It’s a never-ending source of amazement to me the sorts of stuff people come out with in an interview. Some behaviour’s pretty surprising too.
Often it’s down to understandable nerves. Interviews are stressful. But sometimes it’s a lack of preparation and thought that gets people into trouble.
Here’s part one in a two part series on interview faux-pas, how to avoid them and how we, as interviewers, can help candidates perform better when it matters most.
1. Not researching the company properly
Question: So, tell us what you know about us?
Answer: Well to be honest I’ve been really busy and I haven’t had time to look at your website. Tell me what it is you do again?
Recently I conducted some interviews for an administrative support role on behalf of a small family-run firm. You can imagine my surprise on getting this response to a fairly standard question – in fact, I nearly fell off my chair!
This answer obviously displays a serious lack of interest in the company. But perhaps more importantly it displays an inability to prioritise workload. An important consideration for this role. You won’t be surprised to learn they didn’t get the job!
2. Showing a lack of commitment to the job on offer
Question: So what are your long-term career ambitions?
Answer: Well I already do a bit of bookkeeping on the side so once I’m qualified I’ll do more freelance work and build up my own business.
This response came during interviews for the same role, but with a different candidate. Not only does it suggest a lack of commitment to the full-time job on offer but it also suggests the candidate doesn’t understand about conflict of interest. It’s a real red flag to an employer who is likely to wonder ‘will you be stealing my customers if I give you this job?’
3. Not providing work-based examples
Question: Tell me about a time you’ve managed a complicated change project or issue?
Answer: Well I moved house recently and that was really complicated …
This is a common question when interviewing potential managers. And I’m always surprised when people give non-work based examples in response.
It immediately makes me question whether they have sufficient work experience to perform in a managerial role. Of course not everyone you interview has relevant employment experience. I’m quite happy if graduates, for instance, provide examples that aren’t work-based. But if you’re interviewing at managerial level then work-based examples are expected.
4. Answering the wrong question
Question: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an under-performing employee?
Answer: I got rid of them.
This is quite a common response to this question and I suspect it’s because people want to demonstrate that they’re not afraid of acting decisively when it comes to dispensing with an employee who’s not right for the role.
However, in this context, it’s the wrong answer. Or, at least, the answer to the wrong question.
What I actually want to know is whether the candidate is able to work with and develop an employee who is under-performing so that they become a good performer. By telling me you simply got rid of them does not convince me you’d be able to do this.
5. Not giving the interviewer anything to go on
Question: Tell me about a difficult but sensitive situation you’ve had to deal with at work?
Answer: I handled lots of tricky situations when I was in the Army but I can’t tell you about them because I’m sworn to secrecy.
I understand that for some people, talking about previous roles presents all sorts of difficulties – especially if you’ve signed the Official Secrets Act. The problem is I can’t give you the benefit of the doubt. If you can’t give me any examples how will I know whether you’re right for the role?
The thing is, I don’t need to know the details of when, where and why a situation occurred that you had to deal with. I just need to know how you dealt with it. I’m looking for behaviours, not operational intelligence.
Avoid these verbal faux pas by preparing thoroughly
Preparation is the key to a successful interview. And it’s pretty simple too.
Think about what you’re going to be doing in the job and find examples in your work experience of when you’ve done the same things. Then practise talking about those examples. That way you won’t go blank and come out with something silly instead! You can always bring a list of examples into the interview to remind you. No one minds if you do that (unless you’ve been explicitly told you can’t bring anything written into the interview).
Please share any examples you have of interview faux-pas – your own or those of candidates you’ve interviewed in the past (no names please – let’s not embarrass anyone!).