Jul 6, 2009

Did you just spit on me?

I’ve done quite a bit of interviewing. I was responsible for staffing offices that were growing rapidly in my first two professional positions. I have probably hired over 300 people. You figure, with an average of four candidates for each position, that’s over 1200 interviews over the last 20 years. I’ve learned from experience what interviewers like and what they don’t like (well at least me anyway). I thought I would offer some tips based on my experience.

By the way, I left out the obvious pointers -----> Try not to spit on anybody. Don’t bring along your mother/brother/child/spouse. Don’t wear shorts or halter tops. Don’t’ swear. Don’t go to the interview drunk or high. Yes, I have seen all of the above and no, none of them got the job.

I know everybody has heard how important the handshake is. That’s because it is. A weak handshake makes me think the person is passive. Alternatively, a bone crushing handshake from a man makes me think he is too aggressive and from a woman, it always seems as if she is trying to prove something. Remember, if nerves allow, have dry hands. Also, never let a handshake go on too long… that’s just creepy.

Make eye contact with your interviewers. Even if it’s a group interview and there are lots of them. Take time to look each of them in the eye. Eye contact communicates confidence. Also, speak to the person asking the question. Often when I ask a question the interviewee directs their answers to a different interviewer. This usually happens when a man directs all his answers to another man, instead of me. Makes me wonder how well he will work with women. Luckily, this phenomenon has been on the downturn, as the workforce becomes more enlightened. I saw it quite a bit in the early days.

Answer the questions that are asked of you. Don’t turn your answer into a long circuitous journey that always leads mysteriously back to what you think is your strong suit. If you do happen to wander off topic, say so and acknowledge that you are getting back to the question.

Don’t make something up if you don’t know the answer to a question or don't have experience with something the interviewer is asking about. It makes you look foolish and desperate. “I don’t know” or “I have never done that before” are the preferred answers. Nobody is expected to know or, to have done, everything. I personally like to see some humility, lets me know somebody is flexible and able to learn.

When given the opportunity to ask questions, do so. Come prepared with a few but also come up with a few based on what was discussed in the interview. It lets us know you were paying attention and that you have an interest in our company and the job. Don’t make all your questions related to pay and benefits. Too much focus on these issues leads us to believe that is the only thing you are interested in. Better yet, hold those questions for the second interview. Make sure we are interested in hiring you first.

Don’t talk badly about your current or former employer, even if your boss is a psychotic, discriminating SOB. Find a diplomatic way to communicate what your issues are or were. Don’t tell stories to illustrate your gross mistreatment at the hands of the evil company YOU chose to work for. Makes you look like a crybaby.

The most important advice I can give is, be sure you really want the position and that you really want to work for the company you are interviewing with. If not, you're wasting every body's time and will either find yourself on the market again or, more likely in today's economy, be a miserable sad sack dragging themselves to work every day.


  1. I am bookmarking this for future reference. Hopefully I won't need to use it, but like you said, in todays' economy...

  2. Excellent advice. The people that really need to know these kinds of things never take the time to research how to interview and then they wonder why they never get hired.

  3. JP - If you lose the bookmark you can just google "try not to spit" and it should pop right up.

    Rae - If I can save just one person from wearing shorts to an interview my work here is done.

  4. Great advice!

    I once interviewed a woman who came into the interview, sat down, and then pulled her gum out of her mouth and stuffed it in a Kleenex.

    Yeah, I didn't hire her. :)