What’s the worst mistake to make in a job interview?

Superman arrogantWhat can really make a future employer not want to add you to their team? According to a RHI Management Resources survey, executives were asked about the worst mistake management-level candidates can make during an interview.

Half (50%) said a display of arrogance was the biggest pitfall.  Much of interview coaching advice tells candidates to “be confident” and “act the part” and “show them you can do it”, but when these qualities are taken too far they can results in “over-confidence” which equals arrogance.

Arrogance is the workplace is one of the most off-putting qualities because it comes across as a character flaw–which can’t be fixed. No one wants to work with a know-it-all, or someone who is so confident they have lost a humanistic and empathetic quality. Mistakes happen, errors are made, economic factors make an impact, and someone who is arrogant is usually quick to avoid blame, point fingers and not respect other people’s feelings.

When the arrogant worker is in a management position the stakes are higher. They can directly impact high turnover among their subordinates, and create chaos in a cross-functional leadership team. These alone can have a negative and lasting impact on a company’s bottom line.

“When hiring at the senior level, companies pay particular attention to a candidate’s ability to lead, motivate and communicate effectively,” said Paul McDonald, who was the executive director of RHI Management Resources. “Firms value applicants who not only convey authority and aptitude, but who also have the interpersonal skills needed to direct a team and collaborate with top executives.”

Other mistakes to avoid in the interview

Other big errors that candidates made  which had a negative effect include:halt
• Avoiding difficult questions (13%)
• Being unprepared to discuss specific achievements (13%)
• Asking up-front about compensation and other benefits (10%)
• Demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the company (9%)

Expectations about details and business knowledge are expected in today’s tough work environment. You have to be prepared to logically discuss uncomfortable topics and withstand probing questions. By keeping your answers truthful and showing self-awareness and a willingness to grow from your mistakes, you will help avoid many of these common issues which get you fired before you get hired!


The survey was developed by RHI Management Resources, and conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 1400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S companies with more than 20 employees.

Slam dunk references!


Many people get these terms confused. “Employment verification” is when the potential employer contacts your previous places of employment to verify you worked there. This is different from a professional “reference,” where someone is willing to discuss your work and vouch for your ability to do a good job. Today we’ll focus on great references.


References can take many forms, from a written letter of reference that can be verified, to a series of emailed questions about you, t.o a personal phone conversation. In all cases, the topic is YOU.


Years ago, it was acceptable to provide both “personal” and “professional” references. Today the credibility and relevance of personal references has disappeared. Forget the long-time family friends. Forget the priest or rabbi.  Concentrate only on people who can attest to and give specific examples of your work, work ethic, and work style (of course if you have worked with people you also have professional relationships with they can be a professional reference).

You want to offer 3-4 references. Try for a mixture of:    orgchart stickies

  • people above you (bosses, project leaders and managers)
  • people next to you (peers, colleagues and co-workers)
  • people below you (employees, mentees, support staff)
  • and people outside (vendors and customers).

Each of these people will view your skills and contributions differently, and can offer refreshing insight to a new employer.  You simply don’t want to be one-dimensional.

Also strive to present a mixture of work projects, different jobs and community projects. These can showcase your many talents, problem-solving and teamwork skills.

It’s a party! How many people does it take for a hiring decision?

party interviewing group funnyWho really makes the hiring decision?

Many career advice articles focus on “the hiring manager” as though it is a single person who makes the “hire or not” decision.  All you have to do is impress that one person and you’re hired!

However, in  a 480-person Careerbuilder survey of professionals responsible for or involved in the hiring process, the respondents verified that it takes a “small village” to make a single hiring decision.


  • Almost 1/3 of the survey respondents involving in the hiring process indicated that it required 4 or more people to make the hiring decision.
  • For 58% of hiring managers, 2-3 people were involving in making the decision to hire.
  • 9 out of 10 hiring managers felt that the right balance of education and experience was the most important criteria in evaluating candidates.
  • Fitting into a company’s culture is important to 84% of the respondents.
  • 78% of hiring managers indicated that they spend both time and effort in screening resumes sent to them by HR. Once screened, 55% felt the candidates provided by HR were well-qualified; however, 17% disagreed about the level of quality.

What’s the impact on job-seekers?

The good news is that if you don’t “connect” with one of the people who interview you, it’s O.K because se there are others involved in the decision. The bad news is that you have to positively interact, connect and make a strong impression on more than one person. How can you do that?

1) Pay attention to the “fitting into the culture” statistic above: 84% value a future employee who gels with the company culture. So watch for cues and clues. What actually IS the culture there? Recognize that “culture” will be defined differently by individuals in the organization. Watch what their offices look like, how people interact, what seems to get rewarded, and how directly people answer your questions. culture pieces puzzle king money

2) Treat everyone you meet with the same level of respect and warmth. Thank all those involved in the interview process personally, even if what they did to help you wasn’t very much at all.

3) Get the scoop on the interviewers and hiring professionals from those you meet along the way. People love to make observations and give you tips on their co-workers. Asking, “I’m interviewing with Bob next, what’s he like?”can reap a huge benefit for a strong first impression when you do meet Bob and have to answer his questions.

4) Bypass Human Resources and figure out how to get your resume directly into the hands of the hiring manager. If 17% of the hiring professionals aren’t happy with the candidates that HR selects for them, that is a huge opportunity for a qualified candidate to jump in there first. Since there is a time gap between when a department gets approval for an opening, and when the selected candidate resumes are presented, you could land in a hiring manager inbox and get considered before anyone else!

Let your cover letter do the talking

megaphone_thumbWell, once I get into the interview I’ll be able to explain it more…”

I hear this a lot from job seekers as they are crafting their resumes and cover letters. The belief that while the document they are sending  to an employer is not “quite right,” the job candidate will be able to fix it later during the interview process. In person. Up close and personal. Verbally. Out loud. On their feet. Face-to-face.

The vision in the job searcher’s mind is a video where they sit in an office, earnestly expanding or clarifying a project they worked on, or what they are most proud of, or even what makes them special. Somehow, there is the wish that those pesky job search documents will just go away, or a red editing pen will magically appear and self-correct the papers to include any missing components.

You only get one chance

Stop it. There simply aren’t second chances if the job search documents fail. The errors, ommissions, poor grammar, incomplete thoughts, missing skills, awkward wording–whatever gives you grief and stress in your resume and cover letter–all seriously handicap your chance at “later.”

Something awful has happened to our business writing: it’s gotten stale, generic, awkward, tedious, trite and pendantic. We don’t say what we mean, and we don’t mean what we say. Every cover letter is stale, written like every other. Do you like gettting form letters? Me neither.

Be a breath of fresh air

One of the skills that will best serve your job search is the ability to “role reverse”:  stop looking at things from your point of view and pretend to look at it from the employer’s viewpoint. Imagine reading an hour’s worth of some of the awful cover letters are out there.  Now imagine picking up a letter that FEELS like a conversation. It feels like the person has just sat in your office and said, “Hi! You are looking for a new hire, and I need a new job. I can see what you need, and I have a bunch of those skills plus a few more that might help.”

Work hard to translate this feeling to your letter: it’s as though  you breeze in, appropriately caffeintated, humming your favroite pick-me-up song, and certain that you are the solution to their problems. Much better than “To Whom This May Concern,” isn’t it?

Cut the junk

What is “junk” in a cover letter? Anything that doesn’t help the reader understand more about you: your personality, traits, work styles, skills and how you can make their organization better.

People don’t write letters anymore to great-aunts and cousins in other states. Yet, while the art of letter handwriting has become tarnished and our formal letter-crafting skills have diminshed, there is a bright side. Emailing, blogging, facebooking, tweeting and texting have once again made us comfortable in writing to express ourselves. Casual  and succint writing is back in style and that is good news for your cover letter! What would you say if you had to write three 160-character tweets as a cover letter?

Make them want details

The cover letter is a balancing act. It isn’t a “teaser” where you don’t reveal the good stuff and make them wonder. They won’t work that hard to figure it out. It needs more meat than a teaser or trailer, but not nearly as much as the resume contains. A cover letter sentence is a good sentence if the reader’s response is, “I need to hear more about that.” It contains relevant specifics, summarized in a way that the employer can translate that to a current or impending need they have in the organization.

The Uber-Writers at Copyblogger have great advice, James Chartrand says, “If you can’t say it simply in just a few words, then you’ve lost readers. Write short, write lean, and write clearly, so you don’t have to waste words explaining what you’ve just written.”