Don't Blow That Interview
By Michael T. Robinson
Having interviewed more than a few thousand people and hiring hundreds of those to work in my own organizations I can look back and see how many job candidates simply blew the interview. Let me show you what they did wrong...
Looking The Part
Unless you are interviewing for a position in a rock and roll band, you should go to your interview dressed appropriately and this means a blue suit or sport coat and striped tie even if you are interviewing for a bartender job.
Studies have shown the the following attire builds trust faster and helps get the sale more often:
- Navy blue suit or blue sport coat (yes, for women too)
- A tie with blue and red stripes (women can use a scarf tied like a tie)
- Black shoes (low heals unless you are interviewing to be a stripper)
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That's right, I am suggesting you put on a sport coat or a suit and yes, it must be blue, unless you look positively stupid in blue.
I'm not saying to wear brown, green, gray or black. I'm saying wear blue. Period, end of story. Exceptions are noted below.
Did I mention you should wear a blue suit?
Why? In the retail business where they test and test until they know how to sell, they have run statistically valid tests where they changed the clothes of the sales people each day. Think of your favorite department store. Maybe Nordstroms or Barneys or Saks.
Sales were the highest the days the salesperson dressed up like the IBM employee of old. Blue suit and striped tie.
The blue suit and tie is a uniform of sorts. It makes you look more predictable and safer.
There is something about the blue suit, and tie with red and blue stripes that says:
- I am trustworthy
- I am dependable
- I respect you enough that I'm wearing this tie which is very uncomfortable
- You can be comfortable around me, I'm normal, I'm not strange
- I am smart enough to dress and act the part
OK, you got the job.
Exceptions - When to Dress Up More or Less
If you are interviewing for a job that requires an unusually high amount of creativity - say an Art Director at an advertising agency, then you might want to be a bit more flashy. Perhaps an Armani suit. Maybe a brighter more expensive designer tie.
Regardless, the navy blue suit with striped tie is the bare minimum.
What if you are interviewing for a life guard position? Well, if the interview is indoors, wear the blue suit. It will send a signal that you are dependable and you will show up on time each day.
However, if the interview is outdoors, on the beach, or by the pool, I would still take the jacket and tie, but carry the jacket instead of wearing it.
Get my point?
Do I Have To Wear a Tie?
Only if you want the job.
So many people ask me this, especially since ties have gone out of fashion in so many businesses.
Why would you wear a tie to an interview where they do not wear ties.
Wearing the tie to an interview is showing a sign of respect to your future boss and your future teammates. Do it for them.
You can always take the tie off if they insist.
If you wear a tie and they don't, you actually allow them to feel superior to you. After all, wearing a tie is punishment. It's not comfortable. You have to wear a tie to interview with me, but I don't have to wear one. Therefore I must be superior to you.
That is good. You want the people interviewing you to feel a little superior to you. You want them to feel they are in control.
Wearing a T-Shirt and Jeans to the Interview?
If you're interview is going to be held in an office, wear the blue suit and tie. It won't hurt.
I once interviewed a senior engineer from a major competitor who wanted to become our Director of Engineering. This was a Friday. You know, casual Friday.
Now, I'm the CEO and he comes over from his office which is just a few miles away. He comes in a few minutes late wearing a black T shirt and black jeans.
Now this job would have been a big promotion for him. It would have been a big boost in pay.
I tried my best to overlook his apparent sloppiness. I told myself it did not matter. This might be a very smart guy, very technically competent. We might really want this guy on our team.
Even though this guy had published a book and was well known, he presented an image that said he did not care what others around him thought about him.
When I asked him why he wanted to leave the company where he had been for over 8 years, he said he felt his coworkers did not like him. He thought they were jealous of him because he had published a book and they didn't.
Before the interview I read parts of his book and found that there was very little new material. Most of it looked like he just re-hashed the work of others. Also, his book, which had been very recently published, was missing critical information that had become very well known in the last few years.
When I questioned him, it was clear he was just mimicking the knowledge and expertise.
I was so unimpressed with this character that I stopped the interview right then and there. He was set up to interview with three other people on my staff. I saved them the time.
After the interview I called and old colleague who worked at his company. He confirmed the guy was not only lazy, but that he avoided doing his work and simply locked himself in the office while he worked on his book.
So here was a guy who came in looking sloppy and then every bit of information I got seemed to prove he was just that, lazy and sloppy. Not someone I would want representing my company. Also not someone who I would ask my team to work with.
Now had he worn his blue suit with red and blue striped tie to the interview I might not have caught on so quickly. I might have allowed the interview to continue and he might have hit it off with the people on my staff. Because I know I am very demanding and critical, I will sometimes let my staff overrule me on hiring decisions. But our candidate never made it that far.
Missing the Point Completely
It's amazing how many smart people can screw up a simple interview.
I was doing a phone interview with a candidate for our VP of World Wide Sales position. I was talking to a person who was a Regional Sales Manager for the competition which was a Fortune 500 firm.
We were a small start up with 20 employees.
This candidate spent the entire interview telling me about how he could come in and set up a system that would track all of our sales activities around the world.
So he painted a picture where he would simply sit behind his desk and work on his computer all day.
Was that what I wanted to hear about?
Had he made any effort at all to understand what I was looking for (see The Hidden Interview Checklist or how to find out what they are really looking for ) he would have know, that the VP of Sales at a Start-Up company is supposed to be out in the field with customers, sales reps, distributors, generating sales, taking care of his sales people, not sitting behind a PC at headquarters.
I kept telling him what we wanted was more sales. What we wanted was closer relationships with top management at our target customers. But he wasn't listening. He was missing the point entirely.
So remember, during an interview, they will tell you exactly what they are looking for. You need to listen carefully and show them how you are in Perfect Alignment with what they want.
Showing up Late for the Interview,
Are You Kidding Me?
When someone shows up late for something as important as an interview it usually points to a serious character flaw in your candidate. Don't believe me? Read on.
But let me digress. After interviewing and hiring so many people I have learned a few lessons. One is this: If during the interview process the boss begins to sense there is some sort of underlying problem with the candidate, there probably is a real problem lurking beneath the surface. Nine times out of ten this little hint I the boss picked up on will become a big problem for all.
Back to my story...
We were interviewing for a VP of Sales & Marketing position. We had fallen in love with this candidate. He knew our markets, our customers, our products. He had contacts around the world. He had been a VP of Sales already. He was charming and a good talker.
During the first interview he even offered us a strategic idea we had not thought about before. Wow, we found our candidate. Everybody loved him.
However, there was some suspicion over why he left his prior company, but we were willing to overlook that. After all we were in love with this candidate. Big mistake. Little alarm bells that go off during the interview process become major issues after you make the offer.
Fortunately, this position was so critical to our company that we had to meet with the candidate more than once to work out several details.
People can easily fool you in a one hour interview, but if you have three or four meetings over a week or two you, will begin to see the real person.
The first time I knew something was wrong was when he failed to make a conference call with me. It was even a call he had set up himself at his own request. He wasn't just late, he had forgotten about it. He called two hours late opologizing
Then a few days later he failed to show up for a meeting to discuss the expectations for the job and a bonus plan.
Many interviewees will meet with three or four managers. When you are late for an interview you can screw up all of their schedules. Its a domino effect.
I started to get more suspicious, even though we had the offer letter written, signed and ready to go out.
While checking his references I started to hear signs that this guy was very well liked but he could be flakey at times. He would drop projects. He would not follow through. In other words he could not be depended on.
After three missed meetings I told him we were no longer interested. He was shocked. He was stunned. He could not believe it.
A few months later I bumped into someone who had worked with the candidate for many years. He just rolled his eyes and laughed and said I was lucky I didn't hire him.
- Be on time, actually be a few minutes early
- Wear that blue suit and striped tie
- Listen carefully to discover their hidden checklist