The ultimate gatekeepers to today's jobs are Human Resources professionals. That's okay. With the right pair of glasses, wristwatch and sweet breath you can dramatically increase your chances...as long as they don't spot your tattoo.
We call the folks in Human Resources Spreadsheets. They love rules, whether written, unwritten or imaginary. HR has narrow expectations and, unless you conform within certain approved guidelines, your chances of being hired are slim.
Which brings us to fairness.
Life isn't and work is less. Companies discriminate in seen and unseen ways. They want you to treat your interview as being the most important thing in the world. In reality, it's all a big game. Your challenge: Get the job.
Gimmicks are no substitute for talent. On the other hand, you need a job. Here's 10 to add to your interviewing skill set.
1. Wear glasses
Nearsightedness has been linked to "openness" and "agreeableness." Australian researchers suggested that nearsighted people are more likely to have diverse interests and be well-educated. What's more, HR people often skim these kinds of silly reports to speed up their "intellectual profiling," to help weed out the weak thinkers. So work the "four eyes" look. You don't need to actually be nearsighted. Just buy glasses that make you look smart.
2. Lose 10 pounds
Companies are cruel. HR sees even the mildly chunky as unmotivated, to the point that even 10 pounds can stand between you and the job. Lose it. You don't have to keep it off. Think of it like a courtship. Once you're hired it's "fat discrimination."
3. Cover the tattoos
Sure, lots of people have tats. But unless you're angling for a slot on the loading dock, cover up the ink. Wait until you're in good and have had a few at the company Christmas party. Then the coast should be clear enough to explain why you've got that butterfly floating above your rump.
4. Get tall
With few exceptions, CEOs tower over the general population. Height has been proven to win applicants higher salaries. Human growth hormone won't help -- it will just give you a freakishly giant head with hands and feet to match. Don't overdo it with heels. Instead, consider inserting padded bike pants under your suit, so you sit higher in the interview chair. And simply sitting upright on your sit bones will give you an extra inch.
5. Try a little sweet talk
Bad breath can skunk your odds of being hired. In ancient Sri Lanka, kings would chew the bark of cinnamon trees to sweeten their breath...and end up with it wedged in their teeth. Fortunately, we live in an age of gum, breath strips and Tic Tacs. Get some. Cheap, portable and each guaranteed to keep you from knocking the interviewer out of their chair at your opening "Hello!"
6. Get a conservative-looking watch
Who needs a timepiece when your cell phone is hardwired to your brain? Unfortunately, seeing a watch on your wrist still says "Punctuality!" to a lot of HR professionals. So even if it threatens to make you appear a dinosaur to everyone else, buy or borrow one that looks dependable and reliable...and they just might think the same about you.
7. Mirror, mirror
Companies hire candidates who look like they might already work there. The million-dollar question from HR is whether you're a good fit. Play detective. Discretely hang outside their offices. Observe. Is short hair popular? Sports jackets or more formal attire? Heels or flats? Try not to get picked up for stalking long enough to start looking the part and you might just end up working there.
8. Shut up
Watch any cop or detective show. Notice how they always nail the bad guy? He talks too much. Volunteers that little fact that will later trip him up. There is an art to knowing what not to say. Answer with just enough to sound like you know what you're talking about but not so much that you come across like a prattling idiot.
9. Lose the shoes
HR people look at the unexpected because they like to see how much you pay attention to the little things. Like shoes. Old shoes look and smell like old shoes. Buy quality if you can afford it. But if you're broke, get the best pair you can find at a discount joint -- they should hold up long enough for a round of interviews as long as it doesn't rain.
10. Answer the illegal question
Companies are not supposed to ask an applicant's age. So HR people sometimes have a few innocent workarounds ("I went to Columbia, too! When did you graduate?"). Avoiding such indirect questions about personal subjects might lose you the job and you'll never know it. What's the harm in answering? All that intel's on the web, anyway. Of course, if they really cross a line -- "Do you observe Yom Kippur?" or "Do you plan to get pregnant?" -- you're probably going to hate this job so push back with style: "Did you just ask me if I'm planning to get knocked up?"
Jonathan Littman is the co-author of the new book I HATE PEOPLE! (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Marc Hershon. A Contributing Editor at Playboy, Jonathan is the co-author of the best selling Art of Innovation.
Follow Jonathan Littman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonlittman