Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Things You Should Not Say, Communicate Or Discuss On A First Interview

We all know that there are certain things one does not discuss on an initial meeting – salary, vacation, hours, etc.  But there are other, more subtle things which can kill a job applicant’s chances of getting passed on.  And the shame is that good people make these mistakes all the time.

Let’s start with basics:  The purpose of any interview is to gather information about the company and the job.  Smart candidates learn to listen before they speak,  so that way they can find out as much as they can about the situation.  The objective of any interview is to get passed on to the next person.  The objective of the process is to meet the most senior person possible.  That person is generally the one who controls the job and the hiring – and that is the person who, if he or she likes you, can adjust the job to fit your needs, if possible.

So, on a first interview – and it doesn’t matter if it is with HR, the hiring manager or merely a friend of a friend or even the CEO – you should follow the old adage:  You have two ears to listen, two eyes to observe and one mouth to speak.  Look and listen twice before you speak once.

I have seen candidates commit hara-kiri because they said too much or gave the impression that they were too good or senior for the job.  I had a candidate recently who was interviewing for a director position but clearly left the impression with the HR person who was screening him that he was way beyond the job (he wasn’t).  He did not get passed on and only afterward confessed that he was really interested, but said what he said to insure that the HR director understood his seniority.  Ironically, he did not have to discuss his seniority, it was evident and so he talked himself out of a job.

Here is my list of things to not to say or do.

·         Listen.  Listen. Listen.  If you are asked questions, answer them.  Don’t discuss what you will or won’t do or what you do or don’t do, unless asked. And then if you are asked, make sure the interviewer understands your interest in the job.

·         Don’t give the impression you are not interested.  I recently had a candidate who said that he was interviewing only because a recruiter called him.  If he had simply added that he was always interested in this company and relished the chance to find out more about them, he would have done better.  But by saying he was there only because he got called was the kiss of death.

·         Don’t tell people or give the impression that because you are a manager or director, you expect others to do the work. In every job, president or clerk, people are expected to roll up their sleeves and do whatever is needed to get the job done.  Giving examples of how you have done this will surely get you passed on to the next person for any job you are interviewing for.  Directors don’t simply direct and delegate.  They perform and execute and can tell stories of how they do/did this.  Asking about staffing on a first interview may give the wrong impression.

·         Don’t make it seem that the opportunity at your current company is better than what this new company may be offering.  You don’t know this yet.  And playing hard to get conveys disinterest. You are there to gather information and as you interview, the opportunity will unfold.

·         Don’t ask about working from home one or two days a week.  This privilege is reserved for people who are known and trusted, but rarely granted to new employees.  It is a certain turn-off.

·         Don’t take the person you are interviewing with for granted.  Too many senior executives think they are above interviewing with HR or other junior people. Often they are dismissive or convey an attitude. On a first interview you simply don’t know who you are seeing or their place in the company.  You can find this out in later interviews and may be surprised to learn of the high regard with which they are held. (This is also true on subsequent interviews:  there is a reason you are seeing everyone.)

·         No matter how good you are, arrogance is unacceptable.

·         Everyone knows not to discuss money, but don’t ask about things like your potential office, your vacation and time off.  Do not discuss planned time off if it is in the near future; that comes when an offer is close or has been made.

·         Don’t negotiate.  Many executives think that it behooves them to let a company know, from the get-go, what they expect.   You can’t negotiate until you have an offer. The leverage to negotiate is in the offer, not before.

I would also like to remind everyone, particularly those who are networking, that there is no such thing as an informational interview.   People who approach a meeting thinking that they are there only to gather information have the wrong mind-set. An interview is an interview. Anyone who sees you has the ability to pass you on, either within their company or to another friend.  If you remember that, you will leave the best impression.


  1. The opening of this post says, “The purpose of any interview is to gather information about the company and the job.” Then, at the very end, it says, “There is no such thing as an informational interview.”

    I don’t get it!

    1. @]Anonymous: It has to do with mind set. All interviews are real. While you are there to get information about a company or a job, you are still under the microscope, so to speak. People who approach an interview only to get information, may be so busy asking questions that they forget that they are being assessed for a job, whether stated or not.

      In other words, you must remember to be your best. And, as I stated, as a result, you want to be passed on to the next person.

  2. Paul,

    All very wise thoughts. Especially in today's marketplace seniority is subjective. Many people with lots of experience are getting passed up for more knowledgeable younger folks. Humility is key.


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