HUMAN RESOURCES

When Job Interviews Go Sour

What are the biggest blunders a job applicant can make? CEOs weigh in about what impresses them -- and what draws their ire.
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Josh Linkner wanted to fill the account director position within his company. He thought he had the right candidate for the job after interviewing an experienced applicant three or four times. But he had noticed she asked questions like what title would "I" receive, or how much money will "I" get.

This "ego driven" questioning worried Linkner, the founder and CEO of ePrize, a Detroit-based online promotions company. But he pushed ahead with the interview process by inviting the candidate to the ePrize office for a tour, because she had all the qualifications. Linkner describes the office area as very open, where everyone works together. The candidate did not like the idea of a communal workspace, and before she had the job, "demanded her own" office.

The interview ended right there, and she left without Linkner filling the position. Over time, Linkner has developed a strategy to identify this me-first attitude. "We will literally count how many times an applicant says 'we' versus 'I," Linkner says.

Small-business owners may have developed tactics to filter the applicants that actually interview with the company, but many candidates who lie, come unprepared, or have an arrogant attitude find a way to sneak through the door. 
 
Gerard Ferro, CEO of SunRx, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based prescription drug adviser, had a similar problem when looking for a new senior executive administrator. One of the finalists, culled from a field of more than 100 applicants, demanded a salary of about 30 percent more than what many top administrators make.

The candidate felt she deserved the higher salary because "she said she was such a benefit to her current employer," according to Ferro. He decided to investigate further instead of ending the interview. It turned out she worked for an investment banker who was only in the office one or two days out of the year, and she simply set his calendar and made traveling plans.

This "big pay" attitude persists among most candidates, according to Ferro, and continues even after some of the applicants begin working.

"They are not akin to becoming a team," Ferro said. "They think the grass is greener on the other side, but they haven't mowed the lawn."

When dealing with character traits, like arrogance, an interviewer can use his eyes and intuition to determine how the attitude fits with the company, CEOs say.

"I try to match the position I am interviewing for and certain traits I want," says Bruce Moeller, president and CEO of DriveCam, a San Diego-based firm that makes the driving equivalent to the "black boxes" on airplanes. "If I am looking for leadership position, do you like to win? I want someone who can't stand to lose."

Lying on the resume, on the other hand, can be a more insidious problem.

HireRight, a background screener for companies during the hiring process, had one such case. Eric Boden, president and CEO of the Irvine, Calif.-based company, was looking for a new executive assistant. One contender claimed to have a year-and-a-half experience on her resume while working at a single company, but during the interview "she became confused about the dates," Boden says.

Under Boden's continued questioning, she admitted that she only worked at the previous company for six months, and had not worked for a year. On her resume, she added her time off as time with the company. Needless to say, she did not receive a job offer.

More than 40 percent of resumes contain one or more significant errors, according to a recent study by ResumeDoctor.com, a South Burlington, Vt.-based resume-counseling firm.

While falsifying information on a resume is almost universally condemned, CEOs say candidates who do not research a company before applying also draw their ire.
 
"I am always surprised to find candidates who never even looked at our website," Boden says. "I quickly cross them off the list."

Paul Brockbank, CEO of Logoworks, a Lindon, Utah-based graphic-design firm, likes to see what questions the applicant has about the company, and how engaging he or she is. Brockbank does not worry about small slip-ups, like a cell phone going off, or if the candidate comes in slightly disheveled.

"The first 30 seconds are important, and I don't mean how they look, but are they able to ask something to engage the interviewer." Brockbank said. "How could you possibly be an interesting person if you are not interested in the [interviewer] or business?"

Engaging does not mean bashing your old boss, in most cases. Brockbank, Linkner, and Ferro all expressed their disgust of applicants who complain about the companies where they used to work.

"One of the things I look for is if they suffer from victimitis," Linkner said. "It's a disease that can't be cured."

Last updated: Mar 7, 2007




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