Are YOU Casting ‘Shadows on the Wall’ During Job Interviews?


Skip Freeman


Skip Freeman

Remember when you were a small child and your mother put you in bed, kissed you good night and slipped quietly out of your bedroom? Remember how snug, safe and secure you felt as you were slowly drifting off to sleep? But then . . . on some nights, the wind may have suddenly picked up, the trees outside your bedroom window began swaying to and fro, casting frightening shadows on your bedroom wall! You felt uneasy . . . scared . . . unsure about how to react. It’s likely you merely threw the covers over your head, snuggled deeper into your bed, closed your eyes and tried to block out the whole frightening image. (OK, admit it, some of you yelled for your mother to come back to your bedroom!)

You might be surprised to learn that, particularly in today’s brutal job market, many hiring managers (and other “screeners”), afraid to make a mistake that could cost them their jobs if they hire the “wrong” people, demonstrate similar fears whenever a candidate casts “shadows on the wall” during a telephone or face-to-face interview. (Although admittedly, they don’t usually yell for their mothers!) Let me give you a couple of examples on what I’m talking about here.


A friend of mine is a Human Resources screener, a position he has held for nearly thirty years. He has an uncanny knack for immediately putting a candidate at ease during an interview.

A couple of years ago, I sent my friend a candidate for a technical sales position his company had open, and my friend said he would like to conduct a telephone interview with the candidate.

It just so happened that my friend had been in the candidate’s hometown once for a baseball game, so he and the candidate chatted briefly about their mutual love of the game. Then, the Human Resources screener asked a typical, “warm and fuzzy” question:

“If you could wave a magic wand and be anything you wanted to be, what would that be?” he asked the candidate.

By this time, the candidate was feeling very comfortable with his “new buddy,” so he responded, quite honestly, with this response (remember the candidate was interviewing for a technical sales position):

“If I could wave that magic wand and be anything I wanted to be, I would want to be in product marketing,” the young candidate said.

“Why would you want to do that?” the HR screener asked the candidate.

The candidate then went on for at least another five minutes about his deep interest in marketing. How he wanted to get an MBA in marketing. How he felt he would like to be able to position products strongly through well-done sales literature, creative training materials, etc.

Typically, a phone interview with this company would last about an hour. This one lasted just 20 minutes.

Soon after the telephone interview, the candidate called me and said, “Skip, the interview went GREAT! I think I nailed it and I am so excited.”

Upon learning from the candidate that the phone interview had lasted only 20 minutes, instead of the typical hour, I knew, instinctively, that the only thing the candidate could possibly have “nailed” was his own foot to the floor! The evidence that I was correct came very shortly thereafter when the screener called me.

“Skip, your candidate doesn’t even want to be in technical sales,” he said. “He wants to be a product marketer, so that’s the type of job he really needs to find.”

In other words, this candidate cast a “shadow” on the screener’s “wall”!

If you are interviewing for a sales position, you want to be in sales more than anything else in your life. If you are interviewing for an accountant’s position, you want to be an accountant more than anything else in your life. During an interview, you want to be in that particular role more than anything else in your life. (And this is true, at least during the interview, right??!!)


I presented another candidate for a marketing position in Denver. The candidate lived in Dallas. She was a high-quality, very-qualified candidate, too, just like the candidate previously mentioned. Still, she also managed to cast a “shadow on the wall” and exclude herself during her phone interview. About 45 minutes into the interview, which had gone rather well up to that point, the screener simply asked,

“Why would you want to leave Dallas and move to Denver?”

This was the answer the candidate gave to the question:

“My husband is running around on me, so I am going to divorce him. I don’t care where I go, just as long as it gets me out of Dallas.”

Talk about “shadows on the wall”! And that “shadow” got even bigger in the hiring manager’s mind.

“Skip,” the hiring manager told me over the phone, “If she can’t keep her personal information confidential, then how do we know she would keep company information confidential? We just can’t take that risk.”

Think these are just isolated incidents? Think again! These type of faux pas during telephone and face-to-face interviews happen all the time, and are committed by otherwise highly qualified, very intelligent job candidates. Almost without exception these unfortunate “missteps” are sufficient for most hiring managers or other “screeners” to summarily exclude candidates from further consideration.

Remember that old saying about “putting your brain in gear before engaging your mouth”? That’s really good advice when it comes to either the telephone or the face-to-face job interview. Don’t be lulled in to a false sense of security because you think you have found “your new best friend” in the interviewer. Keeping this in mind will keep you from casting “shadows on the wall,” something that will take your right out of the running for a job—regardless of how well qualified you may be.


Skip Freeman, author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, has successfully completed more than 300 executive search assignments in just seven years. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals in industry, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

A distinguished graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, he is a lifelong student of leadership, people and the principles of success. While serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chemical Corps, he also earned a Master of Science degree in Organic Chemistry from The Georgia Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Long Island University.

 Visit or contact Skip at his book website,

Comments (2)

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