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.

The Lost Art of Decorum

Maybe I am aging faster than I will admit, but I have seen a trend in the professional workplace that is unsettling.

Decorum.  As defined by Webster, it is “correct or proper behavior that shows respect and good manners.”

One of the things I tell hiring managers is that the initial candidate interview is as good as it will get.  The candidates’ behavior, manners, etiquette, communication, etc. will never exceed their level as observed in that first interview.  Therefore, the candidate’s decorum should be exemplary in that interview to the point where it is memorable.

Sadly, I simply am not seeing this exemplary decorum nearly as much as I used to 15 years ago.  Perhaps as a society we are simply becoming more crass.  Nonetheless, the interview should be treated as hallowed ground and respected in such a way that crassness does not permeate it.

I have noticed this change not only in the younger generation, but also the Boomer generation.  I have observed aging leaders, who have become out of touch with the younger generations, find a connection (earning laughs) by being crassly provocative.

Younger generations communicate in…how shall I say…in an overly casual manner.  Cursing comes to mind and I have experienced it an multiple phone interviews recently.  The expletives have come out in face-to-face interviews also.  I’m not talking about shockingly blue language, but still language that simply does not fit in a high-level sales position interview.

Professional salespeople need to possess an impressive level of professionalism, or decorum, when approaching prospects in today’s business world.  A lack of this decorum being exhibited in the initial interview, when they are allegedly at their best, is a big red flag for me when considering whom to move to the next level in the hiring process.

Selling Experience

I have been swamped in sourcing activities recently and have decided to push some random thoughts up to the blog.  Here they are:

-Selling for modern-day monopolies (like utilities) is far different than selling in the highly competitive, cost conscious marketplace.  Sales candidates with these backgrounds must be screened for their ability to qualify money.  I have found that skill set lacking in these candidates.

-Why are candidates turning into stalkers?  I realize the job market is still incredibly tight, but I have come across many candidates who simply overdo it.  Sense of timing is an aptitude we assess and I am convinced it is more important now then ever.

-First impressions cannot be overstated.  I try to coach clients to let an interview run its entire course before coming to conclusions.  Still, you can tell this is simply difficult for all of us.

-Slick sells, but earthy makes better salespeople.  Some slick salespeople say the right things, have the right look, present the right topics and can’t sell anything but themselves landing on your payroll.  The longer I do this, the more I am impressed by earthy, sincere salespeople.  The recent shift to relationship-intensive sales has made these salespeople more valuable.

Interview Question Psychosis

Let me be honest, I have sat in on some interviews that were borderline psychotic.  Questions from left field, overt anger and emotions, lying responses that were easily observed…and those were the good ones.  In all seriousness, interviewing is difficult and being a good interviewer is even more challenging.  Most managers do not spend their time honing their interview skills.  This fact often leads to bizarre questions.  It also leads to bizarre question patterns.

Every year there seems to be a list of the oddest interview questions from the year – it is a guilty pleasure of mine to read them.  Perhaps you would enjoy the list also?  To whet your appetite for frivolity:

1. If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?

As a mathematically-challenged person, I find this question downright perverse and evil:

7. Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?

Same goes for this one:

15. You are in a dark room with no light. You have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?

You get the idea.  There are strange ones in the list is you read the article.  My point in bringing this up is that many sales managers would scream if their salespeople went into a sales call without a plan, a strategy.  Yet many sales managers that I see go into an interview with the intent of simply rehashing a candidate’s work history and then deciding if they like him or her.  This is not a strategy.  And asking math word problems should not be a part of your interview process.

Gotcha Questions

Do you know what I mean by “gotcha questions?”  These are the questions designed to trap, trick or zap a candidate.  These types of questions are often used by interviewers who believe they need to “win” the interview.  I know it sounds odd and uncommon (I certainly hope it is), but I have sat through interviews where the gotcha questions have been asked.

Interview questions are a tricky sort.  Almost everyone enjoys reading interview questions in hope of discovering an effective one.  However, we incorporate assessments into our process which provides an x-ray of the candidate’s abilities, motivations, aptitudes, style, etc.  The power in this approach is that it identifies the specific areas to pursue with the candidate.

I view the questioning approach as having two important approaches.  First, ask questions to probe the candidate’s weaknesses.  For 10 year I have been in search of the perfect sales candidate.  I haven’t found them yet.  Instead, I look for candidates who have the right blend of abilities to succeed in the position’s unique requirements.  This includes asking questions specifically designed to expose some of their weaknesses.  How intense are they?  Are they detrimental to this position?  (not all are)  How does this weakness show up in their day-to-day selling activities?

I don’t use gotcha questions, but rather simply constructed, open-ended questions or statements.  This is the most effective manner to dig into these difficult to identify areas.

Second, I use questions to confirm the candidate’s strength areas.  The assessment measures a strength area, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate is using that strength.  I like to pursue the topic with them to get a feel for their use of the strength.  I have seen salespeople with great strength areas that they choose not to access.  Sometimes this questioning approach gets overlooked.

Again, all of these tasks can be accomplished because we incorporate the assessment procedure early in our hiring process.

Keep It Clear

I have sat through some interviews which have been enlightening in terms of the struggles of hiring managers who do not hire often.  One of the blatant deficiencies I observed was this – a lack of good questions.  Is there anything more important than questions in interviewing an external candidate?  Even an internal candidate.

Here is one instance of what I observed – a rather inexperienced manager asked esoteric questions that left me scratching my head.  The candidate did a good job attempting to answer the question without embarrassing the hiring manager.  One question took almost 2 minutes for the hiring manager to ask!  The question included an analogy, an experience aspect and a hypothetical component…I think.

This interaction was a perfect example of the manager being too clever by half.

The most effective approach is to prepare for each candidate by writing down your questions for that candidate.  If your question takes more than 15-20 seconds to ask, cut it down.  If you choose to use an analogy, test it out on a coworker.  If they struggle with it, rework it (or scrap it).  The most effective questions are direct, succinct and open-ended.  Provide the candidate with the opportunity to navigate to the answer they would like to offer.  Pay attention to the topics they choose – there is much to discern in that information.

The Group Effect

My wife was at an interview last week for a medical position that is similar to her most current role.  She walked into the lobby to find 4 other candidates there.  They were all called in to a conference room by the HR person.  They were then asked questions individually and asked to answer in front of the other candidates!

The 5 of them were then asked to role play certain situations while the rest observed.  Finally, they were given a tour of the clinic and then had to provide their own tour to a staff person.  The point, I guess, was to see how they handled prospective patient visits.

Suffice to say, I was laughing my way through the story as she told me later that evening.  But what of this?  What is the purpose for running a group interview?  Personally, I have never heard of such an approach.  The HR person was quite young and perhaps only a handful of years removed from college.  My wife was offput by the fact that she was not provided the opportunity to ask questions of the hiring manager regarding the position or the company.  Her characterization of the entire experience was that it was more like a silly game than a professional interview.

I personally think this was some textbook theory that sounds “progressive” in college but fails in the real world.  My experienced wife was not impressed.  In fact, she was laughing about the comical nature of the entire event.  She has shared her experience throughout much of her network (to their great delight).

I appreciate new approaches, but I find this one to be a bridge too far.

Hiring Like A Detective

Yes, the title is a bit quirky, but it is true.  A significant portion of successful hiring involves being a good detective.  I have always taken that approach when helping our customers find the right salesperson for their position.  To be a good detective, you need to be a bit skeptical.

Sales candidates blow sunshine.  Few have ever missed quota, most state their primary weakness is being a workaholic and all have earned everything they have accomplished.  Right.  In reality, most have missed their sales quota at some point, many have real weaknesses discussing money and handling rejection and most have benefited from somewhere be it marketing, territory, company market share, etc.

Sales hiring is the most difficult hiring in which to succeed in that the candidates have interpersonal skills that disarm hiring managers.  In a way, this is a good thing since you want your salespeople to have this ability when qualifying prospects.  However, the hiring manager needs to focus like a detective during the hiring process.

I’m an old Hill Street Blues fan.  I watched almost every episode of NYPD Blue (it got weird at the end).  Even Magnum PI had some interesting tips.  Here are a few tips based on techniques incorporated by these detectives:

Drill down – do not accept the candidate’s first answer as the complete answer.  Too often I see hiring managers accept theoretical answers to direct questions.  Ask for specific examples and then ask follow-up questions that require more detail from the candidate.  This approach will be most enlightening in regards to understanding if the candidate is being truthful or not.

Interrupt – ok, don’t be a jerk, but interrupt the candidate gently.  The goal here is to shake them out of a canned, memorized response.  Prospects do this in sales calls.  I always do this in an interview.  Interviews should not be easy for sales candidates because selling isn’t easy.  This approach will show you how quick the candidate is on their feet.

Wait – there is nothing quite like an awkward, pregnant pause to add some pressure to a discussion.  Silence is fine as it forces the candidate to work.  Their job is to impress you enough to continue in the hiring process.  Your job is not to make them completely comfortable.  At ease, yes; comfortable, no.  Use silence at times to force the candidate into a longer answer.  This approach will reveal how disciplined they are at controlling a conversation.

These are just a few techniques I incorporate.  Of course, one great tool for guiding you through an interview is a sales assessment.  If you aren’t using any such tool today, please contact us at your earliest convenience.  We’ll show you just what you are missing in making your hiring decision.

Tips For Hiring Superstars

Great article here from SellingPower.com – The Best Ways to Turn Off a Star.  I am a big fan of showing people how not to do something.  That is a powerful format for teaching.

In that light, here are 6 tips from the article (in a “what not to do” vein):

    1. Talk about yourself and your company. You really don’t need any information about the candidates; it’s all on their resumes anyway.
    2. Wait for them to call you.
    3. Make them wait. Hey, if they really want to work for your company, it’s worth waiting through your 40-minute phone call to your old college roommate.
    4. Bribe them. Offer a free microwave or golf cart to sweeten the deal.
    5. Never check references. They’ll just say nice things about the person anyway. It’s a waste of your valuable time.
    6. Make promises that you can’t possibly keep. Once you get them on board at your company, let them know gradually that you kind of stretched the truth about that five-week vacation, company car, and corner office.

Spot on, each and every one of them.  Unfortunately, we have seen every one of these play out in a hiring process.  Of the 6, I find the first one to be of the highest importance.  Many times hiring managers judge the success of an interview by how much information they shared with the candidate.

Remember, you are there to gather information about the candidate.  You have to sell your opportunity, but there is a time and place for that task.  The initial interview is not one of them.

8 Things Not To Do On A Sales Call

I read this post on Bnet and got a chuckle out of a couple of the points and thought I would share this article by Geoffrey James with you.  I especially laughed when I read don’t flirt with the admin…who does that?!  Anyway, here are the 8 things not to do:

  1. Flirt with the admin.  It may seem tempting, but unless you’ve got soap-opera-quality looks, chances are you’re only going to annoy (or even alarm) the admin, who will tell the boss.  Fix: Stay polite, friendly and respectful.
  2. Talk more than you listen.  Initial sales calls are all about relationship building and gathering information, which you can’t do if your mouth is moving. Fix: Get curious about the customer and ask questions.
  3. Comment on the memento. The last 372 people who came into that office remarked about the signed baseball on the desk.  Ho-hum…  Fix: Research the prospect and ask about the prospect’s job.
  4. Pretend to drop by.  Who are you kidding?  Do you think that it’s going to cushion the rejection if you pretend that it’s not a sales call?  Fix: Have something important to say or sell that justifies your presence.
  5. Answer your cell phone.  Ouch! Ouch!  What were you thinking?  How could any telephone call be more important than a real live prospect?  Fix: Turn it off and leave it in your briefcase.
  6. Overstay your welcome. Your prospect has hundreds of other things that he or she could be doing, rather than spending time with you.  Fix: Set a time limit for the call.
  7. Let the meeting meander.  This isn’t the time for a wandering conversation that slowly gets to the point or a long series of complicated questions.  Fix: Provide brief agenda of how you expect the call to proceed.
  8. Argue with the customer.  If the customer doesn’t agree with an important point, arguing is only going to set that opinion in stone.  Fix: ask the customer why he holds that opinion; then listen.