Interview Candidates From Hell

I noticed a number of people talking about writing their resumes and applying for jobs recently so I thought I’d share some observations from my side about what doesn’t work for me when I interview candidates for positions in my team. 

Just some background first. I generally focus on interviewing people for analytical type roles, or else technically focused roles primarily in the IT space. But the characteristics and issues that grated my nerves were pretty generic, so it should apply to any industry or career path. Here goes:

  1. The Pompous Candidate – this is the guy (term used generically) that still has an over inflated ego because they got great marks at high school or university. Those marks mean nothing until you can apply that knowledge practically, so having the qualification only gets your foot in the door, and doesn’t guarantee you the job. Being humble and acknowledging the real world challenges around applying your academic achievements is important if you want to set the right tone in the interview.
  2. The Lethargic Sod – the biggest turn off for me when I first meet a candidate is if they appear lethargic and uninterested as if they have something better to do, and they’re just here to see if they can get lucky. I usually make up my mind about a candidate the moment I get a slouch waiting in reception looking like they’re ready to nod off or fall off their chair. This candidate is also likely to arrive late, or not at all, and if late, usually tries to laugh it off by making a lame joke about it and expecting everyone to adjust their diaries to accommodate their lack of punctuality. The only possible recovery from arriving late is to ensure that you call ahead to let them know about an unforeseen event that delayed you, and a sincere apology the moment you arrive. If you’re expecting to be more than 15 minutes late, call ahead and give them the option to reschedule rather than insist on still trying to pull the interview off. You don’t want to sit in front of a recruiting manager or interview panel that is already annoyed with you before you even arrive.
  3. The Over Confident Candidate – I have the most fun with these candidates because they generally position themselves too strongly and end up over-selling their skills. My favourite is when they lay claim to being at an ‘Expert’ (or 5 out of 5) level of proficiency in the use of certain applications, like MS Word, or MS Excel and the like. That’s when I start asking them questions and it goes something like this. Assume we’re talking about MS Word, I would start off with, “So do you know about Kerning?”. I usually get a sheepish grin to which I promptly respond, “Then you’re not a 5, you’re a 4.” My next question is usually, “Do you know how to format a table that restricts access to only those fields that you want a user to enter data into without being able to modify the rest of the document?”. This is usually followed by another sheepish grin from the candidate accompanied by a wry smile from me, to which I respond, “Then you’re not a 4, you’re a 3.” At this point I allow them a graceful exit by jokingly asking them if they want me to continue, to which the response is normally a definite “No!”. The point is, don’t over state your qualifications or skills, and make sure that you have a reasonable point of reference when trying to rate your level of proficiency in the use of standard tools or applications relevant to the position you’re applying for. 
  4. The Unkempt Candidate – there’s always that guy that walks in and assumes a level of familiarity with me as if he knows me from way back when ‘pa fell off the donkey’ (as we would say in South Africa). They usually crash and burn very early into the interview because the excessive familiarity usually causes them to discard professional decorum leaving them looking like slackers. They’re also usually untidy and casual in appearance. The golden rule of first impressions making lasting impressions definitely apply in the interview process.
  5. The Uninformed Candidate – it’s common for the recruiting manager to ask the candidate to explain their understanding of the position they’re applying for. It’s also common to ask for their understanding about what the company does and how that job function contributes towards the company’s objectives. So when we get candidates that can barely explain what the role is about relative to the job ad, and even worse, they know nothing about the organisation, they immediately set the impression that they’re just trying their luck and that they’re really not that serious about making a career for themselves at the company. Do your homework about the position, and about the organisation. It helps if you can talk about your potential contribution to the role within the context of the challenges that they may be facing at that point. But don’t overdo it because it will look like you’re just clutching at straws in trying too desperately to sell yourself.

Those are the most common pitfalls that I can think of regarding the way candidates do themselves a major disservice in how they present themselves. There’s probably more, but this post is long enough already. There are many do’s and don’t’s that apply to the way in which you should structure and prepare your CV, which, if there is sufficient interest, I’ll cover in another post. 

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