it was the purple suit with the matching eye shadow or the creative use
of four-letter words. Answering a phone call from a friend during the
interview likely didn’t help either, nor did bringing in a water bottle
filled with vodka. In each case (all of which actually happened), the
hopeful candidate was rejected with a generic, “We found someone else
with better qualifications,” leaving the job seeker unaware of what
they may have done that rubbed the hiring manager the wrong way.
“Employers don’t have to give a reason as to why a person wasn’t
hired,” says Bethany LaFlam, of LaFlam Law LLC, Newport Beach. And
anything they say may be spun into a protective clause, leaving the
company open for a discrimination suit (i.e. “I ate the potato chips
during the interview because I have diabetes and needed to raise my
And while it’s illegal to ask the questions, if a person reveals
something during an interview that casts an unfavorable light on them
in the eyes of the interviewer, they may be taken out of the running
for reasons they’ll never know. Many employers perform phone interviews
before asking the candidate to come in for a face-to-face interview.
The phone interview, or “pre-screen,” tells the hiring manager whether
or not the person has the basic qualifications for the job. The
face-to-face interview reveals whether or not the interviewee is a fit
for the company in other crucial, less obvious, aspects: passion,
courtesy, commitment and promptness, for example. Here’s what you can
do to come out on top.
Make a good first impression
Before you leave the house for the interview, give yourself a
head-to-toe critique. “Dressing too casually” ranked as one of the
biggest complaints among hiring managers. Bowling shirts, Dockers and
golf shirts for men, low-slung pants, open-toed shoes and revealing
tops for women do not belong at an interview. “Business casual has
confused everybody. Although the company may have a corporate casual
policy, you should still dress like you’re going on an interview,” says
Kay Hunter, a personal and corporate image consultant and founder of
Imagine…the Possibilities. “The general rule is to go one step above
how the employees of the company dress. Too many people think ‘business
casual’ equals ‘no grooming,’” Hunter says.
Although pantyhose for women seems so “yesterday,” bare legs at an
interview may be frowned upon. Women should avoid the controversy
altogether and simply wear a pantsuit, according to Hunter. Ditto for
open-toed shoes (one manager eliminates candidates based on this alone)
and high Barbie ponytails, although wearing a ponytail at the nape of
the neck is fine. “As long as you don’t play with it,” Hunter says.
Leave jangly jewelry at home, along with fragrance – and go easy on the
makeup. “Women tend to wear either too much or not enough.” Men need to
be sure their collars are not frayed and old and that their clothes are
pressed and fit properly. And save the Tasmanian Devil tie for another
time. “You want a tie that shows some character and confidence without
going too far.”
Know what you bring to the table
Dressing the part creates a positive first impression but is only one
piece of the interview puzzle. “We want to know how you’re going to add
value to our company,” says Melanie Villapando, director of talent
acquisition for James Hardie, a Mission Viejo building products
company. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s a high-level position or an
administrative job; we need to know if you have an understanding of how
this position impacts the company.” An administrative assistant, for
example, should know how her behavior reflects the company when someone
walks in the front door, and that a negative first impression could
drive away business.
And don’t be shy about talking about your accomplishments. “People like
to talk about what they did as a team,” Villapando says, “But I want to
know about what you did on that team. Were you a major player or did
you just bring the donuts to the meetings?” Be careful about excess
puffery, as in how you ran over two other people for the VP spot and
became the company’s Golden Boy by making someone else look bad.
Study the organization before you go in for the interview. “There are
plenty of places where you can find information about the company –
even about the person who will be interviewing you,” says Nicole Cox,
director of recruitment at Decision Toolbox. Do some investigating.
“Maybe you’ve noticed some challenge we’re facing and you have an idea
of how to resolve it,” Villapando says. “Offer suggestions. It shows
you have insight.”
“Put your full game face on,” Cox says. “Even if you’re lukewarm about
wanting the job, if you’re taking the time to interview, don’t act as
if you don’t care one way or the other. You never know when you may run
into that person again – and you may find that you want the job after
all.” Cox notes that it’s a candidates’ market, and many people have so
many options that they don’t always take the interview seriously, but
you can be sure the employer does.
Prepare at least three to four questions in advance to ask the
interviewer; not asking questions can reveal a lack of preparation.
“Ask questions and let them know that you researched the company,” says
Theresa Grothe, recruiter and staffing specialist for Boost Mobile. Ask
about new products the company may have developed, recent acquisitions
or the company’s plans for long-term growth, for example. A question
like, “What are your biggest challenges with your competitor and how
are you dealing with that?” may also win you points. On the other hand,
avoid asking questions about the location of their corporate
headquarters or number of employees, as you should know this basic
information through your pre-interview research.
Don’t offer too much information
“Don’t get so comfortable that you spill your entire life’s story to
the interviewer,” says Grothe. “In general, the less you say, the
better.” It’s illegal for the interviewer to ask if you have children,
but if you let your guard down during the interview and begin talking
about your four little ones who are always in and out of the doctor’s
office, the interviewer may question your dependability. Or if you talk
about a family member with cancer, the employer may see this as a red
flag, wondering if you’re going to be wrapped up in your family’s
“People say too much,” Grothe says. “Keep it about business and don’t
go into a story. A one word answer: ‘Great!’ is usually sufficient when
fielding questions such as, ‘So, how’s the family?’”
Mind your manners
Don’t save your best behavior for the hiring manager, either. How you
treat the front desk person or the travel agent who booked your flight
to the interview can affect your chances as well. “We’ve canceled
interviews with candidates when we’ve heard negative things from our
support people,” says Villipando.
From the other side of the desk
Practicing common courtesy holds true even when the interviewer doesn’t
behave as professionally as you might expect. “Some companies hold very
confrontational interviews,” says Ed Klimczak, a senior recruiting
consultant, who has experience on both sides of the desk. “One manager
asked me why he should hire me and then threw my resume at me. It only
made me realize that I didn’t want to work there.”
The interviewer should be selling the company to the candidate,
according to Klimczak, “But, more often than not, they look for reasons
to disqualify a candidate. Some days I interviewed when I wasn’t on top
of my game and it showed. For this reason, I think it’s important that
qualified candidates get at least a second interview; you can’t tell
enough about a person in just one session.”
The company’s hiring methods can also work against you. Some use
“consensus hiring,” where all the hiring managers must unanimously
agree to hire a candidate. Even if four out of five interviewers agree
to hire a person, the one who disagrees determines the candidate’s
fate. Other times, the hiring manager has the final say no matter how
everyone else feels. “Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how they
decide,” says Klimczak.
At the end of the interview, be sure to ask the interviewer about the
next steps. The answer will give you a good idea as to whether or not
you landed the job. And don’t be afraid to close the interview by
asking, “Is there any reason why I wouldn’t be considered for this
job?” If you were well-prepared, the response will likely be a positive
Linda Melone is a freelance writer and columnist. Visit her website at lifebeatfitness.com.
10 tips for a better interview
Be prepared: know the company and what is expected of the job for which you are applying.
Dress the part.
Ask for professional help; an organization like Career One Stop (careeronestop.org) can help you prepare your resume and fine-tune your interview tactics.
Arrive on time.
Wait for the interviewer to bring up the subject of compensation and
Don’t interrupt the interviewer and know when to stop talking.
Make eye contact.
Follow up with a thank-you note.
Avoid smoking or alcohol prior to the meeting.
Keep your sense of humor. OCM