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.
11. Candidate trashes former employers. “Talking too much about how their former company just didn’t ‘get it,’ finger pointing, and playing the victim as to why they weren’t successful,” is a significant peeve for Gina Gervais. “This is the worst,” Cheryl Roshak says, “and we advise candidates against this, but it doesn’t often stop them from doing it on interviews. It’s a pity-me approach that is filled with rage against the former employer and shows inadequate self-control and immaturity. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. What was the real reason for the layoff of this person? Why did he stay so long in a job that was so detrimental to his well being if it was an abusive situation? It raises many questions. He holds grudges and is difficult to work with.”
12. Candidate fails to provide examples of skills or experience. Vikki O’Keeffe gripes that she’ll say to a candidate, “This role requires demonstrated experience doing ABC; tell me about a time when you did ABC?” Instead of complying with the request for an example, the candidate’s response is “I am excellent with ABC. I’ve done lots of it; you should definitely get me the job.”
13. Candidate demonstrates inadequate knowledge of prospective employer. “If the prospect has not done his or her homework, he or she cannot prove his or her value to our company and thus is of no value to me,” Ron Kubitz says. “Not to mention the sheer stupidity in not doing the research!” Ken Heisler, in fact, puts employer research at the top of his suggestions for candidates: “My best piece of advice for executive interviewees is to research the company they are interviewing with prior to going to the interview,” he says. “Executives should gather as much information as they can about their potential employer’s history, mission, and overall business practices.” Heisler also advises performing due diligence on the vacant position and learning as much as possible about the people with whom you will be interviewing and potentially working. See our Guide to Researching Companies, Industries, and Countries for more about researching employers.
14. Candidate fails to grasp employer’s priorities for position. Rita Ashley, who was a recruiter for 17 years, calls this issue “losing the thread.” This candidate is extension of the candidate who has conducted insufficient research — and the candidate may not be completely at fault. Job descriptions are notoriously poorly written and often fail to truly convey what the employer needs. That’s why research below the surface is critical. You must talk to members of your network, especially company insiders who have an intimate grasp of what the company is really after. You will also pick up clues as soon as you are in the interview. Listen for the topics the interviewer emphasizes; those are likely the priorities for the job. Be prepared to shift gears if you had planned to focus on different priorities.
15. Candidate is coy about desire to have the job; acts unattainable. “This is the strangest behavior to me,” says former executive recruiter Angela Lussier of Springfield, MA. Miller echoes most hiring decision-makers when he says, “I want to hire someone who really wants to come to work for me.” “It’s like the professional version of playing hard to get, only they’re the only one playing the game.” Lussier recalls a candidate who “spent so much time talking about all the interviews he’s been on and all the other opportunities he’s looking at that the interview had no substance. He was so arrogant that when I decided to end the interview early, he was happy because he had to be somewhere else anyway.”
The coy, unattainable candidate may not be serious about the job search. He or she may be on a fishing expedition just to see what’s out there or test marketability — or may be on a giant ego trip based on a belief — justified or not — that he or she is highly desirable to employers. If you are in fact, a real “catch,” Lee Miller says, “it’s good that you have other options. That can certainly help your bargaining position, but I want to be your first choice assuming we can work out a fair package.” Employers will be wary if you want the job but your strategy is to make the company beg.
In Job Search Debugged, Rita Ashley quotes a human-resources director who noted, “The harder it is to bring someone on board, the more likely they were to be the wrong person for the job.” A variation on this peeve is Vikki O’Keeffe’s complaint about “the candidate who sits through an interview for a role he or she has decided he or she doesn’t want and deliberately blows the interview instead of being professional and politely saying ‘this is not the role for me, thank you.'”
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.
Have you taken advantage of all of our job interviewing resources? Find articles, tutorials, and more — all written to help job-seekers learn how to succeed in all types of job interviews.