Management December 1, 2009 Last updated February 6th, 2010 2,323 Reads share

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

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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

Jackie Prendergast

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