Interview sabotage

Peter Dawson

Peter Dawson

I was reminded recently of how candidates can sabotage themselves in interviews when a financial planner called me to vent about an interview he had attended for a role with a large financial services group.

He came to our conversation with an armoury of incendiary abuse regarding the interviewer’s incompetence, lack of professionalism and inability to recognise his talents.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good fit for the role; in fact his skill set and experience put him at the front of the queue of candidates in consideration but his interview went south from an early stage when he thought that there was no appreciation of what he was able to bring to the table. Rather than working with the interviewer he took umbrage to a question about his achievements in a previous role. ‘If he knew anything about me he should have known that I had understated what I did in that role but he started asking a lot of questions he should have known the answer to’.

When I asked him how he thought he came across to the interviewer he missed the point saying that he now knows what he could do to grow the client’s business and didn’t appreciate how his abrasiveness was a likely deal breaker.

Candidates have a number of sabotage techniques they unwittingly draw on to ensure they implode in interviews including the abrasive approach just mentioned. The most common are:

  • Lack of focus where answers to questions lack structure and often the candidate will tell a meandering story that loses the interviewer at an early stage of the telling. I know of one case where a practice manager told a story that had no relevance to the question asked and took all of ten minutes to tell it. I’m sure if there was an ejector button the interviewer would have taken considerable pleasure in pressing it.
  • Jargon is often used to show case the candidate’s knowledge but often backfires when their responses are heavily littered with industry speak that only serves to negatively impact on their assessment.  This is particularly relevant to interviews where the interviewer is not an industry insider and finds they’re at a loss to understand what you are talking about.
  • Waffling is common in interviews particularly where candidates are either unable or uncomfortable in answering a question. They focus on peripheral issues and steer the interviewer away from what was asked in the hope that they can distract them long enough so that they lose their train of thought or that they’ll give up and move to the next question.
  • Fidgeting becomes a serious problem when candidates cling on to something like it’s their security blanket and use it as a prop for their answers to questions. I recall a senior financial planner from a private bank who wielded a shiny gold Mont Blanc pen like he was conducting Beethoven’s ninth all through the interview. My distraction grew very quickly in to annoyance and the ‘conductor’ was exited before he could get in to his next symphony.
  • Mobile interruptus – here we are looking at someone who thinks that their need to answer their mobile or read and send texts or email is more important than the interview. I remember a business consultant who at the time was working for a global consulting firm spending more time on his mobile than talking to me. Needless to say he didn’t make the candidate short list and the next time I saw him was at a café where he was talking on his mobile while the other person at the table looked on painfully.
  • Making inflammatory statements – the most common form of this is bad mouthing former colleagues and bosses or repeating negative rumours about companies. Malicious stories even if there is some truth to them are best avoided with a barge poll as they reflect a lack of professionalism. However sometimes interviewers when probing behavioural characteristics touch on a nerve. A senior executive was once asked what the first thing he would do if he was appointed Prime Minister and he replied that he would order the armed forces to attack one of our Asian neighbours as he thought they were a threat. Needless to say he didn’t get a call back for the role he was interviewing for.
  • Telling jokes is the preserve of the fool hardy as we all know comedy is subject to taste and context. I have met only one candidate over the years who was able to effectively weave jokes in to an interview. He really had the talent to pick his audience and his timing was up there with professional comedians and if nothing else he couldn’t help but make you smile even when asked some pretty serious questions.

My advice to you budding comedians is to keep your jokes for another forum as there is nothing that kills an interview like a flat or inappropriate joke.

To avoid sabotaging your chances in an interview aim to build a rapport with the interviewer which is best done by answering what is asked of you directly and succinctly as possible and not taking them on a journey that goes nowhere, is loaded with jargon, distracting jokes or annoying phone calls or texts.

By Peter Dawson, The Dawson Partnership, Author of Successful Recruitment – Building your business through best practice

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