I have previously written about what to do when you get asked the tough questions, and when you get asked the same questions several times by different people for a specific job. This week, I thought it would be helpful to talk in more general terms about what NOT to say in a interview.
You have the chance to blow it at the end of an interview when the interviewer smiles and asks, “Have you any questions for me?” This is notthe time for you to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. On the contrary, it gives you the opportunity for you to leave the room with the interviewer thinking nice positive thoughts, “THAT was a good question”. However, don’t assume that the only pitfall is at the end of the interview. You will also be able to slip on the interview banana skin any time at all in the course of the talk.
Here are some examples:
- “What are the benefits/vacation rules?” Now, both these questions are important. It could be a deal breaker whether the Acme Roofing Company lets you include family members into their Try-To-Stay-Healthy-Because-There’s-A-$4000-Deductible Medical Plan. But first and probably second interview is not the time to be asking it. Why not? Even when it’s an important issue….the main reason is that at early interview stage you should be proving that you are the right fit for this job. That’s what HR/the Line Managers are concentrating on, and anything else will make them think you’re not focusing enough on the job they want filled. It may not seem fair to you, but life isn’t always fair and that’s the way it is.As for vacation, it may be crucial that you get enough time to fly home to visit your family whom you don’t see from one year to the next, but the same reasoning applies as for benefits. Pick your moment. Another moment.
- “What sort of career path could I expect?” You may think this is a subtle way of asking “When am I likely to be promoted?” Alas, it’s not so subtle. Human Resources will see through it in a nano-second, and the actual department will quietly freak, thinking that you’re going to want to be promoted in a very few months, or even worse, move into another department as part of your career path e.g. out of Customer Service into Client Relationship, out of reception work into administration. There is a specific job they want filled and they want to think that they won’t have to start looking again for a reasonable time. So concentrate on getting the job for which you’re being interviewed and let the chips fall where they may. Or do your research some other way…just not at this early stage.“This is a wonderful opportunity to get my foot in the door.” No, it’s a way for you to shoot yourself in that foot. You’re actually admitting to the department they’re just a stopgap till you get what you really want? Sigh.
- Salary. Don’t bring it up. Ever. Of course if the company mentions it, then feel free to deliver your carefully and oft-rehearsed answer. But it’s tacky, tacky, tacky to be the first to mention it. There should always be an element that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you, but I’m afraid it’s not a totally level playing field and it’s a point against you when you bring up the thorny issue of money.
- A dumb question about them as a company or their products. Something that shows you didn’t do your homework. Google is there to help you (and just recently, Facebook too apparently). If you hadn’t known much about the company before the interview, and have had to rely on Google or their annual report, you will probably not be able to spout a lot of impressive information at them. “And when you were acquired in 1936 at the end of the Depression, was there a paradigm shift in sales tactics?” You may perhaps be able to use sound bytes of information throughout the interview to show you did your research, but showing off, unless you know you are on sure footing, is just asking for a fall. My favorite story that I have already mentioned in these blog articles is the candidate who was being interviewed by the owner of a private equity company. “What do you do when it has been a bad day on the stock market?” she asked. He got angry and showed her the door.
- “Can I leave at 4.00 on Tuesdays, please?” There are variations on this, all of them asking for you to be given special dispensation from the usual conditions of employment. You have classes, family commitments, physiotherapy, whatever, and have to leave early. And “I can just take half an hour for lunch two days per week to make up for it” won’t cut the ice. “Can I telecommute from home for some of the week?” is a variation. You may be able to do the equivalent of winning the lottery and have your wish granted, but asking on first interview is not the way to go about it. Concentrate on the job they are trying to fill and then, with luck, an opportunity to discuss your special requirements will present itself later on in the interview process. This is yet another reason, incidentally, to have staffing agencies help you. We’re really good at getting the company to allow you to do this sort of stuff. We know when to ask and it always seems to sound better if asked through a third party.