Posts Tagged ‘interviewing’

Guest post on (great site for recent grads): Interview Fashion Police – What Not to Wear –

Phone interviews can be tricky. You may think they’re easier than interviewing in person and you can just lounge on the couch in your jockstrap and read off your resume, but guess what? You can’t. Not if you want to get a job.

Here are some tips for phone interviewing:

  • Dress in at least business casual attire. Yeah, I know they can’t see you, but that doesn’t matter. You’re likely to feel — and consequently, interact — less professionally if you’re talking to a recruiter in your jammies.
  • Make sure you’re in a quiet place; turn the TV and music off. If you have a noisy co-habitor, chase them out. If that’s not possible, gag them. Unless it’s a child, in which case you could have Child Services after you.
  • Bullet key accomplishments in each recent position relevant to what the employer needs, as talking points. Keep these notes and a copy of your resume, with these key accomplishments and skills highlighted, handy during the interview. And don’t use your resume as a coaster for your latte.
  • Prepare as you would for a face-to-face interview. Remember this is a screening interview, so if you don’t pass the screen (or they don’t; remember it’s a mutual thing), the face-to-face interview won’t happen, and you’ll be forever plagued by curiosity as to the physical attributes of the forever-faceless recruiter. Or not.
  • Smile. You really can tell over the phone. Don’t smile for the entire interview without stopping, as this might make you sound crazy. But smile when you normally would in an in-person conversation.
  • Move around if you want to. You don’t have to sit motionless the whole time. But be careful if you have an old phone with a cord. A deafening crash could be disconcerting to both you and the interviewer.
  • It sounds obvious, but make sure you know if you’re supposed to call them, or they’re supposed to call you. If it’s you, call on time; if it’s them, be ready and answer the call promptly (not on the first ring, of course).
  • Make sure you get the correct contact info, including accurate spelling of the name, for the person (or persons, if it’s a conference call) who’s interviewing you, and email thank you letters to them within a day or two just as you would for a face-to-face interview.
  • And last but not least, never do a phone interview in the bathroom, for reasons that should really be obvious to everyone, but apparently aren’t. And yes, I have been in a ladies’ room and actually heard someone clearly talking to an employer. I confess I flushed.

To some extent, you want to be yourself in an interview (unless you’re totally bonkers. If you are, good luck). And even though it’s not particularly effective to just give answers you think the interviewer wants, and there isn’t usually one right answer to a question you’re asked, there are some answers that are just plain wrong. Here are some:

  • If asked, “What do you know about us?” don’t answer “I read on my buddy Mike’s Facebook page that your CEO’s a total perv.” Best to relay positive info about the company.
  • When asked, “How does this position fit with your future goals?” don’t respond with “I have no idea. I just go where the wind takes me.” Now, it’s not always a bad idea to follow your instincts, unless your instincts tell you to hop up on the interviewer’s desk, piss on his keyboard and shout “I’m freeeeeeeee!” However, an employer wants to get a general idea of whether or not the position for which you’re interviewing makes sense in terms of where you want to go professionally. Also, being goal-oriented is generally seen as more desirable than subscribing to the Wind Approach to Career Planning.
  • When asked, “What’s your understanding of the position?” don’t say, “Not much – the job description on your site was pretty confusing.” First of all, this answer wouldn’t make you sound very bright. Second, you don’t want to criticize the employer’s job description-writing ability or anything else in an interview. Third, if you haven’t been able to figure out what the job is, and you have no idea whether or not it’s a good fit with your talents and desires, why are you even there?
  • When asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” don’t say, “They canned me for ogling my boss’s boobs.” Even if you were fired for embezzlement, you don’t need to give specific details about what it was like to be led out of the office in handcuffs. “It wasn’t a good fit” is a better answer – think of a reason why it wasn’t a good fit that sounds positive in terms of your strengths and preferred environment. Only give  contact info for references you know will say good stuff about you.
  • If asked, “What would you say are your primary strengths?” don’t respond with “TV wrestling trivia.” Think about what you’re strong in that will make you a success in the position.
  • When asked, “What salary are you looking for?” don’t say “Whatever you think – I’m easy.” Even in a tight job market, you have value; don’t undersell yourself. It’s best to ask what the range is, then say it’s in your range. Don’t give a specific number before you have an offer, ‘cuz that would be like pulling out a condom when you first meet your blind date.
  • If asked, “Can you give me an example of a time when you handled a conflict with a colleague?” don’t answer “There were so many of those, I’ll need a couple of minutes to pick one.” Even if it’s true and it wasn’t you (yeah, we know – it was them, all them), that’s not going to sound too good. The employer’ll either think that you’re an irritating asshole who can’t get along with anyone, or that you’re an irritating asshole who makes snide remarks about his former co-workers. Think of an example that focuses on a problem that needed to be solved, rather than a personal kind of conflict. And of course, how you resolved it successfully.

While every organization’s different and there isn’t any one right way to behave in a job interview, there are some wrong ways no matter who you’re talking to. Here are some ways to horrify your job counselor:

  • Wearing an outfit better suited to a hot date than a job interview. Even if you’re interviewing in a club, it’s better to dress a bit more formally than you would once you were in the job. And of course, nix the bouncing boobs. Even if the interviewer’s really really cute.
  • Rambling on and on. Your little 30-second elevator pitch (more about that in a later post) shouldn’t last twenty minutes. The person interviewing you doesn’t want to hear about your entire work history from the time you babysat for your neighbor when you were in high school, or the details of your first diaper-changing experience. Keep it to the point, the point being your experience and skills that are relevant to their needs.
  • Sharing personal info. Even if you’ve discovered the interviewer is a fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanatic, don’t assume they’re your friend. They still could care less about your imaginary childhood friend or how your divorce has made you an atheist. Keep it professional.
  • Forgetting to check your appearance before you go into the interview. You don’t want to visit the men’s room afterward and discover that you had a big fat gob of mustard on your chin the whole time.
  • Talking smack about your former employer. Even if your former supervisor could win the Suck-Ass Psycho Boss of the Year Award, it still makes you look bad. The interviewer will wonder what you’d say about HIM after you’d worked there awhile.
  • Acting all humble and insecure. We all have our insecurities, and job interviews can be stressful, but you want to show confidence. You have skills; you have a lot to offer. If your attitude is, “why in hell would you want to hire ME?” those little negative thought molecules will wriggle out of your head and worm their way across the conference table and into the interviewer’s brain, which won’t be good news for you.
  • Not preparing answers to questions you’ll likely be asked. Yes, ideally a job interview should be more like a conversation in which you’re sharing information than like a firing squad, but you’ll still be asked questions that are typical of interviews, and it would be stupid not to put some prior thought into how best to answer them. And I know you’re not stupid.
  • Not preparing questions to ask. Again, think mutual, give-and-take, information-sharing situation to see if it’s a match. Besides, you don’t want it to seem as if you don’t give a crap.
  • Not researching the company beforehand. If you know little about them, how do you know it would be a good fit? And how can you address this in the interview? Besides, you will likely be asked the actual question, “What do you know about us?” and you don’t want your answer to be, “Nothing.”
  • Being late to the interview. Unless you’re in a hostage situation and are seen on Fox News successfully negotiating with the kidnapper, you may as well hang it up right there. If something unforeseen does happen, at least call before you’re supposed to be there, apologize for keeping the employer waiting, and keep your explanation brief – don’t give an elaborate explanation of how your pet lizard died, you tried to flush him and the toilet flooded.


While it’s important to ask questions in a job interview to make it a mutual exchange, get more info, and show interest, there are some questions that aren’t a good idea to ask. Here are a few:

  • How many sick days would I get? – Once you’ve had an offer, it’s okay to ask about benefits as part of the negotiation process, but you don’t want to ask about that stuff until then. It makes it look like that’s all you care about. And of course, if you ask about sick days, it’ll imply that you need them because, well, you’re sick.
  • Who was that hunk in the lobby? – I know you wouldn’t really ask that, would you? Of course you wouldn’t.
  • Where are you from? I can’t quite place the accent. Believe it or not, sometimes clueless employers ask these kind of questions. You certainly don’t want to be the idiot applicant who asks them.
  • I didn’t have time for lunch. Do you mind if I eat my sandwich while we’re talking? You do want to establish rapport in an interview and have a conversation rather than an interrogation, but chomping on your Chicken McNuggets won’t exactly bowl over the employer.
  •  How flexible is your company on the 8:00 a.m. thing? Now, many companies do have flex time, and you may need to be aware of their policies around it (once you have an offer) if you have kids, an insomniac dog, or an alternate vampire identity, but otherwise, well, don’t ask.
  • Has your company ever been sued? It’s a good idea to sniff around Google to find out as much info on them as you can, as well as to discover any dirt on them that would make you run for the hillocks, but it isn’t a question to actually ask them. I mean really, it’s just rude.
  • What other jobs are available here? Even if you’d give your left nostril to work for that company and are possibly interested in positions similar to the one for which you’re interviewing, you don’t want to sound like you’re not interested in that one. If it’s clearly not a fit and you decide not to pursue it, in your thank-you letter you can always ask at that point if there are any other open positions that would be a better match. If you ask in the interview, it’s kind of like asking your date if he has a single brother. 

When you interview for a job, it isn’t just about your qualifications. The employer has already seen your resume, cover letter, online application, work history, prison record, and photo of you and your first girlfriend making out. Well, maybe not the girlfriend.

The point is, the employer already knows you have the stuff. Of course, he or she does want to know more details about your experience and skills, to further assess whether or not it’s a fit. But there are other reasons for the interview:

  • To make sure you’re presentable. In other words, no major hygiene issues (if they can smell you coming at the other end of the hall, you should probably keep looking. And, of course, buy some deodorant), and appropriate attire — if your boobs are hanging out, it probably won’t go over, unless you’re applying for a job at a strip club.
  • To conduct the Jeffrey Dahmer test. You know, the guy who killed people and ate them. The employer wants to make sure you’re not a raving lunatic. Not that you can always tell. But at least it’s a bit less likely if they actually get a look at you.
  • To see how well you communicate. No matter how good you look on paper, if you’re an inarticulate idiot you don’t have much of a shot, our President notwithstanding.
  • To see if you’re a good fit with their organization. You don’t have to be clones of your prospective colleagues, but if you’re Marilyn Manson applying for a job with an office full of Dick Cheneys, it probably won’t work.
  • To see if it’s a match in general. Kind of like a first date. If you try too hard to impress the other person, it makes you look either  a. desperate, or  b. arrogant, both of which are a big turn-off in either a job or a dating situation. It works much better to go at it with the mindset of figuring out if there’s chemistry, if you meet each other’s needs and desires, and if it feels good. Of course, if it feels TOO good, it may actually be a cult.

Characters in films do all kinds of appalling things when they’re job-hunting that don’t fly in real life. Here are some of the most cringe-worthy:

  • Dress in goofy clothes in a job interview. Tom Hanks wears a powder-blue jacket in an interview scene in “Big.” Of course, he’s supposed to be only twelve, which is pretty much the only way you can get away with that kind of outfit. Generally speaking, a dark suit with a shirt or blouse that doesn’t glow in the dark (a little color is okay) is what you want to shoot for.
  • Beg for the job. In the movie, “Married to the Mob,” when Michelle Pfeiffer interviews for a job at a hair salon, she says to the owner, “I really need this job; please give me a chance.” Yeah, thanks for sharing. Employers don’t hire you because YOU need the job. They hire you because THEY need someone with your many talents.
  • Have a lover’s spat in front of a business prospect. That would be Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl.” Never a good idea to blatantly display your love life in a work situation, unless you’re an actor.
  • Show up at an interview looking like you spent the night in prison. After a series of mishaps, including getting mugged, having to sleep in Central Park, almost getting arrested with his hand in a little boy’s pocket and losing a tooth,  Jack Lemmon interviews for a sales job in “The Out-of-Towners” with no explanation whatsoever for his homeless appearance. Should you run into a snag on the way to an interview that results in your arriving looking like you’ve been digging through trash, it’s true that you don’t want to go into a long rambling account of your horrible experience and how traumatized you are. It’s still preferable, though, to give a brief and to-the-point explanation of why you look like crap than to just ignore it, like you always look like that.
  • Tell an interviewer that you don’t have any experience, but you learn fast. Jesse Eisenberg says something similar in “Adventureland.” Even entry-level jobs in real life do require either some work experience or concrete skills you use in your everyday life, which you have to spell out for the employer. Just saying you learn fast won’t cut it.

The first interview
arriving in his jockstrap
Whew! only a dream.

Don’t try to impress
give and take works best
kind of like good sex.

Job search is stressful
make sure you take time to chill
or you’ll pop your cork.

When you’re looking for a job, you long to make employers salivate over you. So what the hell do they want from you? Here are some qualities employers look for, besides of course specific job skills that will help them solve their problems:

  • Good hygiene. That may seem like a no-brainer, and if it does then you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Unfortunately, there are some of you perched at a table at the corner Starbuck’s reading this post while your co-caffeinates are edging away from you in disgust at this very moment. If so, I can only hope someone somewhere will be bold enough to tell you who you are.
  • Intelligence and ability to problem-solve. Needless to say,  employers like to hire smart people who can figure out how to slay dragons without creating a mess. Unless the hiring manager himself is an idiot. If, however, he is a self-aware idiot, he will still want to hire people who are intelligent enough to offset his idiocy. If he’s not a self-aware idiot, though, you may be out of luck. But then, would you really want to work for an idiot anyway?
  • Dependability. Employers want to know they can rely on you to show up and do a good job. Of course, stuff happens. But if you have a track record of not meeting expectations and/or causing your colleagues to wonder if you keeled over in your apartment the night before and are lying on the floor with a head injury, you’re not doing so well.
  • Initiative and independence. Employers usually appreciate the ability to generate ideas and work on your own, without always having to be told what to do or having your boss’s hot breath on your neck (not particularly fun for you either, especially if she had garlic at lunch).
  • Ability to be a team player. If you can work independently while simultaneously playing nice with the other kids, you’ve got it made.
  • Ability to multi-task. Can you listen to your messages, compose an email, and compliment the co-worker standing behind you on his tie? If so, you probably have A.D.D., along with eyes in the back of your head. But you get the idea.
  • Flexibility. No, you don’t have to be a contortionist who can wrap your legs around your neck, although that would interesting. Employers do value the ability and willingness to cheerily adapt to unanticipated situations and new challenges, though.
  • Tech-savvy-ness. If you’ve never heard the term “social media” you’re in trouble. It would be kinda like not knowing how to use a phone at this point in our evolution. You want to keep yourself up-to-date not only on technology, but whatever other skills are particular to your field as well.
  • Sense of humor and pleasantness to work with. Most people don’t want to work with dour assholes. Not much more to say about that.
  • Giving a crap. Employers want to hire people who care about what they do and the quality of their work, care about the companies they work for, and care about their co-workers. Or at least are really really good at faking it.

Here’s some stuff not to do when shmoozing with employers:

10.   Pull a copy of your resume out of your bra and hand it to the recruiter.

9.     Chomp on gum and pull it out of your mouth in one long string.

8.     Show up at a job fair in sweats.

7.     Give the employer details about your efforts to get your juvie record sealed.

6.     Talk to a would-be employer at a networking event with your mouth full, and spit food in her face.

5.     Wear a lime-green polka-dot tie to a meeting at a finance company.

4.     Peer into the HR person’s desk drawer and pocket a roll of mints when they leave the room.

3.     Blast Marilyn Manson on your MP3 player while waiting to be interviewed.

2.    Tell the recruiter about how much you hated your last job.

1.    Carry your career portfolio in a plastic Victoria’s Secret bag.

And in case you’re wondering, I have actually witnessed most of these firsthand. Yes, really.