How to kill a job interview

Tray to be on your best behavior when looking for a job. Photo by bpsusf

Try to be on your best behavior when looking for a job. Photo by bpsusf

A former college student of mine once e-mailed me about an upcoming job interview, asking what things he should know, questions he may be asked, and how he might respond.

His request couldn’t have been timelier; in this economy, employers are looking for any reason not to hire someone.

But in my response and subsequent discussions with him over the next week, I was quick to note that there is no sure fire way to ace a job interview, and the reason is simple: no two jobs, bosses, or candidates are created equal.

Personalities, work requirements, job culture, education and training, experience and so many other things go into hiring, whether for a minimum wage job, or an executive position.

I reminded my charge that in the end he had to be himself, not act like someone he thought the interviewer would want to see. That doesn’t mean proceed into the session with reckless abandon.

I wouldn’t, for example, recommend that my son wear his pajamas to a friend’s wedding (though these days, I’m not so sure).

Clearly, being a phony, sycophant, or blowhard comes across to an interviewer, and is a major reason to whittle down the prospect pool – which is the objective from the moment a candidate enters the room.

That may sound negative, but it’s true and very much a part of human psychology. As is the aversion to distraction and inattention, which is the quickest way to kill a job interview.

Today, obsession with technology will squash your candidacy as fast as demonstrated past proficiency with it might keep you in the running.

On this point, I recounted an ages-old personal experience from my time as VP – and hiring manager – of a wholesale distribution firm. After making the resume cut and interviewing with the HR manager and specific department head, finalists were sent to me for a third interview that determined their future, if any, with the company.

One time, when looking to hire a customer service supervisor, I had the finalists narrowed down to what seemed like two excellent choices.

The first interview went very well, and the second was going along those lines until the candidate pulled out her vibrating cell phone to check and see who was calling. This was well before text messages had become ubiquitous and affordable, but having a cell was de rigueur in business circles.

Perhaps the interviewee thought she was demonstrating her importance and tech savvy. She pulled off the move with much aplomb and tact, and I carried on in the same manner, wrapping up our talk and wishing her good luck.

Then I proceeded to print out a rejection letter for my signature for the cellular distraction gal. Faced with two apparently solid candidates up to that moment, my decision suddenly became a no brainer.

“Wow, that’s tough,” my protégé quickly noted.

To which I replied that the first time I had him in class, he earned an F for a weekly grade – worth 6 percent of his final course mark – for sending a text message during a class discussion. He never did it again

Job coaching is a major industry, and interview preparation is sophisticated, both as science and art. And while most bosses these days are digitally wired, we haven’t yet reached the point where a candidate can text his buddy about this weekend’s NFL playoff game when sitting for an interview.

On a large scale, we probably never will.

Afterwards, my former student texted me to share that he made the finalist for the position we had discussed. He also took great pleasure – with some tongue in cheek – in emphasizing that before each interview, he turns his cell phone off.


Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.