By: Revanche

Forebearing Fridays: Warning signs during an interview

September 11, 2010

Ok – though I’d promised Week of the Geek, I ran out of time because some candidate interviews crept up on me.  My boss has been incredibly busy and so I was scrambling to rearrange the whole interviewing schedule on the fly while trying to hide the fact so the candidate didn’t think I and we were complete idiots. We’re not, we’re decent people, honest, but it’s been chaotic because 80% of the company is undergoing a systems change in a week. (*gulp*)

It turns out that it didn’t matter so very much.  While I usually choose not to talk about my work here on the blog, I felt like so much of what I learned this week during the interview process was worth a mention.

Do you remember when “they”say: be nice to the secretary?  That’s all very well and good, but I would like to extend that to a General Corollary: be polite to everyone. In my company, the semi-crazy looking dude in a weird t-shirt is the CEO.  Some days. Other days, he’s pretty spiffy. But Upper Management does not feel compelled to wear their titles so no matter who you meet, no matter how dressed up or dressed down they are, if you don’t know their names and who they are, it’s not safe to assume they’re a nobody and treat them accordingly.

LISTEN.  And Do Your Research. 

Candidate No-Way never did either.

We’re a small enough company that my name is not repeated so a quick check of the company website would have given any candidate a good idea of who I was. CNW both ignored my self-introduction as a member of the interviewing panel and didn’t have any idea what I did in the company. Had CNW bothered to do any background research or listened to my explanation of the structure that she requested, CNW would have realized that her prospective position would be partially managed by … me. 

Never mind that, though, I enjoy observing people’s behavior when they think I’m either monolingual, a teenage kid with no role, or an assistant. CNW was pushy, aggressive and ran right over me in conversation when given the opportunity.

I manage a large group that would be two tiers below this one, and there’s no way I’d recommend a candidate who’d treat me in that aggressive manner without knowing who I am during an interview; how do you suppose she’d treat my staff?

That was just my first impression.

My ruminations later covered our actual interview over lunch and her multiple gaffes there, again very much variations on the above themes:

A) Despite having interviewed with the hiring manager and her prospective boss, she couldn’t remember his name;
B) Despite having interviewed with my boss, and her boss’s boss, she couldn’t remember either of their names;
C) Despite having been told more than once who reported to whom, she asked me if the BiggestBoss reported to her prospective boss;
D) She mistook my boss for the office manager after spending an hour with him.
E) She took the lunch interview far too casually, acting like we were just friends on a lunch date

I have the feeling, after she dropped mentions of job offers in the East Bay and the considerations of San Diego that she didn’t actually want this job much anyway.  After all, she couldn’t be bothered to do much preparation so I’m sure it won’t break her heart that we’re extending an offer to the other candidate instead. 

But if you actually care about landing a decent job with a company you think “is incredibly cool with a great mission,” I cannot recommend any of the above techniques.

Hat-tip to Alison Green at Ask A Manager for articulating so much good hiring advice that CNW’s smooth attempts to hide her poor candidacy through constant, dominant conversation was obviously a snow job even to this less-experienced interviewer. She does boot camps!

6 Responses to “Forebearing Fridays: Warning signs during an interview”

  1. mOOm says:

    On research, not all companies have as good a website as yours. Many/most companies don’t list employees and their roles on the public website. In academia this is something that has changed. When I started off interviewing for jobs once upon a time universities didn’t have websites with such details either. And then I went for an interview at a certain mid-Western university where they expected I had read their website in huge detail before getting there. Asking questions which could be answered by the website was considered a faux pas. This was about 2001. This was a new expectation in my experience. OTOH this candidate does sound arrogant.

  2. Kudos to you! I normally feel bad for candidates who do poorly, but this profile of candidate is an exception to that. If a candidate is going to be rude to people, make unfounded assumptions, and not even bother to do minimal pre-interview preparation, I can’t feel bad for them.

    (Thank you for the nice words, too!)

  3. Ruth says:

    Sounds like a rather painful interview. On the opposite side, when I interviewed for this job I didn’t let on to how much I knew.

    For example, I’d found out on Google that one interviewer’s daughter was a nationally-ranked athlete. I’d also read an article an interviewer had written on conducting interviews for a similar position. In both cases I didn’t let on about having found those things out until much much later (well, the athlete came up early on).

    Interviewing is overwhelming, but you have to go in knowing you’re going to be learning names/positions and remembering them at least for the day. Even if you don’t pick up on them online, remembering after they’re introduced…that’s astonishingly basic.

  4. Revanche says:

    @mOOm: No doubt most companies don’t have all the information readily available, but that doesn’t mean a candidate shouldn’t even look. The previous candidate who did get the job was both clear on who the (only) three people she spoke to were, and noted that she’d looked because I don’t have a bio posted. Small details, but they count.

    @Ask a Manager: Thanks 🙂 Yes, I tend to feel bad for the candidates who at least try and give a good showing but don’t quite measure up.

    @Ruth: The funny thing was that she was really good at making it seem perfectly normal that she didn’t know these things – despite having just been told the answers. I’ve run gauntlets of 7-8 interviewers in a row, three really isn’t bad for a 20-year veteran of academia. Yet, despite her lack of knowledge, she projected a sense of social ease the whole time like an old hand. The contrast was *weird.*

  5. {gasp!} That poor woman! With the competition out there now, she’ll have a heck of a time landing a job.

    I for one can NOT remember people’s names to save my life. It takes three or four repetitions (or three or four times of having someone else address the person by name in front of me) before an introduction sticks. No offense: it’s just something missing inside the brain, I guess.

    But holy mackerel! There’s no excuse for behaving like a Russian potentate among the serfs. Or mistaking a boss for an office manager. What does she think an office manager does, anyway???

  6. mia says:

    Other warning signs are showing up late without a majorly great excuse (and even then, you should call ahead!). If you can’t make it to the interview on time, what makes me think you can make it to work on time? Another warning sign is showing up extremely early–we had a job candidate show up in over an hour early. People usually are quite busy, and it creates an awkward situation for me and for the receptionist. Just be patient, go to the Starbucks downstairs and hang out for an hour, and then come up 10 minutes before the interview.

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