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An interviewer’s perspective: where does it all go wrong?

Having spent most of my working life in roles where I interviewed candidates for jobs: first in an SME, later on Interview Boards for Civil and Public service jobs and to a significant extent while a HR manager as well as some Executive Search Consultancy, I think I have a good insight into where jobs interviews most often go wrong.

With the best will in the world it can be very hard to remain objective right throughout an interview process.  Sure a structured, competency-based interview approach can minimise the impact of subjectivity, particularly in relation to personal biases, but nevertheless an individual interviewer will always be influenced to a certain extent by their perception of what they see and hear during the interview.

For example, imagine interviewing a candidate for a role where grooming and personal presentation were clearly important and been faced with a guy in dirty overalls and steel-capped boots!  Or a young man turning up to interview for a graduate position in torn jeans and t-shirt.  Or a woman with more make-up on her collar than her face (and that’s really saying something). So yes, physical presentation is important to a point.  That doesn’t mean you need an Armani suit or Jimmy Choos but it does mean clean, smart clothes in good repair.

More importantly is the first impressions you give when you speak to your interviewers.  Arriving 20 minutes late and simply saying “I missed the train” before plonking yourself in the chair and sighing really won’t do you any favours.  These might seem like exaggerated examples but they actually happened.  If you have got the interviewers backs up this early in the interview you really are going to have difficulty recovering the situation.

What else can spell disaster for you?

  • Not listening to the question and going off on some tangent which is clearly your pre-prepared speech
  • Getting into a disagreement with an interviewer about some issue – while it is right to have an opinion and be able to articulate it, you should also know where to draw the line
  • Not thinking through an example before telling the interviewer the story – for example telling how you “gave him a slap” when talking about how you have handled conflict (True example!)
  • Taking claim for something that would clearly not be within your remit – I once interviewed someone who claimed to have been responsible for all outputs that were actually the responsibility of his manager and even his manager’s manager…ouch!  He lost all credibility and got an absolute roasting from the Board…he didn’t get the job!
  • Not knowing what the job or the company is about…are you really interested in the job??
  • Sitting poker-faced throughout the interview – you have to show emotion to show your motivation, otherwise how will you get them to “buy into” you?
  • Been unable to process what is happening quickly enough or take cues from your interviewers – it is really important that you recognise when things are going wrong and find a way to turn it around and to know when you are not giving the interviewer what they are looking for
  • Being caught out on a lie…this most often happens when reviewing a CV early in the interview and the only time I have known it to not impact on the outcome was in the Apprentice (UK) where a candidate was found to have lied and got away with it
  • Saying that you have no weakness or that your weakness is too much attention to detail or being a perfectionist – firstly in most instances these would be considered a strength and secondly everyone rolls these out so try being a little more original and truthful!

These are of course not the only things that can go wrong but they are some of the main things that arise.  Well, perhaps I should add just one more:

  • You need to manage your own expectations and be realistic about your ability to do the job.  If you don’t have the experience, competencies and capability to do the job no amount of interview preparation or good interview techniques are going to change the outcome!

So what are my top tips for interviews?

Arrive on-time, well presented and fully prepared.  Listen carefully and communicate clearly. Be truthful and don’t try to be something you are not. Try empathising with your interviewers and understanding what they need to achieve.  And finally, know your own limits (while still reaching for the sky!)

Jackie Prendergast is a dynamic and focused HR and business professional with over 15 years experience in both public and private sector environments. She is a firm believer in the concept of delivering excellence through, and with people and strongly supports an ethos of continuous learning and development in the achievement of goals. Jackie established her own HR & Management Consulting practice - Consulting Excellence - in 2007. Working primarily with SMEs and private clients Jackie provides a range of HR advice, support and services. She has written a number of articles on C.V. preparation and Interview Skills as well as a short Interview Guide (E-book). She is also a business mentor with Dublin City Enterprise Board’s Mentor Panel. In addition Jackie runs an online network for SMEs (and consultants / service providers operating in that space) on LinkedIn - SME Links Ireland.

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  • Anonymous

    Very interesting and it seems like common sense but in the heat of the moment, all preordained logic can quickly dissipate! I was once told the reason I did not get the job was because I strive for perfection and the role would not be able to satisfy this apparent need for perfection…maybe some stuble and and a pair of jeans might have worked in that scenario!

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  • Sian, great post!
    I agree that we need to be there for our customers, but as I mentioned before, I think if we make ourselves available 24 hours a day, then we work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This can only lead in one direction – burn out.
    I am aware we can lose a customer or two, but I certainly would rather someone else looked after a potential client at 2am, while I get my much needed beauty sleep.
    As we do more business globally, it is accepted that our e-mails to the US or Asia may not be answered immediately due to time differences, and this cannot change unless we work 24 hours a day.

  • Sian, of course the strange thing is that the advent of technology has in fact increased working hours rather than having the expected decrease. I think its important to be available to customers but we are in danger of taking this too far. Most people now take work with them on holidays etc, I can’t say I believe this is now a good thing and I think we need to rethink what important in our lives.

  • Thanks for the comments – I thought it may be controversial 🙂

    Elaine – I appreciate that time for sleep is needed, as I mentioned in the post. And of course if you are in touch with a company in another country with time differences then you would expect a delay. I was talking more from my point of view dealing with Irish companies and providing a service to them.

    Niall – I think I must be a workaholic then because I do tend to work on holiday too, lol. But then I normally holiday alone, home from home, in Spain.

    Ian – thank you, sounds like a good plan

    For those that don’t want to man the phones/emails after hours then a virtual office service can be used to ensure customers get some sort of response too.

  • Ian

    Being self-employed produces a different work ethic from a 9-5 salaried post. Those you can walk away from, and leave for another day, with a clear conscience. Building your own business requires more committment but gives more job satisfaction and hopefully more money. Your returns are based on the amount of work you put in. Hopefully Sian, you’ll be able to build a business where somebody else can eventually put in all the hard graft while you enjoy an early retirement.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with lots that you say Sian. Getting your own business up and running requires lots of dedication and much more than 24 hours in every day. Making a success of it however requires a balance of work and play. Of course if your work is your play well then you can spend more time that most at it. But even the really succesful need to take time out to refocus and recharge.
    Being self employed means there are days when we’d love to just switch off at 5.30 and let some fictional boss worry about the future of the business.
    That said, I wouldn’t swap the long hours, hard work and lower income involved in being your own boss for the demands of another boss — even if I did get to work only 9 to 5 everyday.

  • Anonymous

    It is vital to take time to recharge those batteries and unwind. However when you become self employed you can decide what hours and effort best suits you and your business. I can find myself enjoying a walk in the day and writing a Powerpoint presentation at 10pm at night. To me that is Freedom! Also I live by this quote – “Choose a job you love,and you will never have to work a day in your life.”- Confucius

  • Alan

    To get a business up and running a great deal of time and effort is required. 9 to 5 cannot be considered. You either have the backing to afford helpers or you have to carry the business yourself. Of course if the business is sucessfull and creating jobs then the time to relax and catch up with holidays will be there for the taking, all being well you just touch base when required.

  • BeachHut81

    People that say you don’t have a life, are obviously at ‘work’ on the sunny days when you can take a longer break, or even work outside

  • I can understand the “need” to keep clients. Having said that, there is the issue of life balance and if all a person is doing is working to the exclusion of the other parts of their life then I just don’t see the point. When we are self-employed we often don’t work the set 9-5, but quite a lot of staggered hours. I’d sooner not take on a client if it is going to clash with my family life. I’ve done the “on call at all costs” before and from experience (for me) the price is far too high.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Sian – food for thought. I too have experienced the 9-5 regime in the corporate world and the open-all-hours model common to many SMEs. It is very important to service your customers in a timely manner. It is also important to stay healthy, focused and rested to ensure that you are able to meet your customers requirements.

    Sometimes a customer will need out of hours support, most of the time (in most industries), it can be dealt with in the 9-5 window. The key is to be able to distinguish the important/urgent tasks from the never-ending ticker tape of regular customer requirements. Otherwise we’d never get to sleep…

  • Thank you for all the comments. I must point out that I only said “be available” – I’m not snowed under with calls and emails every evening or weekend although we get one or two and I don’t mind dealing with it if I’m available and it may only take 10 minutes. I appreciate queries and time taken to deal with them will vary from business to business. Once the enquiries get too much and means we’re working stupid hours then we’ll employ a virtual office service to deal with out of hours enquiries. I just believe that in a service industry then the best possible service should be given when possible. Especially these days when businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

  • Controversial indeed Sian! Agree with you on all counts, the trick is to make sure that you do actually get a life at some point otherwise you do have to question what the point of it all is! This takes time to develop though so the trick is to work smarter to ensure that you don’t get consumed 24*7. Is there technology that can help you out perhaps? For those that need a break from the phone but don’t have staff – perhaps a “virtual receptionist”… or…

  • Things are changing with and the workload will change soon. I’m really not complaining as I love my work and life and I do have time out of course. We will always keep our service personal though and not automate everything. I just wondered if people are making themselves available more in these times.

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  • TheDude

    The ongoing battle between two mentalities and in the end two social and economical statuses. Being a 9 to 5 employee and feeling trapped and miserable, having to ask for permission even for going to the toilet (I’m exaggerating this a bit to make a point) or having your own business, working 16 hours a day in it and thinking you are free. :))
    I don’t know which one is best. Judging it from the amount of working hours, it may seem that having your own business is a bit stupid. I mean the whole point is to have as much time for yourself as possible. In reality, owning a business gives me the chance of at least try to escape the corporate net and make it. Meaning work less hours, earn enough money and be free from the 9 to 5 cage.
    So I guess at the end of the day is just a matter of how long it takes to make it.

    Hope it won’t take a life time and then regret I didn’t go 9 to 5 when I was young. It is a bit of a catch 22 isn’t it? 🙂

  • TheDude

    The ongoing battle between two mentalities and in the end two social and economical statuses. Being a 9 to 5 employee and feeling trapped and miserable, having to ask for permission even for going to the toilet (I’m exaggerating this a bit to make a point) or having your own business, working 16 hours a day in it and thinking you are free. :))
    I don’t know which one is best. Judging it from the amount of working hours, it may seem that having your own business is a bit stupid. I mean the whole point is to have as much time for yourself as possible. In reality, owning a business gives me the chance of at least try to escape the corporate net and make it. Meaning work less hours, earn enough money and be free from the 9 to 5 cage.
    So I guess at the end of the day is just a matter of how long it takes to make it.

    Hope it won’t take a life time and then regret I didn’t go 9 to 5 when I was young. It is a bit of a catch 22 isn’t it? 🙂

  • I can see your passion in your work, Sian, and that’s wonderful! To really be into what you’re doing, most of the time it’s about fulfillment, even enjoyment. The ethical working ethic (care for customer needs) even during off hours, that can really happen for a nine to five day job if you’ve found the perfect one (the one that suits you). If you can enjoy that, it’s a dream job so good for you. (but we still ought to rest sometimes too, I’m struggling that even doing the job I love, lol..)

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Love that you wrote that post Sián, as it is one of “those” topics! 😉

    I think this is a personal choice and I believe it should be, personal and that all of us should decide and take control over our own hours, so for me, there is not right or wrong behaviours; and, actually, it is my belief that you need to act in a fulfilling way, then, when it is fulfilling, that is your “right” way.

    These decisions have to be made considering our balance, our market, our niche, our services.

    Personally, I am not a 9 to 5, and while I was, at some point, in a 9 to 5 job, I just very rarely left at 5…! This ties in to my belief of over delivering and committing at 100% to deliver the best service I can. I have had, however, colleagues who could “switch off” at 4.59 and go home; for me, I rather finished what needed to be done and then go home.

    Since I have my own business, I have total freedom of my hours and certainly do not follow a 9 to 5.
    But, yes, there is a but, I have boundaries; boundaries that serve me and my couple, my family , and my friends.

    Those time boundaries, commitments and set expectations are key to my balance.

    I believe that my clients get the best from me when I am at my best and this is not when I am working 24/7; so, I don’t work 8h a day; on some days, I work way more, and some days, I will be chilling in A LOT 😉

    I do not mind having to work harder for a specific amount of time when I know that play is coming up; you know, “Work hard, player harder”! 😉

  • Anonymous

    I hear you Sian, it’s a tough call, yes we need to make sure that our services/products are available to our customers when THEY want them, otherwise they’ll find someone who will give them what they want, when they want it!

    However, and here’s the catch- as business owners yes we absolutely need to do everything we can to ensure that our businesses survive & thrive, but if we don’t take care of our own health & well being then we will underperform. If we neglect taking care of ourselves & having appropriate relaxation & down time over sustained periods we also face the risk of jeopardising our health.

    It’s a fine balance- one that all too often can only be seen clearly when it’s too late. I have a personal experience which I will share here- I implored my father to take time off as he was working far too hard. The words I used were “If you were to drop down dead in the morning, they’d find someone else to replace you” but as a Manager he was committed to his responsbilities. Within weeks after that conversation I had with him, he had a massive heart attack & passed away instantly.

    So, YES do everything you can to make sure that your business is competitive & it meets the demands of your customers, but PLEASE, please take care of your health too- without it- you won’t have any business at all.

    If you make your mobile number available to customers- have 2 phones, one that you can happily switch off at a predetermined time of day. We need to relax & recharge in order to work to our optimum performance. And to stay healthy, happy & alive 🙂

  • There is give and take to being flexible. Yes, you need to be available when your clients need you (within reason), but the flexibility should also allow you to do things you might otherwise be unable to, like attend your daughters school during the day for an event.

    It’s not 9 to 5, it’s better, don’t you think?

  • Hi Colleen. yes I agree and flexibility does come into it too. I just believe that businesses have to put more hours in to survive these days. And if it means being available after 5pm to take a call or email then so be it. I’m not saying it should impose on your family life too much or your social life either if that is important to you. Just has to be within reason. If I’m not doing anything and can help someone when they phone at 8pm then I don’t see the problem in dealing with it then. I’m not saying make myself sick from overwork or not having any life at all. I enjoy a quiet life now – in fact much more than the mad social life I used to have. I like my work too which is a big part of my life when running a company

  • Hi Sian, Didn’t mean to imply that you were working yourself to the bone! Rather I thought the discussion would be a little more balanced when you acknowledge that the flexibility has to extend both ways. If you can work smarter, rather than harder, it is more beneficial to both you and your customer as well.

    Thanks for your article and your comments!

  • Sorry, Colleen. Was also a reply to other comments above really. I agree, work smarter rather than harder. But also be available to your customer outside 9 to 5 – within reason. And that includes flexibilty as you mentioned.

  • Great post Sian and totally agree – have to be available when the customer is..there is no such thing as a 9 to 5 when it is your own business…Even if your customers were only available from the hours of 9 to 5 because it is your business, your baby, your hopes and dreams, limiting yourself to just 8 hours is not a possibility..Also, because it is your own business it doesn’t really seem like work but something that you enjoy as you’re doing it for you..Working 9 to 5 (and all the rest) what a (great) way to make a living..

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sian,

    First off, congrats on a great business, what’s what are very visible in the marketplace and a real success story-kudos

    I’m in full agreement with you and I am not self-employed. I have always firmly believed you work until the work is done. Simples. I make my personal mobile number available to all clients (it’s on my business card). I will take calls when I’m needed and I will work as many hours as are necessary to get the job done, for example before taking time off for my wedding I had a major project on and it required 3 weeks of 12 hour days so that’s what it got. I see my future with Passion and frankly I enjoy it anyway! I genuinely love what I do.

    The other side of it of course is those hugely successful people who spend very little time working and insist that nobody should have to. Take for example, the wonderful Joan Baker (Wealth Masters), her philosophy is that you achieve 80% of your results in 20% of your time so be productive in that time and forget the rest! Another guy, Neil Asher (fantastic AM) insists he works very little enjoying his Internet-amassed fortune…..

  • Anonymous

    For people working 9 to 5 , time is important. They have fixed mind set . But those who do not follow 9 to 5 and work till the job is complete , work and results are important.The salaried people mostly have 9 to 5 attitude . May because they are working for some body else’s business . They are not directly benefitted by the results. But the self employed work for themselves and hence extra hours put in benefit themselves. But in todays cometitive atmosphere it is seen at many places an employed person is given a target which has to be completed . In such cases people do work extra time.In a family wife would always want the husband to work 9 to 5 , so that he can be with family and spend time with them. But a businessman / self employed person mostly has to work extra so as to acheive the goal set,which in turn does not allow him to give quantitative time to his family.

  • Rob Roe

    Great message.. whenever the customer wants to contact you, make sure youu2019re available. Well writen blog (survivor)

  • It’s an interesting article, Sian! 

    I used to be at any crazy hours to help my clients. But now, I have to admit that I like my sleep. lol

  • pankaj sharma

    this is a right way of working and active motion

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