I have been writing about the hiring process for years and over those many years, I have learned a thing or two about job interviews. Having been a recruiter myself, I am often surprised by the blatant errors in judgment displayed by so many jobseekers once they have an opportunity to interview onsite with a company for a new job.
With unemployment hanging at 7.6%, I thought maybe it was time to share some tips -- basic manners -- if you will, that could lead to a successful interview. Instead of compiling a long list of DON'Ts, I have put together a list of DOs with examples from my own experiences as to why a jobseeker should follow these very simple guidelines. I know some of these seem ridiculous -- but they are important and the stories accompanying each tip are true and actually happened.
Typical Hiring Process
For those of you just starting a job search, it is important to know the order and sequence of the hiring process. First, a jobseeker must express interest in a job listed on a job board or company career page or that may have come to the jobseeker's attention by a personal referral. Upon review of the job posting or maybe even the job description, the jobseeker applies to the open position, most likely online -- through a website or job board and either uploads or emails a resume expressing interest. Upon review of the application, resume, and/or online profile, an interested hiring authority contacts the applicant via email or phone to conduct and/or schedule a phone screening/interview. Honestly -- and jobseekers need to know this -- a recruiter or hiring manager will know within the first 15-30 seconds of reviewing a resume whether or not they are interested enough to call the applicant -- this is truth. Then, once the applicant has had a successful phone interview, chances are they will be invited onsite for an in-person, face-to-face interview.
The following is my list of DOs, which will come in handy for today's jobseeker.
You Have an Onsite Interview Scheduled...
1. DO Take a Bath and Brush Your Teeth. I know it seems obvious, but if I told you how many times a job candidate never made it to the second half of their onsite interview, you'd be surprised. Body odor is a big problem. If you smell -- if your body odor offends the hiring authority -- you will not get the job. Trust me on this.
Example: Several years ago, I was conducting first-round interviews to hire a junior associate. I sourced several resumes, called six different applicants. I asked three to come in, onsite, for an interview. One candidate, in particular, seemed like the perfect fit over the phone, I liked her instantly and was actually looking forward to the interview -- I just knew she was the hire. Unfortunately, when I led her to the conference room where we were to chat, I noticed that a very foul odor was emanating from her body. Five minutes into the interview, my eyes were watering so badly that I had to take a break. She smelled so horrible that I didn't want to have my director meet her -- but our phone interview had gone so well and I had openly expressed how eager I was to have her in -- to both the candidate and my boss.
I apologized to my boss -- telling him the issue, asking him to say a quick hello and then excuse himself for a "fake" phone call -- which he did. I then let her know that the interview was over and that I would call her the following day. She didn't get the job. And I had to air out the conference room for days.
She not only needed a bath, but she also needed to wash her clothes. She reeked -- it was bad. Take a bath. It's pretty simple, really.
2. DO Wear Clean Clothes. Again, seems obvious, but after reading #1, you understand my emphasis, right?
Example: A few years ago, I was hiring a sales rep for a golf equipment company. The ideal candidate would love the game and, of course, have an understanding of the sales process. After finding what seemed like a good candidate, I invited him in for an interview. He showed up late wearing all black -- black pants, black turtle neck, black felt sport coat and sat slouched in his chair for the entire interview. The color was fine, but it would have been better if he'd had a black cat at home, instead of a white one... He was covered from head to toe in white cat hair. I almost excused myself to go get the lint roller I had in my desk. He didn't get the job.
Wear clean clothes and if you wear dark colors, run a lint roller over yourself at the car.
3. DO Sit Up Straight During the Interview. I know, I'm surprised I have to tell anyone this too. But again, see #2.
Example: I was hiring an organic chemist for a start-up tech company in Newport Beach, California. Because we were developing a very specialized technology, it had been a difficult recruitment. I finally found a great candidate in New York. After several phone interviews, we flew him in, for an onsite interview. He casually walked into the building an hour late for his first interview. Later, during my interview with him, he kept leaning over uncomfortably and reaching under the table, playing with his foot. I asked him if he was OK, he said was fine. Finally, I looked under the conference table the next time he bent over -- he was putting his flip-flop back on -- it kept falling off. Yep, I said flip-flop -- he was wearing cargo pants, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. When I asked him later why he had chosen to dress so casually to an interview he had been flown in for, he merely stated, "I figured it's the beach, man, I should dress the part." He didn't get the job. Even though had a Ph.D., it didn't make him smart.
Sit up straight and fidget as little as possible during your interview -- it's about showing respect.
4. DO Dress Appropriately for an Interview. Seems like everyone should know this one, but as you can see -- my DOs seem to be overlapping a bit. See #3.
Example: In an effort to find the right director of sales for a crazy new technology, I was interviewing all over the country. I had asked a friend out in New York if he knew anyone and he said, "As a matter of fact, yes, I do -- I just met someone last week in Florida -- she would be great! I'll give her your email address," which he did and she quickly forwarded a resume. Given that the job was on the West Coast and she was on the East Coast, we held several phone interviews before flying her in -- the VP of sales and marketing joined us for an hour-long third phone interview. The VP gave me the green light and we flew her in the following week. My heart sank when this very exciting candidate walked into the office wearing an olive green suit three sizes too small with her ample boobs busting out the top of her too small white top. Exciting, indeed. I knew as soon as I saw her she wouldn't get the job. My very professional VP later kicked me under the table when this "exciting" candidate let some foul language fly during our very expensive executive lunch. She flew home the next morning without a job offer.
If you wonder about the dress code, ask. If you forget to ask, just assume "business professional" -- but make sure the clothes fit your body.
5. DO Know Who Is Interviewing You. You have every right to know who will be interviewing you. Feel free to ask for names and titles -- it is OK to ask for this and most hiring authorities will be happy to give you that information. The candidate in Example #4 should have remembered she was interviewing with a very professional, female VP in her 60s with an incredible academic background. Know your audience, understand what might be OK to say and what might not be OK to say.
Example: This is my own bad interview experience. I had been called by a friend to see if I was interested in a particular job. I said yes and asked him to forward my resume, which he did. A week later, I received a phone call from someone that I thought was the recruiter conducting a first-round phone interview. The questions seemed simplistic and a waste of my time -- I was second guessing my friend's suggestion when I finally asked the title of the person with whom I was speaking. She rattled off her name, like I should know who she was. I asked again her title -- she was clearly disgusted as she told me that she was the CEO. I felt a lump the size of a softball form in my throat, blocking out all further coherent communication. I didn't get the job -- I failed to do my homework and know who I might be talking with.
Ask who will be interviewing you. You have the right to know and then listen when they introduce themselves. You should listen, hear, and take note.
6. DO Show Up on Time. I can't tell you how many times people show up late for interviews. Plan to arrive a half hour early and wait in your car, if you have to. There are always excuses, but being late is being late and it's just plain rude. If you want the job, truly want it -- show up on time.
See examples 2 and 3. It's too painful to share any more...
Seems like some pretty simple manners, and yet I can cite countless examples of similar major etiquette breaches that have occurred during my years as a recruiter.
1. Take a Bath and Brush Your Teeth -- clean your fingernails and check for boogers, too.
2. Wear Clean Clothes -- use a lint roller, too.
3. Sit Up Straight During Your Interview.
4. Wear Appropriate Clothing to Your Interview.
5. Know Who You Are Talking To.
6. Show Up On Time.
I can't guarantee you'll get the job, but I can guarantee that no one will write a blog post about you.