busy to spend that much time”

We have for candidates interview for an excellent opportunity. Tim and Cindy go into the interview with business plans after doing research… Cindy has a printout of every project currently underway or in the planning stages that she is doing that applies to our client’s business… Tim has a 30-60-90 day business plan that he would implement if he got the job. Each of them followed our instructions to the ‘T’, i.e. called some of our client’s customers, some of the people that worked there..Tim went to LinkedIn and found two people he knew who had worked for our client in the past, called them and got a report. They were both very prepared. They followed our interviewing tutorial, and then some.

Sam, the third candidate, did some research on the company and the hiring authorities. He called a potential customer with whom he had done business with before who might use our client’s products. He asks them to look at the product and report their thoughts on the product, But by the time he gets to the interview he had not heard back from them.

Michael, the fourth candidate does some research on the company and the two interviewing authorities he was to speak with. He comes up with some ideas on how to sell the product that are quite different  from the way the client is presently selling their product. (Where he came up with this idea, we have no idea.) He bombs the interview when he brings his idea up. (They wanted to hear what he could do for them not how he could change their selling process.)

When told that they aren’t going to be moved forward in the interviewing process because they were simply outsold by their competition, Sam and Michael were downright pissed. Sam’s response was “if I knew that’s what they were looking for, I could’ve put something together, too.” Michael’s statement was, “I was just too busy to spend that much time.”

It appears that our client is trying to figure out how to hire both Tim and Cindy. It hasn’t happened yet, but they are trying.

We run  a very large recruiting firm and we hear, on a daily basis, “I can’t believe I didn’t get the job… I’m perfect for it!” Both Sam and Michael were surprised… Sam, even shocked … that they weren’t moved forward in the interviewing process. The reasons are obvious. Even after our coaching and their reviewing the interview tutorial module of, they still screwed up. They just didn’t care enough to do the work that it took to interview well.

So, the next time you hear someone complain about not getting the job, question them about how much effort they put into the interviewing preparation. Funny, Sam and Michael, on paper, were infinitely more qualified than Tim and Cindy.

… things can come back to haunt you

We had a candidate who was an employer of ours who hired people from us…four years ago, he was interviewing candidates and, as many employers do, he didn’t really communicate with all of the candidates he interviewed.. in fact…he was rude to them…telling them he’d call them, then never do it…telling them they were good candidates but never following up with them..totally rude

Now everyone is busy, but it is courteous to do what you say you will do…many, many hiring authorities don’t do fact, it is one of the biggest complaints we hear, that the hiring authority says they will call them and follow up with them, or have them back and then don’t ..

Well, one of the guys he treated this way is now a hiring authority…we  presented our candidate ..who was the original hiring authority, the one that was rude to the now hiring authority…

Our client laughed laughed and said there was no way he’d ever interview him even if he was the last candidate on earth..because he’ been so rude four years ago…

what goes around…comes around

talking about money on the first interview

The rule of thumb is to never talk about money on the first interview. I’ve had more candidates over the years get eliminated probably by making this mistake than most any other in the initial interview. The biggest mistakes that people make are asking stupid stuff during the initial interview like, “What does this job pay? I making $XXXX now and I want to be sure that what you all are paying is in line with what I need.”

Anything, frankly, in an initial interview that even smacks of, “what can you do for me?” Is going to send the interview in the wrong direction. if you give companies good enough reasons of why they ought to hire you, they will give you good enough reasons as to why you should go to work there and you don’t have to worry about the money or anything else. Now you may not accept the job…for lots of reasons…but you want to be in the drivers seat and get the offer.

The only comment you should make about money in an initial interview should center around a statement of what you are making now and then postponing a discussion of what you might be looking for. So, when you are asked “what kind of $$$ are you looking for?” The answer: “well, I am presently making $XXXX  (…or was making $XXX) and I’m not as concerned about the money as I am the company, the people, and the opportunity. I have found that if all of those things come together, the money usually takes care of itself. I’m sure we will get a chance to discuss that down the line.” And leave it at that…don’t say any more.

If you are pressed by the interviewing authority to talk more about money, insist again that money is just one aspect of an opportunity and, just like the company will do, and you will take that into account with all of the other factors about the job.

Remember, again companies are often more flexible about the money they’ll pay the more they like you as a candidate. We had a CFO candidate sell himself so well that, even though they told us the job would pay $150,000 they wound up offering our candidate $250,000. Now that’s a pretty drastic difference and not one we see daily, but nonetheless it happened primarily because the candidate didn’t discuss money during most any of the interviews.