The 7 Deadly Sins Of Interviewing

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Interviewing

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

With layoffs occurring globally and interviews more precious, it is very important to treat each one like a treasure. After all, you never know when the next one will occur and whether it will be one that will truly help you and your career.

Yet people keep committing these sins year after year and cost themselves opportunities that result in embarrassment. No one likes to tell their wife/husband/partner/kids/friends/former colleagues or anyone that they didn’t get the job they interviewed for. They don’t want to start lying to others about your prospects only to let them down and feel like you disappointed them.two man with eye glassesYet that is the story that I’ve heard for years as a recruiter and now as a coach. The story of being disappointed and letting others down and feeling ashamed of doing so.

As a result, I decided to share what I think of as “The 7 Deadly Sins of Interviewing” with the hope that we can head off some of these situations. None of these “sins” deal with skills competence. You either have the skills and experience or don’t. However, most people are not rejected for that. They are rejected for these.

1. The sin of thinking you know what they are looking for

For most positions, job descriptions are not generated. They are reactivated after a resignation, not updated, and used because it was previously approved, saving the hiring manager time. Even when created by an executive search firm after exhaustive conversations with their client, once interviewing begins, the thinking about the search requirements may evolve yet the job description or search document may not be updated. That leaves you thinking you know what they are looking for when you don’t. It’s why I recommend that rather than passively waiting for them to tell you about the role which will usually occur at the end of the interview when you ask about it (but after they’ve already decided whether they are interested in continuing discussions with you), start the discussion with them by asking them about the role. “Thank you for meeting with me today. I saw the position description (or Rajiv or Rhona from the search firm told me about the role), but I wanted to get your take on it. Would you tell me about the position as you see it and what I can do to help?” This way, you hear their current thinking about the position at the beginning of the interview so you can talk about what you’ve done that matters to them and not just talk about what you’ve done.

2. The sin of failing to connect the dots

They want to know why you’re qualified to do the job, and how your skills and experience match up to the requirements. When you don’t make this easy for them, if you don’t tee it up, it isn’t an important part of your experience. Most firms prefer people who do what they need all the time and not as something ancillary to their primary tasks. Before your interview, take some time to really read the job description and understand what the company is looking for. Then, think about how your own experience can help you succeed in this role. Then, using my advice about asking about the role at the beginning of the interview, you can connect the dots for them with each answer to a question they ask.

There is a difference in how you speak with a talent acquisition person, a member of staff, a manager, a leader, and a Board member. Each has a different perspective for the role and what they will want to accomplish in an interview. In addition, knowing their background may afford you an opportunity to connect with someone who knows them, what their likes are and their “pet peeves.” Never walk into an interview without knowing the background and role of the person or people you’ll meet with.

“Who will I be meeting with?”

“A few people on the team?”

“What are their names?”

“Sheila, Ho, and Dan.”

“What are their full names, please? I want to research them online and what they do.”

It’s that simple.

4. The sin of not preparing stories in advance of the interview that relate to the job as you understand it

Too often, people go to an interview unprepared to answer any question that -starts off asking, “Tell me about a time when you … “ You read an ad and applied. A search firm or recruiting firm contacted you and forwarded a job description. You have an idea about the job because your former co-worker told you about it. You know the basics of the job. Prepare at least three stories in advance of the interview that at a minimum fit the STAR framework (Situation or Task, Action, Result as measured by money earned, money saved, or percentage improvement over what was previously done). This way, you avoid the pressure of having to come up with a story while they are staring at you. People’s nerves often get the better of them under those circumstances in the form of forgetting the most relevant story they could have told and delivering a far weaker one. Remember, once they tell you about the job at the beginning of the interview, if there is a reason to adapt it based on the new information, do it.

5. The sin of not sizing someone up when you meet them

When we meet someone socially or in most professional situations, we immediately size them up and deal with them as we presuppose them to be. However, because it’s about a job, my career, and it’s important, most people paralyze the very quality that makes them most successful in an interview—their personality. By hiding behind being proffessional, and “feeling out the interviewer,” people waste the first few minutes of the interview and making a strong impression when the interviewer is often making a decision about whether to pay attention to the rest of your conversation. When you meet people in almost any other situation is right. Trust your instincts here, too.

6. The sin of trusting that what they are telling you is true

People go into interviews believing what they are told. “This is a great team of people. We do exciting work. Have I mentioned we’re like family here?” The families that are in holiday movies who want to kill one another? That kind of family?

“Why did the last person leave?”

“They left for a better opportunity.

“What made it a better opportunity?”

I am waiting for the first honest person to say, “They wouldn’t have to work with me.” “They wouldn’t have to work with my staff.” “They were finally paid fairly.”

They all wear happy smile button faces, look you in the eye and lie to you. Find a former subordinate on LinkedIn or Google and contact them.

They do reference checks. This is your version of checking references.

7. The sin of not having basic questions prepared to ask about the job and their expectations for you

A former client took a position where he inherited a project from someone who left having spent 80% of the budget yet delivering only 20% of the work. No one volunteered the truth to him. He would have been the fall guy for the project had I not gotten him out first. Try to ask clarifying questions about things that seem incongruent to you. Ask about their expectations for you for the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and after a year. Ask about resources available to you and, if you are in a manager or senior leadership role, what the caliber of the staff you’ll be inheriting is. Make sure you have the authority to replace people who fail to perform. If something seems impossible to do within the timeline afforded to you, unless you are desperate to return to work, don’t accept an offer.

Here’s one bonus sin.—The sin of forgetting that interviewing is like a theater performance

Job interviews are not a recitation of facts. As a matter of fact, competence is only one criterion used when evaluating someone. The others include self-confidence, character, chemistry, charisma, that you care, that they can connect with you because, for them, they want to trust the person they hire. If you only provide a recitation of facts and experiences with taking time to engage the audience like actors do, you are giving them only one reason to choose you—your competence. The others, the emotional connection with you, are also important. Neglecting them will cause you to be rejected far more often than you should.

The skills needed to find a job are different but complement, those needed to do a job. Avoiding these deadly sins will help you land your next role much faster and, more importantly, have you working at a firm where you can succeed.

Do What Recruiters Do


People hire Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter to provide No BS job search coaching and career advice globally because he makes job searchJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter and succeeding in your career easier. 

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