After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, January 23, 2012

“Numbers Don’t Float My Boat” and Other Quotes That Sunk Interviews

In retrospect, some things my candidates have said during interviews are fairly amusing.  In real time, not so amusing.  The pleasant look that I paste on my face during interviews sometimes hides a tight-lipped grimace as a candidate manages to kill the interview in its tracks with one fatal statement.
Here are a few memorable words I have heard (or heard about) from candidates over the years:
·       “Numbers don’t float my boat.”  (Spoken by one of my first candidates when interviewing for an accounting role.)
·       “Sorry I’m late.”  (In interview-speak, “late” is usually synonymous with “DONE.”)
·       “Someone gave me bad directions.”  (This was the sequel to “Sorry I’m late” above.  That “someone” happened to be this headhunter, who managed to make it to the interview on time using aforementioned directions.)
·       “I’m planning to go to grad school and need a company that will pay for it.”  (And the need you are filling for us is…?)
·       “I pretty much did what I was told.”  (Response of a candidate when asked what innovative ideas he had proposed during his most recent position.) 
·       “Why do you need to verify my degrees and credentials?”  (Hmm. Why indeed?)
·       “I plan to quit work and go to law school as soon as I can save the money.”  (Spoken by a candidate with ambition, but not related to the current position.)
·       “No, I do not have any questions.”  (Because you are inattentive, uninterested, or afraid to look stupid?)
·       “My current company **#*s  *#$.”  (Profanity in an interview **#*s  *#$. )
·       “I’d rather start on Wednesday rather than Tuesday after the holiday weekend because I always get really drunk on the holiday.”  (Spoken by a candidate just before we postponed the start date indefinitely.)
·       “What’s the job?”  (Yes, this was actually asked by one of my candidates in the midst of his job interview.  Too late, much too late.)

I always tell my candidates that an interview is a whole presentation and that they should not obsess over every word they said and every small blunder they might have made.  Having said that, some interview mistakes are hard to counter.  If you prepare well with research, focus on the needs of the interviewer, and think before speaking, many mistakes can be avoided.  Oh, and tell the truth.  Your degrees and credentials will be verified.

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