When managers like the professional bearing of a candidate, or are impressed by vocabulary or education, they look for reasons to hire. When instant negative judgments are made with regard to style (neck tattoos?), age, or nervous chatter, managers too often look for reasons not to hire. Interviewing is a chance to set aside the superficial for a glimpse of who a person truly is and what they value, expect, and can contribute.
Personally, I prefer to work in a diverse workplace with people from many different experiences, but “must haves” are (1) relational skills and (2) the ability to work as part of a collective whole. Over the past several decades, I have interviewed countless individuals, vetting an applicant’s hard skills and also the softer social talent needed to fit seamlessly into a professional workplace culture. From those many interview sessions, I can identify five behaviors that turned a potential “yes” into an “after meeting you, no” verdict.
- Differing definitions:
During a second interview, an applicant for a management position asked about “flex time”, confiding that she needed the ability to give immediate notice to leave to play taps at a military person’s funeral anywhere in Wisconsin. She thought flex time meant she could clear her work calendar whenever notified that her volunteer trumpeting services were requested.
By “flex time” I meant she could reschedule a couple hours or even an afternoon now and then to tend to pressing personal business, provided she kept all appointments and was a reliable presence for the employees assigned to her supervision. Though I very much admired the woman’s commitment to military families, I could not offer that same benefit to all employees. Therefore, she was not hired.
- Poor preparation:
Forty-five of 82 applicants made it past an initial phone screening for the position of office administrator. However, 30 were cut with one opening interview question: “What can you tell us about our company?” Candidates who did not conduct so much as a simple online search to learn basic information about a potential employer were summarily dismissed for showing a lack of curiosity, interest and/or motivation.
- Blame gaming:
We ask why job applicants left (or are prepared to leave) past or present employment. What we don’t want to hear is negative trash talk about other companies, even competitors. We don’t want to hear words like “incompetent” applied to previous managers, or “stupid” said with reference to jobs or companies, since if things don’t work out at our firm, we’re likely to be similarly branded going forward. Trash talk smacks of immaturity and poor judgment. Successful applicants found something positive to say about past employers but then stressed how the new job would be a better opportunity because of a or b offered at our company.
- Unrealistic expectations:
We ask what a candidate expects if they are hired and then have a positive annual review one year later. If they expect an automatic promotion or a spectacular bonus, we opt out. Like most companies, we believe in paying more as people increase their skill levels, so a reasonable salary bump could be expected. Beyond that, we have to keep rewards in line with opportunities and budgets.
- Quirky answers or TMI:
While publisher of a business magazine, I asked an editorial applicant why he wanted to write for us. He answered that his next best job prospect at that moment was writing pet obituaries. Another candidate for the same job said he applied for the free tickets he thought he’d get to concerts. Huh? A job hopeful who puts forth a flippant or disrespectful vibe, or who tells way too much about a divorce, etc. might rightfully be passed over. If fences make the best neighbors, personal discretion makes the best workplace colleagues.
I have hired people with fish tattoos up their arms, shocking blue hair, atheist doctrine, Judeo-Christian beliefs, conservative republican views and a PETA animal rights proponent. I’ve hired people who are entering the workforce, about to retire, pregnant, newlywed, and one person who was homeless, living out of his car. They’ve all come together with reverence for the work, to combine their efforts on products they love, and they gelled. It isn’t about age or body type or style or bearing as much as it is about passion for the project and a willingness to commit one’s best – that is the trump card that guarantees the best hire.