We’ve all been there. It’s the day of the big job interview and you worry about everything. Does the belt match the shoes? Do your stockings have runs in them? Does your breath reek of last night’s margaritas even though you downed half a bottle of Scope on the drive over?
Your nerves are jangled. You really need this job and it feels like even the slightest misstep could mean failure. Is your hair okay? Are your teeth at their whitest? Will you flub the double-consonants in the interviewers name, even though you stayed up all night practicing (and drinking margaritas)?
The pressure is enormous. Say one wrong thing and you’ll be laughed at. You’ll be shown the door and sent back out into the streets penniless and with your self-esteem in shambles. Your entire future seems to hang on this very interview. The more you think about it, the more you feel like throwing up in your briefcase. It’s go time and look at you, curled into a fetal ball in the back seat of your Corolla.
Snap out of it, Skippy. It doesn’t have to be this fearsome. Employment specialists insist that by doing a little research and following some simple rules, you can ace any interview, even with a hole in your sock or a piece of spinach stuck between your teeth. Although, get a toothpick before you go in because that just looks ridiculous.
Those employment specialists are happy to share their secrets of interviewing success, but every one of them can also tell you a horror story or two — interview faux pas or just bonehead statements uttered by those people seeking jobs. Mind boggling stuff. Some of them are so bad, we wish we had a sad trombone to play along with the narrative. You know: Wah, wah waaaaah.
We’ll share those interview tips and suggestions, but first we’d like to show you some of the things you should NOT do while sitting before that potential employer. Why give you the bad news first? Because it’s funnier that way and we’re all about the yuks. Now straighten that tie and peel that square of toilet paper off the back of your blouse. Seriously, we won’t always be here to help you out.
Show me the money … immediately
Dan Marois knows a thing or two about job interviews. From both sides of the interview desk, in fact. Today, Marois is co-owner and producer at Mystery for Hire/Mainely Improv. Back in the day, he was marketing director at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, public relations manager at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and community relations and development director at Stephen’s Memorial Hospital in Norway.
Like his resume? Good. Now, here’s an example of how not to conduct yourself if you’re seeking a job from Mr. Marois or anyone like him.
“I was heading up a hiring committee to hire an executive director for a social service agency in New Hampshire. I led him into the interview in front of the six or so committee members. I asked him to tell us a little about himself. The first thing he said: ‘I just want you to know that I can’t be hired for less than “X” amount of dollars. I think you should know that first of all.’
“Since his request was $10,000 more than the highest amount we could offer for the position, I said, ‘Thank you for telling us that. Let’s not waste your time with an interview today. Thank you for coming.’ I got up, shook his hand and led him from the room. The hiring committee was shocked, but agreed that if he started an interview like that, what would he be like to work with?”
Director Mary LaFontaine and the other good people at the Lewiston CareerCenter say be prepared to answer questions about salary, but don’t bring it up on your own. Dan Marois agrees vehemently.
Big egos and bad references
Rebecca J. Cote is the administrations manager of Mountain Machine Works in Auburn. Sometimes, she says, you wonder how a person ever ended up in the interview chair at all.
“When I was interviewing a potential candidate for an administrative position, let’s call her Jane, I could not believe what I was hearing. Before Jane left I knew where she shopped, who she personally liked and disliked at previous places of employment, accusations of embezzlement and illegal activity of others, and why her previous employers let her go. In most cases she said she was let go because they were threatened by her intelligence and they were afraid she was going to take their job. Wow! My head was spinning when I was finally able to end the interview. And let me tell you, ending the interview was not easy to do with someone who thought so highly of themselves and wanted to make sure I knew that I too should think very highly of her.”
Cote offered another example: “Four years ago I interviewed someone for a ‘Gold Collar’ level position. Let’s call him Jack. Jack interviewed very well but I still to this day have no idea why he gave me the references he did. I called the references and two were good and two were horrible! One was a past employer from another state. Let’s call him Joe. Joe was also the owner of the company, which is rare for a reference but I thought I would call anyway. That was when I got an earful! Joe was so mad! He said Jack was a ‘deadbeat, lowlife, stealing, lazy BLEEP and if I saw Jack again to remind him he still owed the company $5,000!’ I told Joe I had talked to two other people from his company and they gave good references. He asked me for the names and then told me . . . they were his buddies and he had fired them all at the same time for theft. I couldn’t believe this guy gave his employer that fired him for theft as a reference! Do people think we don’t call references? . . . The second company I called was awful as well. They said he was unreliable . . . a complainer and was never satisfied with any part of his job.
“So many times I have thought ‘How in the world did I misread this person’s resume?’ I almost always call references first now to save myself from a painful interview and wasted time I could be spending on a more desirable applicant.”
‘Blowing’ your chances
Kayt DeMerchant is presently publisher and editor of Macaroni Kid, a free publication that features family-friendly events in the area. Before that, she was director of marketing at the YWCA of Central Maine and director of marketing at HealthReach Community Health Centers. DeMerchant knows how lack of work experience – or having work background that is, let’s say, dubious – can hurt an applicant’s chances of employment.
“I once had a woman apply for a job as a child care worker and when I reviewed her resume I noted she listed a former employer in Texas: Wazoo’s Inflatable Fun. Her one and only skill listed under that job was ‘blowing.’ I’m not joking. For numerous reasons, we never did interview her.”
Aaargh, matey, watch your tongue!
It doesn’t matter what level position you’re looking for, said John Snyder, who used to head a local company. If you want the job, you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner, whether you’re shooting for the position of astronaut, stock trader or lawn guy.
“I was looking to hire a lawn care laborer. I held my interview with a female member of my staff. The job applicant was a young, strong fellow that would probably have fit the bill nicely. Except, all through the interview he swore like a pirate, making my female staff member uncomfortable. (Not the kind of person you want me to send to your establishment either, I would think). At the end, I asked him if he had any questions for me. He said, ‘Yeah. Remember about two months ago when I walked up to you in the street and asked you for a cigarette? You told me no.’ I did suddenly remember him and the incident. I’m sorry to say he didn’t get the job.”
Toe fetishers need not apply
Vicky Pratt worked in human resources for a temporary employment agency and said you just never know what’s coming from an applicant.
“Actually had one guy ask me if he had to kiss my shoes in order to get hired. I assured him no shoe kissing was required, we simply didn’t have any openings. He then demanded that I remove my shoes and he’d kiss each toe. I called security.”
Angry? Drunk? Using drugs? Don’t get your hopes up
You can tell that Amie Parker is a pro at interviews and the like because of the way she presented her information to us. It was beautifully outlined, with bullet points and links to additional information. The package was so impressive, we wanted to hire her on the spot. Sadly, she already has a job: as employment manager at Bates College. Do you think Parker has seen her share of interview flubs?
Put your hand down, son. It was a rhetorical question and nobody likes a showoff.
“Recently, I’ve had a number of applicants that have demonstrated what I have begun to call ‘applicants behaving badly’ behavior. Prior to even being called for an interview, I’m receiving correspondence from applicants with rude and hostile messages. Some of my favorite quotes as of late:
“‘What is the problem with your system where people with graduate school educations can’t complete them?’ (Several other people had no problems applying.)
“‘I have worked with HR departments [where] invariably the women who run them want to constantly add one more complexity on top of another to make the HR administrators look important.’ (There are so many insults in this statement, I’m not sure where to begin.)
“‘A simple, emailed resume with transcripts should be sufficient for you to make a first cut instead of wasting everybody’s time filling out endless online forms.’ (We do have a fairly brief online application for higher level positions.)
“‘I think I have already forwarded my resume with transcripts, diplomas, etc. What more do you want?’ (The instructions asked for a cover letter.)
“‘If the hiring authority is interested and wants to schedule an interview, then I can see about providing more information. Let’s see if I make the interview cut, okay?’ (Again, we asked for a cover letter.)”
Other odd things she’s seen or received:
“Last week we had an applicant come by to change his address on the application he completed the day before. He appeared intoxicated and gave us the same address that was already on the application.
“‘I was arrested for streaking. Does that count?’ (Response to our question about criminal convictions.)
“‘So, as long as I don’t do my drugs at work, it’s okay if I bring them?’ (Question from applicant about our drug policy.)
“‘I left my last job due to sexual harassment.’ (Last job was an escort service.)
“One applicant clearly thought he had applied for and was interviewing for a job at another college. He kept referencing the other college through the whole interview.”
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