A first interview can be very similar to a first date—you want to leave the other person with enough interest that they want to get to know you better.
Being in the industry for more than 30 years and being a hiring manager for about 25 of those years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview many candidates for a myriad of different positions at several companies. Some of these experiences have been indelibly etched in my mind for all the wrong reasons. Here are some things that stick in my mind as some of the worst mistakes that potential candidates have made in meeting with me.
The first time you interview someone is a lot like a first date. You want to establish a rapport and leave the other person with enough interest that they want to get to know you better. However, you should assume a posture of professional engagement in this process and not be overly familiar. I once had a candidate who interviewed with me who walked into my office, moved the papers from my desk, propped up his elbows on my desk and asked me “so what’s going on?” I can tell you what wasn’t going on…me hiring him!
Turning the tables, I once was a candidate for what was at the time one of the big six (I believe they’re down to four at this point!) accounting/consulting firms. On my first interview, I was kept waiting for more than half an hour and then was taken into a room where literally a dozen people performed the Spanish Inquisition on me! This approach was never communicated to me nor was I necessarily prepared for this tactic. While they were (supposedly) very impressed with me and wanted me to come back for another round of conversations, I quite frankly was not impressed with them or the approach they took to our first meeting. Remember, like all good relationships, both parties have to be excited about the relationship.
Of course, the classic faux pas was a candidate that came in to visit who, when asked why he was considering leaving his current employer, regaled me with a 30 minute tirade on how his current management were all the spawning of Satan! Never, ever, ever bad mouth anyone.
Another common mistake is to turn the interview process into a monologue (this might work for Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert but not so much in an interview setting). I once had a candidate who took 40 minutes to answer my first question without coming up for air. An interview should be an exchange between interested parties regarding the needs of the organization and how the person’s competencies and experiences can address those needs. Interviews, like first dates, don’t go well if one person dominates the conversation.
Perhaps the worst mistake I’ve seen both job candidates as well as sales professionals make is to visit with me without having a clue about who I am, what the organization is all about and what we are looking for. In this day of Google searches, when you can find out my favorite song and hobbies with a 30 second search, it’s absurd to walk into a person’s office without knowing a little about them, the organization and their focus and needs.