unemployed interviewLast week I appealed to employers to be more circumspect in considering the unemployed when hiring (Are you Tapping the Most Underappreciated Talent Pool). Discrimination is real and it happens for many reasons, not just unemployment. Humans are imperfect, make mistakes and behave very badly sometimes. We must all be vigilant against discrimination throughout our society, not just in employment. 

But there is another side to the story of why some people aren’t getting hired. A disclaimer: I am going to be candid and blunt in this article. It is not my intention to be mean or disrespectful, simply to be honest and, I hope, helpful. Here goes: it may not be discrimination but your own behavior during the interview process that is preventing you from landing the job. In addition to the numerous candidates we interview and screen on behalf of our clients, I’ve been expanding my own staff over the past year and have seen firsthand why some people remain unemployed despite impressive credentials.

For example, I interviewed a person with a PhD who was very intent that I understand just how smart and educated they were, so intent that they never stopped talking. In order to ask my next question I had to interrupt! They paid no attention to my body language or non-verbal cues – I stood up finally to see if that would influence them but it had no effect. No amount of education or experience could overcome this. In evaluating whether someone is going to fit in with your team and do the job well you absolutely consider their ability to speak judiciously and share in a conversation. Knowing all the code in the world won’t make a difference if you can’t be appropriate in your communications with others. Imagine someone like this on a project team or in a staff meeting.

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I’ve had candidates come to the interview and admit they never looked at our company’s web site. Some people have no questions to ask. I’ve had people show up over and underdressed; both are equally inappropriate. I’ve had people who never send a thank you note. And I have to add my voice to all the others who advise proofreading, proofreading and proofreading again to make sure there are no typos or errors in any written communication during the interview process. Each of these may seem like small things and some may think hiring managers are being too picky when they can’t see past these little mistakes (we’re all human after all) and recognize the great potential employee sitting in front of them. But this isn’t the way it works nor should it be.

These small things tell me that you pay attention to detail and that you are a thoughtful person who will make a good team member and fit in well. No one hires based on skills and experience alone, personality and general demeanor matter and interviewers screen for these qualities as much as for anything else. Can you be sure that the only reason your resume didn’t make it to the next step is because of how long you’ve been out of work or is there a mistake in it that could have cost you? Are you sure they didn’t call you back because they’re afraid to take a chance on someone who hasn’t worked in 18 months or is it because the answer to “do you have any questions for me” was “no?” Is your anger and frustration at past employers or your current job search coming through in your conversation?  I’ve seen that happen too and it’s a costly mistake, no matter how justified your feelings may be.

It is imperative that you prepare and pay attention You need to show the interviewer that you are a complete candidate, that you have the skills, experience, and personality to be a top performer in their organization. Human nature being what it is, it is often hard to deliver frank and honest feedback and instead candidates are given no reasons for why they weren’t hired or told something trite like “we’ve decided to go in another direction.” This gives them no chance to change or improve for the next time. So I am doing that here: are you sure that you are not part of the problem? When I interview someone I want to see that they are well spoken and a good listener too. I want to see them ask questions and give responses that show they are thoughtful and deliberative. I want to see their skills and experience bolstered by soft skills that show they can successfully work with colleagues and be managed and coached for performance.

The hiring process is challenging and an imperfect science – in fact it’s not a science at all.  At the heart of it are people and people are complex, fallible creatures. We should absolutely recognize that arbitrarily dismissing candidates isn’t good for anyone and we should fight true discrimination in as many ways as we can. But we also need to make sure that in being so certain about what the other “side” is doing wrong, we forget to look to ourselves and see if there is something there that needs changing. It isn’t always easy to look in the mirror and be honest but it is necessary; and it just might be what helps you change and land that next opportunity.

Jerry Brenholz
President and CEO
ATR International

Looking for a new job? Read: How to Optimize Your Job Search, A Comprehensive Guide for Every Job Seeker


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