Job Interview Mistakes That Will Make You Cringe

If you have done some level of interviewing, you have certainly come across some interesting characters.  Monster.com highlights a few:

Wearing a tuxedo to an interview. I told him to dress nice and professional for his interview, but he definitely went overboard and crossed the line of dressing business professional. Needless to say, the hiring manager also thought it was a crazy move and the candidate did not get the job.

I caught a candidate lying in his resume. He had made up so much of his previous experience that he then forgot a company name where he said he had worked. The candidate actually asked me to look at the resume I had so he could see what he wrote.

This is one I have encountered a few times in sales interviews:

I had a candidate incessantly tell me they were “the best in the market” over and over again. This phrase was added to every sentence as a punctuation mark. It made for a very awkward interview. Confidence is good; arrogance is not.

Then there is this old favorite from CareerBuilder:

Candidate answered cell phone and asked the interviewer to leave her own office because it was a “private” conversation.

Amazing how unaware some people are in today’s world.

Sourcing Stories

I have been swamped with sourcing activities over the past couple weeks as we work on multiple projects.  I am definitely seeing an upclick in hiring activities which is normally preceded by increases in our assessment work.  We have seen a tremendous increase in assessments so I take that as a good sign.

So a quick sourcing story for you – I’m on the phone with a gentleman and we are deep into the phone interview.  He interrupts me to say he needs to step away as his 5 year-old son has gone to the bathroom and the candidate needs to go “wipe his butt.”  He proceeds to set the phone on the counter and I hear the entire conversation regarding the success of the young boy’s bowel movement.

The candidate returns to the phone and proceeds to describe to me the enormity of his son’s…bowel movement.  Unbelievable.  It was all I had not to laugh on the phone.

Pandora’s Box Known As Facebook

There has been much discussion about the use of social networking for candidate background checks.  I have always been in favor of allowing companies to search through anything posted online – it is in the public domain.

However, this German law does provide a bit more detail:

For example, employers will still be allowed to run a search on the Web on their applicants, de Maiziere said. Anything out in public is fair game, as are postings on networks specifically created for business contacts, such as LinkedIn.

In contrast, it will be illegal to become a Facebook friend with an applicant in order to check out private details, he said, adding that some people seem to be indiscriminate about whom they accept as a friend.

Ok, the friend piece does seem a bit underhanded, but the next line from the article is prescient:

“If an employer turns down an application with another reasoning it might be difficult to prove” that the negative answer was based on the Facebook postings, de Maiziere said.

I believe the lawsuits that would flow from this restrictive law would be frequent.  What if the candidate puts a friend request or LinkedIn request to the hiring manager?  Will there be a case from a rejected candidate even if there isn’t a social network connection?  What about Twitter?  Perhaps the candidate has been a bit rough in their Tweet language or posted links to some unflattering images?

At the end of the day, it may be that hiring managers and HR have to avoid social network research all together.

At least in Germany…for now.

Hiring Stunts

Here is a quick read from Yahoo Hot Jobs about desperate hiring moves from candidates.  The examples are entertaining – I suggest you read the article to see the different extremes some candidates will go to for a job.

My favorite line from the article (emphasis mine):

Career coach Bettina Seidman advises sending little “extras” when they are relevant to the job: “If a graphic designer sends a fabulous storyboard or another example of his or her work along with a resume, then that can work. If a labor-relations expert sends a copy of a new collective bargaining that he or she negotiated, that’s good. However, stalkers or flower senders or applicants who send their resumes in a huge envelope–none of this works. If a candidate shows signs of over-the-top actions or mental illness, they lose.”

Excellent.

Culling The Applicant Herd

Forbes.com offers up an article about companies hiring large numbers of employees.  How large?

Infosys received 1.3 million résumés last year. “In peak seasons we receive around 6,000-10,000 resumes in a day,” says Nandita Gurjar, vice president of human resources development at Infosys.

And you thought you had a pile of resumes to get through.  The article explains how many of these companies are using online tests or questionnaires at the first step in the process.  Clearly, as cold as it sounds, they would have to do some sort of first-pass, automated filter to handle this level of response.

After the initial culling, one casino uses a unique approach to role playing:

Once the initial pool is culled, candidates go to an audition, which is what the job interview is called. Since hotel and casino employees have so much interaction with customers, managers want people who deal well under pressure, interact positively with customers and can demonstrate that they can do the tasks their jobs require.

Hiring managers use software to rate candidates on their performance during a series of scenarios. For instance, a roulette dealer must go through several rolls of the dice while the hiring manager acts as the customer.

Yeah, I know – roulette “dealer” and “several rolls of the dice” – they appear to mixing positions, but you get the point.  The casino is using a strong approach to their hiring.  We use different techniques in our initial phone screen with candidates without their knowledge.  This approach allows us to get a glimpse into their ability to handle specific interactions.

Social Network Background Checks

There has been much discussed about the use of social networking sites in doing background checks of candidates.  I’m still on the fence, but I am leaning towards using them.  Here is an actual example I heard on Friday.

An owner of a medium-sized company had a problem with a previous executive assistant – let’s just say it was far too personal.  She was dismissed from the role and the company looked to hire a new assistant.

The hiring process for her replacement involved the owner’s wife who was going to spend 1 hour interviewing each candidate.  Also, the new executive assistant would not be allowed on the company plane – she would have to fly commercial.  You get the picture.

One of the final candidates being considered turns out was a former topless dancer.  The candidate shared this information with the recruiter who could have found this information on a social network site (she looked later).  Now, this candidate may have had the right skills, but would it be wise to place her in this position?  Clearly if she was willing to share this private information in an interview and on a social network site, how long would she have been in the role before sharing her past with others?

The owner’s wife would dismiss her as soon as she heard about her past.

So who benefits from silence or a lack of a social network search in this situation?  The strong candidate would have to explain a short tenure at this company.  The owner would still be in need of an executive assistant.

The example is wrought with legal complexities, but in a real-world sense I think the best scenario is to use the social networks in the background check, discover the information and pursue a different candidate.

Use Anti-Bonding When Hiring Salespeople

Here is an interesting article from Columbia Business Times titled The Mysteries Of Hiring Salespeople Unlocked.  Good title.  The short article has some excellent advice and some marginal suggestions.  From the excellent column (emphasis mine):

3. Unlearn your present interviewing system. First, throw away the hiring profile assessment you are using now (are you using one?), and instead find one that measures sales skills, adversity, toughness and, most important, whether this applicant will sell for you in your industry. Second, remember this applicant was someone else’s salesperson. Salespeople who “turn over” get good at giving you answers you like to hear. Third, instead of using your natural bonding skills, try “anti-bonding”—making the applicant work extra hard to bond with you. After all, isn’t that what your prospects will do? You want stronger salespeople? Become a stronger interviewer and “unlearn” what you did yesterday.

Exactly.  We use this exact approach when phone screening sales candidates and it is most effective.  Prospecting is difficult and the prospect typically doesn’t answer the phone and say, “Thank goodness you called me.  How much is it and who do I make the check out to?”

If you have ever cold called, you know that the prospects tend to be standoffish, unhelpful and terse.  A strong salesperson has to break through that wall.

So why do so many interviewers gush with enthusiasm, help the candidate with their responses and try to establish rapport themselves?  The better approach is to take an “anti-bonding” position initially and observe the salesperson in action.  The strong ones clearly stand out at this stage.  Make them work a bit, don’t be effusive and observe how easily you can smoke out the pretenders.

The Greatest Risk When Hiring

I propose that it is hiring new employees without performing a thorough background verification.  Think of the implications if you are wrong.  The outcomes can be the ultimate dealbreaker in that they can end a company’s existence.  With the stakes that high, it never ceases to amaze me that companies take this risk when hiring.

Clayton at Salesopedia links to an excellent article concerning this topic in the context of sales hiring.  Take this point from the article in Clayton’s post:

Some of you may be reading this and thinking that you already have a defined scope for all applicants so there is no need to be concerned. However, the scope of the background investigation for your sales people should be different than others in your company. Sales people cover a large geography by nature of the job, deal directly with the public, represent your brand and have access to sensitive and proprietary information.

Follow the link and read the article – it is well worth your time.  Again, this is a topic for which there is no margin for error.  You simply have to be correct every time.  If you are looking for a company that performs thorough background checks, I would suggest Verified Credentials.

Candidates Should Qualify Money

I’ve been swamped phone screening sales candidates this week and have seen many levels of ability. One thing that has been clear is the candidate’s ability to qualify money. This is a big issue for some salespeople in that they are uncomfortable discussing money.

One move I like to use is to provide a wide range on the salary to see what they do with it. If they ask me about compensation (surprising how many do not), I give them a range like $40K to $80K salary. That is a wide range so I expect them to qualify it further:

-What will it take to be closer to the $80K end?
-How will the final salary be determined?
-Which end of that range would you place me?

Any question to drill down on my vague response would be appropriate. I realize candidates want to be polite and professional, but a candidate who can qualify the money in a professional manner stands head and shoulders above the ones who cannot.

2 Keys To Finding Sales Stars

ManageSmarter.com offers up an article I cannot resist – Find Your Next Sales Star. We’re going to start a 10 part series on this article. No, we’re not (though I would like to).

I’ve written about this topic in the past (emphasis mine):

Chet Bloom isn’t a big believer in tests and intellectual assessments. The president of HFBC Ltd., a staff and recruiting firm based in New York, goes with his instinct. “A test will never show a person’s eagerness and motivation,” he says. For him, it’s all about impression, such as how an interviewee dresses, if he shows up on time, and his confidence level. Education is meaningless to him, but background is crucial. Because a salesperson’s salary is determined by success in the field, Chet looks for someone who truly needs to succeed. “I want someone who is eager and focused,” he says. “Maybe they have a mortgage and kids … I look for someone who is hungry.”

Please don’t do that. I would not recommend hiring based on impression and attire. That subjective data should be factored into your decision, but you are in trouble if those items are the backbone of your decision.

And “tests” can show a salesperson’s motivations with a fine gradient.

Within the company, which has 13 sales divisions, there are different criteria for success. “What makes one sales rep good in one division won’t make them great in another one,” Rude says. Stryker looks at the Gallup assessment of top salespeople within each division to find the right match for every prospect. “It’s incorporated in our day-to-day processes,” Rude says. “It’s truly why we think Stryker is great at identifying talent.”

Ok, we are not fans of “cloning” your top salespeople. It is next to impossible to do since people are far more varied than that. Plus, a team comprised of extremely similar salespeople means the group as a whole has the same strengths and, more importantly, the same weaknesses. Over time, your team’s narrow focus may cost you if your target market moves in a direction opposite of their uniform strengths.

However, that italicized sentence from the excerpt is spot on. This truth affects hiring companies too. Just because a salesperson was successful at your competition does not mean their success will transfer to your company. You approach the market with a different value proposition, customer base, market share, name recognition, etc. Remember, each position requires a specific, unique set of skills, motivations and aptitudes.

My 2 Keys For Hiring Sales Stars
Hiring strong salespeople requires a concerted effort involving many parts of a process. If I had to reduce the process to 2 fundamental keys, I would offer up these:

Design as much objectivity into your process as possible

and

Have your hiring process mirror your typical sale

1. Design
The first example in the referenced article is highly subjective and not repeatable. The approach sounds good if you are a recruiter attempting to secure business from a client – “My finely-tuned gut can sniff out the best salesperson.” Sorry to mix metaphors, but you get my point.

Use assessments. Phone screen them before meeting them. Devalue the resume. Have more than 1 person in the initial interview. All of these approaches help to limit the natural blind spots we all possess. The more objectivity in your process, the more repeatable it becomes. Throw out the approach that uses an HR person to sort resumes and one hiring manager who interviews candidates and decides solely on that criteria.

2. Mirror
A salesperson’s job is to persuade others to make a decision in the salesperson’s favor. Ok, that is overly simplistic. The reason I say it is that a hiring process can closely match a sales process. Therefore you can see a salesperson in action if you use this similarity to your advantage.

If you have a short sales cycle, frequent-rejection sale, use your hiring process the same way. Be short on the phone screen, interrupt the candidate, feed them fuzzy phrases and try to get them off the phone. You will be amazed at what you can observe on this call.

Conversely, if you have a long sales cycle that requires rapport-building, observe how the candidate bonds with you on the phone, use email extensively and extend your hiring cycle (don’t overdo this last one).

When you are in the interview, mirror your typical prospect in your timing, approach, warmth, demeanor, etc. This disarming process will help to reveal the real salesperson leading to the one who is the strongest fit for the position’s needs.

My suggestion is to use your gut at the right time which is as close to the end of your hiring process as possible. By then you will have culled the candidates down using measurable, repeatable techniques. The fruits of your labor will be selecting a strong salesperson who becomes a cornerstone of your sales team.