Hiring Managers are Quick to Eliminate Candidates
who Make These 10 Mistakes
By Taunee Besson
1. Winging it. Some candidates mistakenly believe they can begin an interview without doing any research on a company or position and simply talk off the top of their heads. White interviewing with a stranger isn’t exactly the same as exploring the Zambezi, you should be ready to navigate any psychological rapids and verbal quicksand you may encounter.
Before the interview, gather information about the company, such as recent sales volume, profit and debt-load figures, major products and/or services, opportunities for growth, number of employees and branches, mission statement, corporate giving to charitable institutions, reputation and background of the management and job responsibilities. You’ll find some of these data in reference books, trade journals and annual reports at your local library.
2. Telling interviewers what you think they want to hear. Too many job seekers pride themselves on winning the offer whether they want the job or not, so they respond in ways that please the interviewer. Unfortunately, this misguided approach often leads to a scenario where pride goes before the fall, and the victor’s spoils aren’t worth the battle.
If you desire a long-term relationship, you have to be straightforward and honest from the start.
This means presenting the interviewer with the real you, not the kind of person you think he or she wants you to be. In turn, you should expect the same candor from the employer. So, rather than approach an interview with the primary goal of landing an offer, see it as an opportunity to find out if the organization, management and position are congruent with your skills and values.
Other critical information, such as the job description, compensation package and management’s approach to developing employees, may require more digging. Talking with current employees or networking contacts familiar with the company is usually the best way to capture this kind of information.
3. Assuming the interviewer holds all the cards. When you see the interviewer across the table, do you have the uneasy feeling that he’s the cat and you’re the canary? If so, you’re like many job seekers who give hiring managers too much credit and too little empathy. Put yourself in his shoes, and you’ll realize that he has as much at stake in this interview as you do. What if he hires the wrong person – someone who alienates his carefully nurtured team, isn’t as capable as he thought or covets his position enough to sabotage him at every turn? He’s probably under as much pressure as you are because he can’t afford to make a bad hiring decision. Just think of him as another nervous professional who also puts his pants on one leg at a time.
4. Not asking any questions. The last time you bought a car or home, did you ask about the financing, construction or reliability? Of course you did. Isn’t your next career move at least as important?
To impress potential bosses with your grasp of the position and knowledge of the company, it makes sense to draw up a list of questions. Asking good questions in an interview helps you gain information you need to make an intelligent decision about the opening while showing the hiring manager you’ve done your homework. He’ll realize that you understand the position because you’re prepared to discuss its potential opportunities and challenges. And he’ll enjoy the mental gymnastics required to answer your thought-provoking queries.
5. Ignoring red flags. In our left-brained culture we tend to give little credibility to hunches, because they’re instinctive and often illogical. Yet personal history usually proves they’re right. For instance, have you ever accepted a position that you know in your gut wasn’t right for you? If so, you probably rationalized that your misgivings were groundless and would disappear once you started working. Unfortunately, one or two miserable weeks in the role confirmed that your intuition was correct.
Hence, the next time an interviewer embarrasses you, asks illegal questions, makes promises that are too good to be true, insults your intelligence, equivocates on a straightforward answer or boasts that 60-hour workweeks are "the way this company believes in doing business," politely finish the interview. Then write a pleasant but noncommittal thank you note and cross that job off your list. Life is too short to work for a clod.
6. Focusing on experience rather than benefits. Anyone who’s taken a sales course knows potential buyers are more interested in a product’s benefits than how it actually works. Employers are not different. While discussing your experience is useful, it isn’t nearly as intriguing as demonstrating how your background and skills can help the company or department improve productivity or solve a particular problem.
Career changers, especially, should keep this in mind. If you an show an employer how your innate abilities and personality traits will benefit the company, you can win the position over other, more experienced candidates who don’t know how to sell themselves. (Conversely, an industry veteran with strong interviewing and technical skills is likely to be unbeatable.)
7. Accepting a position without interviewing with your immediate manager. Would you agree to marry someone you’ve never met? Not many Americans would, but quite a few agree to work for companies without talking to their potential bosses.
No one has more impact on your career than your immediate manager. His performance, feedback and attitude will influence your performance and how you feel about your job. His conversations with his boss (the one who has the real power to promote, reward or fire you) can color higher management’s long-term perception of you.
Before you accept a position, then, get to know your boss. Ask probing questions to determine if your work styles, goals and philosophies are compatible. Decide if he’s someone whom you could admire and cultivate as a mentor. If he isn’t, look for another professional who more closely mirrors your image of a good manager.
8. Assuming the compensation offered is an all-or-nothing deal. In his book, "You Can Negotiate Anything," author Herb Cohen talks about the power of precedent. He says the written or spoken word of a person in authority is often perceived as being immutable. Yet few things in life are as inflexible as we believe, including compensation packages. Most companies establish a pay range for each position, and candidates are offered a salary within this range based on their experience and current demand. If a salary offer seems too low, you probably have room to negotiate, provided the offer you received isn’t the maximum amount available for the job. Be sure to ask for what you want, though. Otherwise, you’ll feel exploited and develop a chip on your shoulder that will grow whenever you work overtime to finish a project or catch up on an expanding workload.
9. Failing to use your leverage. Many job seekers don’t realize they’re not the only needy parties in the employment process. The employer has to find the best candidate, and the candidate is anxious to settle into the right job. Both parties have an equal desire to develop the best possible match. Yet, when chosen as the No. 1 person for the job, many candidates relinquish their power. Instead of using their blue-ribbon status as leverage to ask for what they want, they squander their advantage out of fear that they employer will think negatively of them. "Will Mr. Jones say I’m greedy if I ask the company to pay for my parking spot? Will he withdraw the offer if I don’t accept it as is?" they wonder.
After you’ve received but haven’t accepted a job offer, the balance of power is in your favor. If there’s something you want, you need to make a counteroffer before you say "yes". Once you start working, your stock will take at least a year to rebuild.
10. Obsessing over catastrophic expectations. When you were a child, did you ever awaken in the night believing there was a monster under your bed or behind the closet door? While these shadows creatures were scary, they lost their power when exposed to light.
Few adults still worry about monsters under the bed, but many job seekers find themselves threatened by other, more insidious ones, such as: the I-Will-Never-Work-Again Monster, the I-Will-End-Up-Sleeping-Under-A-Bridge Monster, the Phone-Will-Never-Ring-Again Monster, and scariest of all, the I-Am-Worthless Monster.
Catastrophic expectations are much more harmful than bad dreams, because they linger in your conscious mind, capitalizing on every opportunity to frighten you in a state of emotional paralysis. It’s no wonder that when the I-Am-Worthless Monster comes to call, job hunters what to stay in bed and pull the covers over their heads.
Constantly expecting the worst to happen can send your self-esteem plummeting, with far-reaching consequences. People who feel worthless and desperate usually perform poorly during interviews because they can’t disguise their negative feelings about themselves. They become victims of their own self-fulfilling prophecies.
If you’re struggling with psychological dragons, you can banish them by exposing them to the light of rational thought. The next time you feel a catastrophic expectation about to take hold, confront it. For example, if you’re worried that you’ll end up sleeping under a bridge if you fail to land a job offer in the next three months, quantify the probability of this happening. You may be amazed and embarrassed by how unlikely it is. Develop some alternatives for what you’d do if you were evicted from your home. Wouldn’t you stay with relatives, rent a room somewhere or sleep at a homeless shelter first?
Once you’ve considered the true probability of your catastrophic expectation and devised a plan to deal with it, you’ll conquer your fear and vanquish your dragon.