You just can’t make this stuff up! I often hear interview feedback that is hard to believe but unfortunately things happen. Hopefully you can learn what not to do from these stories while I’m confident some will make you chuckle.
Make Yourself Comfortable – An employer called to inform me that he would not be hiring the student they just interviewed. While disappointed, I wanted to use it as a learning opportunity so I asked why. The hiring manager was upset that the candidate put his feet on the manager’s desk during the interview. I called the student to my office and asked how the interview went. The student thought he had all the right answers but said he got a bad “vibe” from the manager as the interview ended. I had to ask more detailed questions and was told “yes, I put my feet up on his desk. He told me to make myself comfortable.” Apparently the student did not realize that “make yourself comfortable” means it is ok to remove your jacket or even loosen your tie.
Expletive Not Deleted – In an interview you are putting your best forward to convince the hiring manager that you are the best person for their open position. I had never occurred to me that we had to specifically tell students not to swear in an interview. Clearly I was wrong. I had a distraught employer share feedback that a student had used inappropriate language several times during the course of the interview. When asked, the student explained that the hiring manager talked about the collaborative work environment so he felt he should just be himself. Professionalism is certainly expected in most business settings and always in the interview.
White Socks – We spend time in career management class talking about appropriate professional business attire. We work to be very clear about our expectations to ensure that students are meeting the expectations of our employers. You can imagine my horror when I saw a student leaving the interview room with an impeccable, well pressed suit, coordinating shirt and tie, and bright white socks. I called the student to my office and closed the door. The student was quick to explain that they were brand new socks. He bought them for the interview to ensure that they were as clean and bright as possible. We reviewed the dress code again. He still thought he had done the right thing and asked if it mattered. I asked him, “Do you want to be remembered for your experience and skills or for wearing white socks to the interview? “ I never saw him in white socks again.
Weakness with Emphasis – Students are often asked the question “what are your weaknesses?” We practice that one in class so they are comfortable talking about a developmental area and how they are making progress in that area. An employer asked that question of a student and she explained that she has a habit of never finishing anything. She went on in great detail to talk about the closet full of unfinished projects and how after getting started she loses interest and doesn’t go back to a project. Instead she starts something new and then adds to her collection of unfinished projects. Not only did she go into significantly more detail than was appropriate she also failed to positively talk about how she was overcoming the issue. Worse still, she didn’t consider the key skills required for the job – it was a project management job and keeping multiple projects on track and making progress was critical to success in the role.
Overstating Your Abilities – Anything on the resume is fair game and candidates should be expected to be asked about it in an interview. One student listed proficiency in Mandarin on her resume. Little did she know that the interview was fluent in Mandarin. When asked a question in Mandarin, she was unable to answer. Her credibility was blown early in the interview. Another student claimed Advanced Excel skills. When asked by the hiring manager questions about pivot tables and V lookup, the student was not able to respond. Your credibility is too important to risk it by overstating your skills.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo – Some job applications ask if you were ever convicted of a felony. It is critical that you answer honestly. I had a student respond no on the application but the background report showed a conviction. While there was an explanation and the conviction was eventually cleared, the company would not even consider the student for the job because of integrity issues. You have to be honest. If he had disclosed the conviction on the application is would not have been an issue.
Thank You Note Nightmare – I am a strong advocate of the importance of writing thank you notes. Usually employers are very impressed when they receive thank you notes from our students. While visiting an employer I had my first sense of doom when he said he wanted to show me a thank you note he received from a student. My stomach sank as he reached into his drawer. At the top of the note, his name was spelled incorrectly, crossed out, spelled incorrectly again, crossed out again, and spelled a third time incorrectly. His reaction was two-fold – clearly attention to detail was an issue for the student but he also felt insulted that he wasn’t worth a fresh notecard instead of sending the note with two crossouts. Definitely not how you make a positive impression.
Lack of Focus – While candidates should be selling themselves in their interviews, managers continue to report examples of students emphatically stating that they hate the functional area they are working for, the industry the company is in, or the type of work they would be asked to do. It is important to review your feelings before you decide to apply for the job. When in an interview you should know what is important in that job and not go out of your way to tell them you don’t like doing that. Be positive.
Star Attire – We are very clear with our students that professional business attire is a suit. One young woman with a strong desire to stand out in the crowd chose to wear a glittered mid-riff top under her suit jacket. Employers to not want to see glimpses of her stomach during the interview and certainly questioned how she would dress in front of clients or prospects. She stood out but not in the way she intended.