It’s a rare privilege to see someone do something perfectly. Usain Bolt. Tiger Woods (pre-sex scandal, anyway). And then there’s this guy who came in a few weeks ago and screwed up his job interview perfectly.
The only thing missing was a little piece of toilet paper trailing from the heel of his shoe as he made his way out the door.
First of all, he was late. That’s all right. People have stuff. But 35 minutes late? Strike 1. Then, he didn’t apologise. I don’t need face-on- the-carpet grovelling, but a little “I’m really sorry” would’ve been nice.
It occurred to me, as I watched this fellow, that we make many mistakes when we’re trying to land a job. This guy made the error of showing off his bad personality before displaying his good one, if that one indeed existed. But we all goof up. Even with the stakes so high and with tremendous motivation for success on every front, job hunters make rudimentary blunders every day. Sometimes as an interviewer it just makes me want to put my head down on the desk
and cry. But the one thing I can’t do is lean across the vast expanse of wood or metal that separates me from the applicant and say, “Hey, buddy? Here’s what you just did to cut your own throat.” So I think I’ll do that now.
Schedule a 10.30
There are good times of the day to have your appointment, and bad ones. Shoot for late morning. The boring crap that starts every day is over. The guy interviewing you is looking forward to lunch, but he’s not so hungry that he’s daydreaming about his cheese burger. Even better are interviews over breakfast
or after-hours drinks. These are structured environments that show most people off at their best. Breakfast in particular is congenial, not overly long and tasty. If the boss orders an egg-white omelette or any form of bran cereal, you must do the same. And don’t order anything that will make him jealous. Like bacon. And when drinking with a relative stranger you want to impress, match him drink for drink, unless he is an alcoholic, and never say “f-ck” unless he does so first.
Dress like the boss
You are presenting something real to the interviewer: yourself. Not some fictional entity you saw in a movie, and not the dishevelled hipster you pose as because all your friends do too. If you’re serious about securing this job, spend a little time watching people go in and out of the company’s offices. You’ll see a range of sartorial displays and get an idea of what is acceptable. You don’t have to spring for a new suit. Just look nice.Research the culture, as well. I recently interviewed a very nice guy who just might have been right for a job opening we had. He comes in on a Friday. Everybody is casual, but this guy rolls in wearing a classic pinstriped three-piece. I don’t believe I’ve seen one of those in about a decade. Pink power tie. Hard attache case (James Bond, circa 1980). All of that’s okay. He read the culture wrong. That can be remedied. Giving the impression that you’re slightly clueless, however, is a bad place to begin.
Know who you are
This is tough for young guys who don’t yet know what they’re good at, but who feel they’re good at everything. But it’s important. You’re marketing yourself. The proper answer to “What do you see yourself doing in five years?” is not, “Hey, I can do just about anything!”. Suppose you’re at the supermarket and you come across a box that says: “It’s a floor cleaner! It’s a breakfast topping!”. Would you want to buy it? Consider the nature of the job you’re seeking
and tailor your pitch to it. They’re not looking for a brilliant polymath. They’re looking for somebody they can hire for R20 000 a month – less if you’re in publishing, or a lot more if you’re in finance or law. You have to keep a laser beam shining on that need and become a possible solution to it. That is, if you think you can actually do the job. To acquire the proper focal adjustment, try talking about the things you’ve done, and the things you do well. The trick is to build on your experience to position yourself for something specific and appropriate – not to reject everything you’ve done to date. A lot of guys say, “I was this, but now I don’t like it anymore and I want to be that.” That’s a mistake. Embrace your whole life, and then siphon it into the space you’re trying to fill.
Make time disappear
HR types often encourage applicants to ask the interviewer a lot of questions. But this pervasive and erroneous bit of advice can backfire unless you are subtle and a great listener and conversationalist, and (I hope) armed with some knowledge of your interviewer. You don’t just fish around for topics of interest. One woman came in and asked me, “What do you love most about your job?” on a really bad day. I wanted to grab her by the nose and lead her out of the office. On the other hand, do come prepared with intelligent questions about the company – its operations, the job, who the job reports to, what the department is like and so on. Listen. Respond to answers with further intelligent questions. It’s called conversation. The longer you can keep it going, the
better off you are. If the talk continues for more than the requisite 30 minutes, you’re on golden time. The guy is now seeing you on a voluntary basis that transcends simple politeness – and it’s in that land beyond politeness where true business lies.
Slam… but carefully
Primarily, this means not slagging your current employer. You can talk about problems, but referring to former bosses as dicks will get you nowhere. Bosses stick together as a group, like gorillas. Also, be careful when they ask you to critique their operation. They mean it, but you still have to be wary. Launch into what’s terrific about the company, and follow up with what new strategies you’d explore. If you’re talking to public-relations people, for instance, you don’t want to say, “This is a great company, but you have an image problem”. Truth bows before discretion in this case. If you are capable of intelligently
discussing the company and its positioning, on the other hand, that’s a good thing. It shows that you’re smart and courageous, and, if you do it right, politic and tactful.
Say you want the job
It’s amazing how often that simple statement becomes a tie-breaker. I believe most of the guys I’ve hired over the years have all expressed their naked desire for the gig. You want the people who want you. And really, isn’t that the basis of all healthy relationships?
Land a gig in a tough market
And Don’t Forget
1. PICK UP THE PHONE
Call a prospective boss directly to request an informative meeting, says author and career consultant Duncan Mathison. “Email is easier, but it’s also easier
to ignore,” he says. “And call only when you know exactly what you’re going to say.”
2. MOBILISE YOUR RÉSUMÉ
Paper CVs are no longer the norm. Make sure yours looks great on a smartphone. Send it as a PDF and use white space to create structure and make it easier on
3. DON’T AGE YOURSELF OUT
Hiring managers are human, Mathison says. They let age stereotypes influence their decisions. Remove your graduation year and the old-school “objective”. Opt instead for a summary statement that shows your direct value to the company.
4. MAKE IT TO THE SECOND ROUND
Electronic gatekeepers prefer CVs with hard ref-erences – “accounts receivable”, “software development” – rather than soft terms, such as “communication” and “teamwork”, so include specifics rather than vague terms.