Sales Candidates Don’t Have a Monopoly on Dumb Interview Mistakes


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On days when you’re convinced that we live in a civil society, in a kind and empathetic world populated with intelligent and caring individuals brimming with common sense, search online for worst job interview mistakes—or similar.

You’ll read true stories guaranteed to make you chuckle, and ask incredulously, “people do that?”

No question that the nadir of interviewee stupidity has yet to be discovered. But I began to wonder whether interview gaffes are only committed by idiotic, socially-lame job seekers in the presence of polished and experienced hiring managers, or whether ineptitude and rudeness enters the mix from both sides.

Amazingly, my online searches turned up very little about the social indiscretions of interviewers. Unfortunate, because if you’re planning to hire salespeople, but possess the warmth and interpersonal skills of Dick Cheney, you won’t find much help online. On the other hand, based on turning up 223,000 search results for job interview mistakes, job candidates have no excuses whatsoever for messing up an interview.

To overcome the paucity of information about interview-er Don’t Do’s, I will share some Hall-of-Shame moments from my own experience.

I have met with hiring managers who in an interview have:

• made disparaging remarks about a specific ethnic group
• worn jeans, t-shirt, and sandals
• handed me a trick pen that gave an electric shock to “see how I would respond”
• been 15 minutes late for a scheduled phone meeting, and interrupted the call three times to attend to other calls
• told me that they didn’t have time to read my resume in advance of the meeting
• not known my name when the interview started
• began by reciting the highlights from the company’s annual report
• when asked, could not name one leader she found inspiring

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you have a few zany experiences of your own. Undoubtedly, some would make these appear minor.

I have heard a few hiring managers attempt to justify their lack of courtesy or failure to prepare by saying that these stressors simulate selling situations, and they want to learn how candidates handle them. This is garbage. There is never a positive purpose for inconsiderate behavior. It is as arrogant as it is ethically shaky.

For any social interaction, there are reciprocal expectations for courtesy and respect—or there should be! Interviewers have the added challenge of being ambassadors for their companies. An interviewer might feel entitled to ‘dis a candidate, but it’s risky, because his or her personal brand and corporate reputation are on the line. Social indiscretions—whether committed by interviewer or interviewee—carry the same powerful negative vibe as bad customer experience.

Never hand a sales candidate a trick pen. He or she might be a key influencer on your next make-or-break deal (or know someone who is!). Even with almost seven billion people living on the planet, the world is not that big.


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