If you've ever hired anyone for a job, you understand a whole new perspective on what makes an applicant stand out - and what makes you toss an application to the bin. Fair or not, blogger, consultant and hirer Charlie Balmer discusses honestly the mistakes that can ruin your chances with a potential employer.
I will be very honest with you in this post. Most interview articles only show obvious mistakes, as if most people don't know showing up late is bad form. I will tell you the things I didn't really know about until I was the one interviewing, and interviewing for a variety of positions and person-types. No interview prep article ever prepared me in the right way for how interviewers really think. That is what I will be sharing with you today.
When you first walk in to my office, I am expecting you to be one of the 99 per cent of people who I know I won't hire in the first five minutes. I am hoping I will be proven wrong, because I really want to hire you and be done interviewing. Unfortunately, most people looking for jobs don't deserve them. Here are the most common ways I know you don't deserve any job I have to offer.
You send me a stupidly long resume
If I have to spend more than 30 seconds finding out what you have accomplished, forget it. You have annoyed me. Somehow, since resumes went digital, people feel like they can cram in 10 pages of boring essays talking about this achievement or that role, and expect me to read every juicy word. More likely, I will ignore the whole thing, write down in my notes "poor communicator" and move on. If you have a good set of skills or something catches my eye, you might still get an interview, but I'll still never read the resume. And you had better be a better communicator on the phone or in person.
Think about it this way — the resume items communicate to me your past successes in a (supposedly) succinct manner. If you can't nail it in one sentence, do I really want to look forward to your rambling emails every day? If I can't read your resume, it doesn't bode well for your emails, and I get enough of those in my inbox as it is.
To craft a great resume, tailor it to my job posting. If I have a skill set in there like "Windows Administration", make sure you have at least one bullet point talking about success in a project where you used that skill. Make the bullet no longer than three sentences. One is better. I am likely to read one sentence. I might read three. More than that and I won't even know what you wrote there. You wasted my time and your own.
You can't tell me why you like your current job
I always ask people what they like most about their current job before I get into any details about a role. Why? I want to see if you'll be happy working in this new job. If you can't tell me anything you like, or you tell me something you like but it sounds really generic? Then forget it, I have no idea what you want to do in life and you probably don't either. Come see me when you know what you want to do. I would even be happy with something like "Well, this job doesn't enliven me, but my last job, I loved doing XXX every day, and man, I miss that. It looks like this role will let me get back to that." Let me know you're passionate or don't waste my time.
The worst answers? "Well I like the challenge" or some other BS. Don't BS me. I have a super BS detector, and most other interviewers do too. The worst BS is the kind where more than 50 per cent of candidates say the same thing. If you can't be original about what you like about your unique job how can I expect you to be creative working for me?
If you have a generic answer like you enjoy learning, the challenge, helping customers, that can be alright. Just sound excited when you talk about it. Give me an example of a time when you got really fired up about it. I don't mind if it doesn't relate to the job I am interviewing you for, though that helps. Just expect me to ask why you think this job will give you the same passion — and have a good answer ready. Really, why else are you applying if you don't know this?
No career plans or vision
When I ask you what your next role is going to be after the one you're interviewing for, you had better have a good answer. Everyone should have a story about why you want to come work for me, in this specific role. If you can tell me how this role helps you accomplish your long term goals, I'm much more likely to think you'll be happy here and work hard in the job. If you just want a job, why should I care? Someone else will come to me with their vision. Eventually.
A good answer is a well-thought-out vision. You should have that anyway. Here is a good example: "I am looking to move away from working in my current small company to a bigger company with more career growth and opportunities. I want to rise to an executive level in the next 10 years, but my current company is too small to allow me to stretch effectively in that way. [This role] builds on my strengths in communication and project management, and will help me grow as a leader and improve my influencing skills. In a few years, I would look to becoming a senior manager…" and on with how this role fits into your life vision.
Please, don't bother applying if you don't have the required skills. I will know. If you'll be programming, expect to program in the interview. And program well. If you'll be project managing, you had better be able to tell me about the right way to build a project plan and project vision. I'll probably even describe a project and ask you to build a plan right there, with me. Just because the title has something in it you vaguely think you can do, if you don't meet the requirements, please don't waste my time. I might be OK if you are up front with me and tell me you want a career change and are willing to take a more junior position to learn. I might take a chance on you if everything else is solid. But tell me that in your resume so we don't waste time. Yes, telling me that in your resume improves your chances of getting hired, even if not necessarily for this job or winning an interview. I won't claim this is true for all interviewers, but it is true for me.
It's about setting expectations. If you come in, and my expectation is, for instance, that you know Unix administration, and then you tell me "Well, I read a book and I really want to learn it", no, I won't like that. If instead you put in your resume an objective line "Looking to grow skills in Unix administration from a project background", now we are on the same page. If I don't need an expert right now, maybe I will invest in training you since you have the vision and self-motivation. Oh, and describing what you are doing to prepare is also good, even if you don't have on the job experience. See how the expectation can change my perspective? Give me happy surprises, not unhappy surprises.
You answer my questions with conjecture
I will test you in a lot of ways. I will ask you to describe a lot of situations — where you failed, where you succeeded, what you would change, what you hate and what you love. Don't sit there and tell me what you would do in the future. I didn't ask what you would do, I asked what you did. If I have to wait for you to finish talking, then say "Could you give me a specific example where you did something like that?" Then you have failed to answer my question. If I ask for an example, please give me one. If you don't have one, that's OK, tell me you have never been in that situation, but you have some ideas if I would like to hear them. Yes, I probably would like to hear them, but I might also have another question with different examples I would rather know about.
If you don't think well on your feet, spend some time reading through and practising situational interview questions. I won't ever use one I see online, but it will help train your mind to answer, and give you fresh memories to draw from. I also don't mind when a candidate pauses to think. I will wait. I know everyone has different styles of thinking and responding.
How to Win the interview
I think it's pretty simple. I look for a few traits in people I am going to hire. If you are missing even one, I'm probably going to pass you up for someone who doesn't. Do your best to show off these traits and you'll win. This is true in every case, from hiring a janitor to an executive.
- Show me you can get things done. This means you can accomplish challenging tasks quickly, come up to speed when necessary, go the extra mile if you have to, influence peers. You must be self-motivated.
- Show me you are intelligent. I will ask you questions that are designed to make you think. Show me you can. Don't confuse intelligence with education. I don't care what kind of schooling you had, if you can't think, no job. If you can think, and aren't educated, no problem in my book, though I'll probably look for more experience instead.
- Show me how I fit into your vision. Truthfully, we'll work best together if you think this job is the best place for you to be right now. I want to help you succeed in your career, let me.
- Be highly skilled. Unfortunately, I don't hire awesome people who don't have the right skill mix. But I do keep their information around for when I need their skill mix. I also tend to recommend these people to others who are hiring as strong candidates. The skill level required to be hired depends on the job and expectations. Entry level can get away with rough skill sets or classwork. Senior needs to be top of the field, regardless of years in the workforce.
- Be passionate. If you are bored working in a similar job somewhere else, you'll be bored with me. Period. I don't want any of that.
Most of the stuff I am talking about here has nothing to do with Golem Technologies, but more about what it is like to hire in the first place. There are so many articles out there with bad advice for both those hiring and those trying to be hired, I wanted to inject some raw honesty into the equation. If you are looking to hire people, then I would recommend you use my five points above to screen people. As for me hiring, no, I am not currently hiring, so please don't ask me. When I am hiring though, and if you happen to apply, the above is the criteria I will use to decide.
This is true across business functions and across companies. The people who have the stuff I listed to win the interview will get jobs they want consistently. If you are lacking something, then figure out a way to get there. Just having a plan puts you ahead of 99 per cent of job candidates. I also like giving people a chance whenever they let me, as long as I have the flexibility to do so. So far, I haven't been disappointed.
Do you have hiring war stories (interviewer or interviewee)? Share them in the comments!
Why I Won't Hire You [Golem Technologies]
Charlie Balmer is an entrepreneur, technology blogger and website consultant. He has worked for multiple fortune 500 companies in IT management, marketing and application design. His latest company, Golem Technologies, is a cloud-based website security scanning application for IT departments and security professionals.
This story has been updated since its original publication.