by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Through a list of the top 20 executive interview pet peeves, hiring decision-makers reveal the landmines aspiring executives can avoid in job interviews. 6. Candidate is inappropriately groomed or attired. A surprising number of decision-makers consulted for this article complained about poorly dressed and groomed executive candidates. “Some very accomplished executives believe that their resume speaks so strongly that they need not dress up for the interview,” observes Dan Davies, managing director of executive search for VACO Raleigh, LLC, Raleigh, NC. “Showing up like you are headed for the golf course signals … that you do not take the process seriously.” William M. Gaffney of Amaxa Group Recruiting/Career Coaching, Dayton, OH, advises candidates to “come well groomed, with polished shoes, tight knot on tie, recent haircut. You would be surprised how often this is overlooked.” As Ken Heisler advises, “even if potential employers say it’s all right to dress casually, always dress to impress. In every interview situation, it’s better to overdress than underdress. A big pet peeve of most business professionals is when a candidate shows up to the interview underdressed or simply not put together,” he says. 7. Candidate tells employer what’s wrong with his/her company. In her book, Job Search Debugged, Rita Ashley equates the candidate who identifies the negatives in the prospective employer’s company to telling a parent he or she has an ugly baby. The candidate means well. He or she believes the interviewer will be impressed that the interviewee has spotted and analyzed the organization’s issues and challenges. At some point in the interview, the interviewer may even ask for the candidate’s thoughts on a company problem. But an unsolicited critique won’t sit well. “Hiring authorities are often insulted when you demonstrate you believe you are immediately able to spot and solve problems they have been trying to solve for months,” Ashley writes in Job Search Debugged. A much better approach is to describe results you’ve attained while tackling similar issues for past employers. Acting like a superhero who will swoop in and solve the employer’s problems is smug and negative. “We want to hire people who really want to work for us and for the company,” Lee Miller says. “If you are complaining about what is wrong with the company before you are even hired, what will you be like as an employee?” 8. Candidate offers solutions to employer’s problems without really knowing the background. “Offering solutions when you don’t have sufficient information about the situation raises serious questions about your judgment,” Miller cautions. “We have probably spent months or even years trying to figure out the answer. The fact that you have the solution in five minutes doesn’t endear you to me.” Saying you have the answers when you don’t have enough information is “is a particular problem,” Hughes says, “when ‘big company’ people come to interview at closely-held private companies. Typically in a private company, you might have an owner-CEO, or other heavily invested and long-tenure hiring manager who, at the very least, believes there is nothing you could possibly know more about their company. In entrepreneurial environments, adopting a manner of humility in front of the founders is usually the best interviewing policy.” Miller advises telling the interviewer “how you would go about trying to figure out an answer, and what you would look at in doing so.” It’s also wise to ask a series of probing questions — to equip yourself with the background you need to offer suggestions. Particularly ask about what’s already been tried. The techniques suggested our article, Mastering the Case Job Interview, for responding to business-case questions, can be helpful in this situation. 9. Candidate oversells himself/herself, exaggerates accomplishments — or undersells as a result of poor sales skills. “When someone tells me how wonderful they are, brags about his or her accomplishments as if no one else could be better, that without them the company would fail, that they single-handedly can run rings around others, you wonder why, if they are so good, they are either unemployed or looking for another job,” Cheryl Roshak points out. “These self-centered egos are difficult to work with or for.” The other side of the coin for Christine Jankus, director at Parkland Business Services in Adelaide, Australia, is the executive who lacks sales skills. “The executive being hired needs first to be able to sell himself or herself and then be able to sell the company that eventually hires him or her,” Jankus says. Lack of preparation and research suggest poor sales skills, Jankus says. “You wouldn’t buy a car from a person with no product knowledge and who does not listen to your needs. So why would you hire an executive who knows nothing about your company and chooses not to find out?” Jankus notes that “people do not like to be sold to; they like to buy. An executive who does not give a reason to buy is wasting everybody’s time — and has not shown what value he or she can bring to the organization.” 10. Candidate gives self too much or not enough credit for team accomplishments; fails to clarify role in projects. As a candidate, strike a balance between giving yourself appropriate credit for team and organizational accomplishments and giving other team members and employees credit. When you talk about accomplishments and successful projects, hiring decision-makers want you to be clear about your role without either hogging the credit or playing down your leadership. Here are sample peeves from both perspectives: “I frequently run into people,” says Vikki O’Keeffe, professional recruiter at Apex Systems, Inc., San Francisco, “who respond to a ‘What did you do?’ question with ‘We did…’ This to me is annoying as there was nothing about ‘we did’ on the resume you sent; it was individual contributions on paper.” On the flip side, Gina Gervais, human resources director at TSW Management Group Inc., Anaheim, CA, says, “using too much of the ‘I’ word and not enough of ‘we'” drives her crazy.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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