Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ten Dumb Things Said During Job Interviews

We've all experienced it. That sinking feeling that occurs when the job interview that was going so well suddenly goes off track. Maybe it's the expression on the hiring manager's face, or the awkward pause that ensues, but there is little doubt when it happens.

Common interview mistakes, of course, include bad mouthing your former employer, failing to adequately research the company or the position and just plain talking too much. Careerbuilder.com, a job posting site, publishes an annual list of 10 interview blunders, including asking the hiring manager for a ride home or flushing the toilet during a phone interview.

Thanks to the rise of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, dumb interview moves are taking on a new character. The urge to share everything about one's life with friends and strangers via cyberspace is invading the very private atmosphere of the recruiter's office. Moreover, the need to stand out in the information cacophony of the Web has increased the pressure to seem unique and special.
"We've been socialized to assume that we have to stand out in some way, and we're encouraged to be bold," says Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide" and a New York City-based career coach. "But that is not necessarily what people are looking for in candidates to bring on board. They want people who fit in."

Oversharing has now become an occupational hazard of the job hunt. Here are 10 examples of when too much information was, well, really too much information:

"My apologies for being late, my husband and I were fighting. It happens all the time."
"One individual arrived 20 minutes late for her interview," says Lisa Chenofsky Singer, an executive and career management coach based in New Jersey. While the pair walked to grab the candidate a cup of water, Chenofsky Singer asked how the commute had been. "She in turn told me that her commute was horrid, and she and her husband had fought on who was responsible for dropping their child off at day care," she explains. "I followed up with 'Is this a typical morning?' She replied that this is why she lost her last job, and continued on to tell me that the company had no respect for families."

Not only has the candidate revealed that she's having persistent marital problems, but before she's even sat down for her initial interview, she's indicated that those issues impact her ability to arrive on time to the office, and she expects the employer to be tolerant of it. "You get so much out of a candidate in that short walk to the coffee station. People talk much more informally then," Chenofsky Singer says. "She had such a great resume," but knowing that her client was already frantic, "I knew I couldn't bring more chaos into his life, I had to make it simpler."

"I'm in anger management because I hit a former co-worker."
"I've had candidates share with me their anger management problems, views on gender, age, and other things that can be damaging in an interview," says Shilonda Downing, owner of Virtual Work Team, which helps business owners find remote workers. "One candidate recently mentioned that he was going through anger management for hitting a co-worker in corporate America, and that is why he would like to work from home going forward."

Major character flaws, particularly when they are of the physical-harm variety, shouldn't be brought up in an interview. Bringing up disagreements with colleagues or managers as a reason for leaving a former employer doesn't bode well that you'll be reliable and reasonable in a new position--even if it is a remote one. "Mentioning this is typically deemed as someone who is unable to handle situations professionally and without violence," Downing says. Unless you're required to disclose that you're undergoing some kind of psychological treatment, find an honest way to work around it.

"Well you're cute, too."
"There was a man who asked the junior recruiter interviewing him out on a date during the interview," says Winnie Anderson, a former recruiter for the casino gaming industry. "She excused herself somehow and came into my office to tell me about it. She was really flustered." Anderson asked the applicant into her office, as the fellow's original interviewer was too uncomfortable to continue herself. "I then proceeded to thank him for coming in, and explained we wouldn't be able to consider him for a position because he had asked Jane out and that was inappropriate conduct in an interview," she says. "He then said, 'Well you're cute, too.' I said he could go now."

It should go without explanation, but any level of flirtation in an interview--subtle or blatant--should never occur. It especially shouldn't occur twice in the same interview.

"My old boss was a monster, and it's really scarred me emotionally."
"I have a client I was working with who exited from a very difficult situation at work, where she had worked for someone who was really a monster," Cohen says. "The feelings were so very raw about working for this individual, and she truly felt that she had been treated unfairly when she was dismissed." Whether or not that was the case, Cohen says, she shouldn't have been focusing on something the interviewer doesn't need to hear about.

Disagreements between managers and their lieutenants are common, but knowing that an employee was scarred by a bad relationship with their supervisor doesn't reflect positively on the job applicant. "When interviewers meet candidates, they're not psychotherapists. They don't want to know the deep dark secrets you might be hiding, they just want to know that you can do the job, that you're basically sane and that you'll fit in," Cohen says.

Offering more than that can make them question your suitability for the role. "Anyone who did their homework would find that the individual my client worked for had a reputation that preceded her as being very difficult to work with," he explains, "but she should have come up with a more appropriate way to bring up the separation."

"Oh, that's because I just took a Xanax."
"I interviewed someone who swore she'd be great at the job, but she was talking incredibly slowly," says Chenofsky Singer, the career management coach. "A single word would take forever. I wanted to pull them out of her mouth." Concerned that the applicant might be suffering from a legitimate medical issue like low blood sugar, Chenofsky Singer asked if this was the candidate's typical rate of speaking. "'Oh, yes,' she replied, 'I take a Xanax before a meeting or a presentation because I get so nervous. I don't think I'm doing poorly, do you?'"

Having some nerves before an interview is normal, but before medicating, be sure of the effects on your personality and disposition. "More than trying to pick on her individual interviewing style at the time, I was concerned that there was something I should know," Chenofsky Singer says, which served as a distraction from a discussion of her qualifications.

Dumb Things 6-10 and Complete WSJ Article

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