Why I Won't Hire You

Image: iStock

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.

No Skills

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.

The End

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.


    "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." I've never understood why questions like this are supposed to be relevant, and this article doesn't bring me any closer to understanding.

      It's supposed to show that you're thinking about how you're going to imrpove yourself and that you aren't just going to slide into a stagnant job.

      I also shows that you have the drive to make yourself better. As a programmer team leader, having to interview new members it's always good to see this sort of forethought. I would definately agree with the "why did you love your last job" comment

        I was interviewed for a position and asked this question. When I explained that eventually I would like to move into management, I got: "You want to take my job?!" and a very grim expression from the interviewer :-o

          I've been in the same position and was given the same response by the interviewer. My response to that was "Yes, but by the time I'm ready for it I'll have made you look so good that you'll have moved up a few pay grades already." His reply was "Mate, you're full of shit, you'll fit in fine here."

        I'm the kind of person that sees life as more important than my work.
        This question is one that I've always lied about.
        Do I really have to want to move up or move on? What if I like this job because it's close to where my wife and kids are and it pays well and it's not boring?

      I completely agree, and what I find most amusing is that the majority of people I have known well in my life haven't really had a concise career plan for themselves. I have no doubt there are plenty of people out there who have a 'vision' for their working future, and perhaps employers want to hear that because it's proven to be a good yardstick for motivation levels... but for the most part it seems that a lot of people are simply looking for a well-paying job they enjoy, and a lot of times they won't know what that is until they see it, or circumstances present them with it... and articles like this are really just more likely to force those people who come up with the kind of BS answers the author so desipises, haha.

        I've never had a career plan nor do I want one. One of the things that I've enjoyed most about my career is the variety that I've had and the unpredicatability of the opportunities that have come my way. I'm surprised this is important to an interviewer - I think I'd rather hire someone enthusiastic about where they are now than someone pursuing a dogged 20 year plan to be a senior tax accoutant or whatever.

          ah, there you are - you do have a plan. Your plan is work at your current position and evaluate any opportunities that come by. That is ok.
          It is also ok it you want to do the one role for the rest of your life - that is a plan.
          Was is not ok is someone saying, "um, dunno".

    I really struggle with the goals and where you want to be in the next xyz years questions. I really don't know. I'm sorry that I don't have my life planned out, but it doesn't mean I'm flaky or uncommitted. I'm just not a planner and I'm indecisive about my own life. I am very decisive at work and I can plan work things. It actually really puts me off because it feels really personal and like they're trying to pry into my personal life. I'd really rather they ask me if I've ever had an abortion or something than what my 'plans' are... that's how much I hate it!


      What have you got to hide?

      How is it a 'personal' question.

      You said it all here "I'm just not a planner and I'm Indecisive about my own life", Well sorry then a lot of companies are not willing to hire someone like that.

      And its not a matter of "having your life planned out", its a matter of trying to work out "what the next step is"

      There not asking for a detailed itinerary of your life.

      While he said it rather harshly, John's point is right. A part of that question IS personal. I don't want someone in my company who is unpredictable. You're 'indecisive' about your own life, does that mean that next week you could be not turning up to work because you've decided to go on a cruise? Are you going to turn up drunk on Monday to work because you've decided to go on a bender on Sunday night? I don't necessarily want your ten step plan to retirement, but I want to know that you're going somewhere, and thus would be far more unlikely to make a stupid move which betrays me and puts a permanent blot on your resume.

      Basically, I want to know that you have some investment in this (like I do), and that you can't (and more importantly, won't) just walk away from it with no concern about ramifications in the future.

    This is as convoluted as low-entry jobs which for some reason require you to have prior experience in the field. It's frustrating when you are 16 years old, ready to go to work and every single part-time entry jobs require experience. Why do I need experience for a waiting job at a small restaurant when you can train me for it!!

      Because it's fast paced work, and there's a good chance you'll stuff up... Better trying at a cafe first, then moving to a Restaurant...

      Although I totally understand your frustration - when I was that age, everyone wasted experience, so it was next to impossible to move into a part time job doing anything other than stacking shelves.

      You need to show that you have experience waiting (not necessarily in a paid environment), and that while your experience is limited, you're willing to do a few free shifts just to prove yourself.

      Yeah, it's tantamount to slave labour, but if you want the job, you've gotta earn it.

      ugh, i would never work for a private company for free and never have. the only exception is UNLESS it is part of some planned work experience through school, TAFE or uni, or if you're volunteering for a non-profit. why? because why would a business buy the cow when they can get the milk for free? seeing that you're willing to work for free makes people less inclined to pay you, sadly. i make an exception for work experience because your learning institution will make sure that you actually get some benefit and good experience and don't get stuck doing shit jobs.

      it is kinda tough being 16 in the job market, but being young is an advantage in some industries. you might have to start in fast food and then use the skills you get in that to get a job in hospitality ... etc. OR if you have done subjects at school that will help in the job you're going for (e.g. good grades in maths and you're going for a cashier job, studying home economics and you're applying for a kitchen hand job) then highlight that and ask your teachers if you can get a reference. ask to speak to the manager on duty, be well presented, and hand them your resume. just be polite and not too nervous. call around places that have high turnover and are always recruiting (McDonalds, Sizzler, Coffee Club) and see if they have any vacancies. that way, YOU are doing THEM a favour by saving them from having to advertise the position, etc etc... at first i was too nervous to do this but truly this is the best way to find jobs.

    This one was probably the funniest line "You can’t tell me why you like your current job" - Well they're leaving their job for a reason obviously and not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Interviews are like sales, it's about deception, acting and abit of brown nosing. If you're honest it can sometimes backfire, which is unfortunate.

    The advice is solid, but recruiters should get a real job, the process is superficial and painful. Some offices don't even have HR people, and there's a reason for that.

      There have to be aspects of why you like it though.

      If you hate 100% of your current job then I you must be a real sad sack.

      For example, I don't particularly like my job, but I do like the social aspect and work/life balance it offers.

      I think he is asking you to point out which bits you do like.

        So is "I needed to eat and my current position provides this but that is all" acceptable?

    Ok abit harsh, quick review. You don't have to lie in an interview, you just can't be brutally honest.

    This was a fantastic article. Some of them were obvious to me (don't apply if there's no chance for training and you have no experience in the field, keep your resume short etc.) but the rest was news to me.

    They're all great suggestions and as an interviewer you do have really good insight having seen so many different styles of interviewees. As someone who has missed out on a permanent job that I was doing casually for 5 months, which I was over qualified for, and seeing the job go to someone under qualified I feel really cheated, disillusioned and deflated. Any advice?

    I have to say I disagree with a lot of the advice.. but I guess it also depends on the field you are applying for. In Government sectors/Government Education where you have to answer 6-10 Criterion plus your Resume, means your application will never be under 10 pages if you actually want to make it in for an interview as there are institutions that read EVERYTHING.

    I have been on both sides of this situation, Interviewing on a panel and being Interviewed. Every workplace is different in what they are looking for so there is never a one type fits all situation. However you have to also remember the workplace is also being judged by an applicant in the same way that the workplace is judging its potential employee. Having a convoluted, difficult or generally unprofessionally designed interview situation can turn off applicants. I've been in situations where the manager answered their phone and sent a text during the interview, didn't have simple things like a glass of water for the applicant out and in the end I wasn't surprised that a fantastic applicant turned the position down.

    I think you have to remember if your going to test the applicant in lots of ways, be tricky about things and convoluted, the applicant may also think along the lines of well if they are this sneaky and twisted in the interview, what will working for them actually be like? Will i Enjoy it or will it be a total mindfk and i'll burn out and be looking for something else very shortly.

      to want to work at a government agency, they already assume you have a inflated sense of self entitlement, lazy and and will do the bare minimum required. Jesus. where do i sign up

      A lot of folks look at interviewing for a new job as being in a position of supplication, which is entirely the wrong outlook. It's about both parties figuring out whether the job is a good fit for the applicant and vice-versa. Making sure you both have the same or similar priorities.

    If I walked in to an interviewer like this self righteous arsehat I would excuse myself politely and walk the hell out again. There's good points in there though they are hard to find behind the author's erection over the power he has in interviews. Imagine being told on a daily basis what you had "better" do that day.
    It's a job - not handing out rice to impoverished third world citizens.

      Could not agree more. There are a lot of gun techos out there who are less than stellar verbal communicators, none of whom would land a position at Golem Technologies based on these rigid, intimidating criteria.

      I agree completely with your reply. No one should be taking themselves this serious, particularly when they are anything but important. It's a job. That's all. It will not define my life and should never define my life. I work, in order to have a nice life, I don't live in order to work.

      Besides, for someone who DEMANDS short, concise points in an application, the author sure as hell doesn't know when to stop.

        you should all use your real name so people will know not to hire you. The attitudes you hold are exactly the ones the author is warning you not to have. Knowing what you like, what makes you happy, what you enjoy doing is hardly demanding too much.

    This is obviously American-HR crap. Just so you know, this kind of ridiculous interview style is only popular in a employer based market, where employers have the edge (ie high unemployment). Fortunately, over here in Australia, a more laid back HR approach is required due to high employment and low unemployment. If you were to ask a candiate all this crap about role after this role, they would simply tell you that's its not relevent or bypass your idiotic BS detector with more BS - and thus begins the interview based on lies.

    Put simply, interviewees are not all-knowing careerbots and you can't always guage the best answers from interviewees based on reverse psychology traps. We are all individuals and the right to articulate and talk about the actual job and its merits should be merit enough.

      This. But when the Oz employment scene goes nasty we will be back to the crap above.

    If you're asking my about my _next_ job at the interview for _this_ job then you're not expecting me to stay for long. i gotta wonder if it's worth starting with you at all!
    All the crap this interviewer wants makes me think that this job is going to be a pain in the arse from day one.
    I'm willing to give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay but I want work/home balance far more than I want a job with some swanky title and hours that make slavery look like a good deal.

      go work at centrelink. It's the perfect place for you.

    I always hate that "Where do you she yourself in five years time?" Especially in the IT game where things change so fast. Five years ago who would have said "In five years time I'll be programming apps for the iPad." If you rigidly plan too far ahead to will miss opportunities.

      how about "keeping up with what ever the latest trends are because I enjoy being at the top of my field." Now, that wasn't so hard was it.

    What percentage of the people you hire end up being the right person for the job? Can you ask that in an interview?

      i usually ask what the staff turnover rate is. Which is basically the same question

        Actually it's a different question. Staff turnover relates to the ratio of employees leaving the organisation as a percentae of the overall workforce. People leave (or are asked to leave) for different reasons.

        Asking if the candidates hired turned out to be suitable for the position is an entirely different question!

        I'm not sure I'd ask either during an interview :)

    It makes me wonder how desperate someone would need to be for a job to allow themselves to be treated by this narcissist. There are some very good people in this world who make terrific employees and miss out...perhaps that's for the better...why would anyone with any self esteem put up with this bovine extrement!

      Because he is an "entrepreneur, blogger and consultant" don't you know! I can just imagine sitting in his office for the interview next to his $20k push bike, $3k pro lycra riding suit staring at pictures of him spelunking with his colleagues. Oh and don't forget the inspirational Richard Branson quote framed on the wall.

    All of you will be surprised to find that they're not looking for the actual answers you give, but what the answers you give mean...

    e.g. You answer to where you want to be in 5 years, or what your next job aspirations are is to see whether you're a go getter, or someone who just sits there and takes up space.

    Why I don't want to work for you: because you're a dick. You reject candidates with long resumes? Hope that works out for you.

    I fully agree with the article. I have hired hundreds of people, and this is spot on. As for long resumes, they were filed straight in the bin. If I wanted to read a book I would go to a book store. I also don't give a damn were you went to school. A university degree is just a sign of potential. I just want to know if you can do the job properly and effectively. The two attributes I look for are common sense and an ability to problem solve. Unfortunately these are hard to find!

      Perhaps those people are hard to find because they already have been binned?

        or the people with those skills have good bull s*** detectors and only apply to organisations where those responsible for hiring aren't judgemental morons.

    I've never hard of Charlie or his company so I toddled along to his website and now feel able to write a similar post about why I won't hire him/his company - the use of made up statistics and a plethora of BS jargon turns me off.

      Where is the Like button?

      There is such an undertone of arrogance in this article.

    I think Charlie's article does provide us with a really good insight into the mind of at least one type of recruiter and more importantly, an understanding about what they perceive makes a candidate stand out. Whilst we won't all subscribe to the same approach, it is always good to understand different perspectives. At least Charlie has laid his/ her approach on the table and lesson #1 would be for anyone that is applying to an organisation where Charlie has some presence…you sure better listen to the advice being thrown at you .

    Some posters here have already alluded to the fact that some organisations actually encourage lengthy and very detailed CV’s so I’d always recommend you have a couple of CV’s waiting and ready to go… 1) a lengthy one that can be a catch all expose of your working life that can ultimately be used to form…2) a trimmed down, tailored version (as Charlie mentions). Anyway, each to their own.

    Some candidates are inexperienced when it comes to interviews and formulating a CV and if that’s the only yardstick being used to measure a candidates suitability, a few absolute gems are going to be binned very early in the process. I did like the reference Charlie makes to the practical assessment of an individual’s experience/ skills. Just keep your fingers crossed you get that far into the process so you can actually demonstrate your skills and abilities rather than eloquently talking your way into a position.

    We all work with people that have on paper possess exceptional qualifications, impressive work experience and absolutely aced the interview process that in reality, aren’t really aren’t suited to the job they were hired for. A recruiter is never going to get it right 100%. That’s said, in certain industries for certain job roles it’s very obvious the type of candidate needed.

    Nice article.

    Great article to read and came along at the right moment.

    My wife is in the midst of finding work so this stuff is invaluable to her. Commonsense stuff that alot of us fail to even think about.

    I think interviews are a load of BS anyway and a waste of time. Applying for a job shouldn't be primarily based on how good you can write a resume or your cover letter, or how good you can answer these typical HR questions. It should be based on your performance and achievements rather than how good you can talk.

    Interviews should be more practical. Give the interviewee a problem and let them solve it rather than judge how good they can answer irrelevant questions.
    I see my peers apply for jobs - and good jobs too because they are good talkers. But when it comes down to actual work, they don't know much. Then I see other people who are really smart who know a lot of useful things, but they can't get an interview because their resume's and cover letters, and their interview skills aren't that great.

    I basically see HR people screwing their company over because they hire people who can talk but know crap, rather than people who know what they are doing, but can't talk.

    What?! you mean you dont know exactly what your going to be doing in 10 years or dont have some grand fucking plan and just want to make money so you can do shit you actually want to do in the time your not working?

    fuck you no job for you!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now