Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Not to Do at a Job Interview

After seeing a good, nice person in desperate need of employment butcher his chances at getting a very good job paying $100+K, I decided to share some advice as to what not to do at a job interview. If these suggestions seem too obvious to you and you are wondering what's the point of stating something so obvious, let me tell you that I have seen very intelligent, mature, highly educated people with decades of work experience make every one of these mistakes, alienating potential employers and destroying any chance at a job offer. 

1. No matter how badly you were treated at your previous place of employment, a job interview is not a good occasion to launch into a 15-minute-long diatribe detailing every way in which you were wronged by previous employers. Even if what you are saying is 100% true, it makes a really horrible impression to show resentment and anger. Psychological issues should be resolved during a session with your therapist, not during a job interview.

2. Making your political convictions known during the very first interview might not be a good idea. Talking about "Obama" and "Clinton" as opposed to "our great President George W. Bush" will probably not make a very favorable impression. A job interview is not a political soap-box. After you get the job, you will have numerous opportunities to debate politics with your colleagues. But the goal of an interview is different.

3. If you are doing a phone interview, remember that when you are placed on loud-speaker, the noises you make become very loud. When you are asked a question you find stupid, it is a bad idea to make deep, frustrated sighs and click your tongue in desperation. People on the other side of the conversation get a very loud rendition of your exasperated sighs and scoffing.

4. It makes a really bad impression when you respond to a question that a prospective employer poses with "First, let me ask you a question." People often think that this makes them sound proactive and take-charge, when in reality it simply makes them come off as rude and pushy. 

5. Don't tell the people you interview what a shitty place they live in. Even if you went online and found tons of information about their state's debt, unemployment rates, nasty climate, corrupt officials, etc., it might be best not to share this knowledge in a triumphant tone with people you want to give you a job in that very state. They are living there and probably even enjoying it. What's the point of making the interviewers feel bad about themselves?

6. Don't suggest to the interviewers that the work they do is "easy." If such statements are supposed to make the prospective employers feel good about their super easy lives, they don't achieve the goal. They just make you come off as snooty and condescending. 

7. Don't go on at length about how fantastic, hardworking, overachieving, etc. you are and follow it with "But the most important thing you have to know about me is that I'm very humble." And then offer your musings on the merits of humility. 

8. Believe me, I understand the struggles of candidates who are not native speakers of English. Still, after decades of living in the US is it too much to ask that a candidate for a very responsible position avoid referring to people as "coloreds"? (Especially when the people in question are his students.)

Some advice specifically for those who are looking for an academic position:

1. It is really not a good idea to announce that you hate doing research and that teaching is also not your favorite thing to do, but other than that you are perfectly suited for this position. Research and teaching are two activities that all academics do. You can't avoid them. You are not supposed to want to avoid them.

2. Don't make fun of the research your prospective employers are doing. "Wow, I had no idea that anybody even did that any more. Isn't this topic horribly outdated?" makes everybody present dislike you.

3. Sharing how much you hate students because they are all lazy, stupid and unintellectual is probably a bad idea for somebody whose job description involves teaching on a regular basis.

These suggestions are based on what I have been able to observe while serving on several search committees at different universities. If you want professional advice, visit this great blog where professional recruiters who have placed hundreds of candidates in all kinds of positions will be happy to answer any questions you leave for them in the comment section. They don't place people in academic positions, though. If you have questions about the academic job market, leave them in the comment section to this post, and the academics who read (and write) this blog will share their insights.


Leah Jane said...

All great advice, but I have a question about #1: I honestly left my last job because my employer/boss was making antisemitic comments about me and consistently interrupted my work day by barging in to tell me how horrible Jews are. Is there *any* way at all I can work around this without showing "resentment and anger" to my potential employer? I honestly am afraid of what to say when the time arises.

Clarissa said...

What a jerk is that former boss of yours!

If you are looking for a job through a recruiter, I think it's a good idea to mention this to the recruiter and get their advice on how to approach the issue with the actual employer. I recruiter is familiar with the people who will interview you, and will be able to give good advice.

If you are not looking through a recruiter, I think there is a difference between a phone interview and a personal interview. During a phone interview, I wouldn't mention it at all because people don't see you and you don't see them, so it might be difficult to gauge your mutual reactions. In a personal interview, I think you might mention it. It's important to do so briefly, without offering a wealth of detail. Something like "I liked working there but unfortunately my supervisor fostered an anti-semitic environment which made me uncomfortable." At a personal interview, you can show with your demeanor that you are not seething with anger or resentment.

I was called "garbage" and "shit" by my supervisor but only had good things to say about her until I was hired. After I signed the contract, though, the truth started spilling out of me on a regular basis. :-)

Good luck with the search!!!

Leah Jane said...

Thanks for the tips, that's extremely reassuring and helpful. I typically do face-to-face interivews, so I feel confident that I can handle explaining it in that manner. I've yet to use a recruiter, but when the time presents itself, I'll be prepared!
In my case, I have the good fortune of a string of non-antisemitic bosses and managers who came before her, so I've got plenty of people to pledge to my character. Ones who don't think an acceptable work environment involves the words "Media-controlling hook nosed puppet masters".
Yea... my last boss was a jerk extraordinaire. Next time, I'm calling out anyone who does that. It's toxic to work in a place like that.

Clarissa said...

Your case is also different in that only one person was an anti-Semitic jerk. When, however, a candidate tells you that everybody at a big college was a total idiot and plunges into a lengthy description of how Prof. X did this, and administrator Y did that, and they all conspired against you, that sounds fishy.

As my former professor used to say: "If it seems like everybody else in the room is an idiot, it's highly likely there is only one idiot in that room. And that's you."

Judith Sierra-Rivera said...

What about being pregnant (visibly pregnant)? Do you have any insight on how should one manage pregnancy while interviewing for academic positions?