Interviewing Fools

Monday, April 2, 2012
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On the first of every April, we take time out of our busy schedules to pay homage to the fools among us: those who cross streets without first looking both ways, gulp hot beverages before first gauging just how hot the liquid is and -- for the purposes of this column -- fail gloriously during job interviews.

Chicago-based CareerBuilder recently sponsored a survey of 3,023 hiring and human resource managers and asked them to rate the biggest mistakes job candidates make during interviews. I must say, after reading the list, it became a little easier to see why hiring managers have been complaining so vociferously about a shortage of quality workers.

Ironically enough, the smartphone figures into the top-ranked response of dumb things to do during an interview, with 77 percent listing answering a cell phone or texting.

Following closely behind that faux pas are the toxic traits of appearing disinterested (75 percent) or arrogant (72 percent), while dressing inappropriately was named by 72 percent of respondents.

"It may seem unlikely that candidates would ever answer a cell phone during an interview, or wear shorts," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, "but when we talk to hiring managers, we remarkably hear these stories all of the time."

In addition to being asked for the biggest interview mistakes they've encountered in the hiring room, respondents were also asked to share the most memorable interview encounters they've had over the past year. I'm guessing that no job offers were extended to the candidate who was "arrested by federal authorities during the interview when the background check revealed the person had an outstanding warrant."

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And ditto for the candidate who, while driving to the interview, passed, cut-off and then flipped his middle finger at the driver who happened to be the interviewer.

With the average time spent unemployed hovering around 40 weeks, it's not surprising that some candidates may not appear on top of their game, says Tony Morrison, vice president of Houston-based networking site Cachinko.

The extended layoff can cause some candidates "to become complacent -- meaning preparation and research takes a back seat," he says.

But Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., is more philosophical about the meaning of the survey results.

"The irony of the tight job market," he says, "is that it doesn't always drive people to higher performance."

Michael J. O'Brien can be reached at

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