When it Comes to Job Hunting . . .‘There’s Many a Slip Twixt the Cup and Lip’

This old English proverb is an implicit warning not to take anything for granted until the end goal is actually accomplished. This advice seems especially relevant to hunting for a job in today’s challenging marketplace. Everything can seem to be going along swimmingly and then, because of some seemingly minor slip up or other faux pas, suddenly you can be totally out of the running! Sometimes, though rarely, the job candidate can quickly recover and land on his or her feet. Most candidates, though, usually land on another part of their anatomy.

Skip Freeman

Veteran “headhunter” and author Skip Freeman shares some real-life examples of this phenomenon below using excerpts from his ‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!  

How NOT to answer the ‘How do you feel about relocating to . . . ?’ question.

 An extremely well-qualified candidate with a strong marketing background living in Dallas was phone interviewing with a company for a marketing role in San Francisco. She not only was well qualified, but the new opportunity would have clearly been a significant step up in her career progression.

The hiring company was willing to pay relocation expenses but they wanted to make sure that they not only chose the right candidate but that the candidate would be happy living in a new location and not quit in a few months because they were unhappy with their new location. So, toward the end of the telephone interview—which had gone quite well for the candidate up to this point—the candidate was asked, “Why would you be interested in living in San Francisco?”

Her answer?

“My husband is running around on me,” she said. “I plan on divorcing him and will live anywhere that is not Dallas.”

Needless to say, not only was that the end of the telephone interview, it was also the end of the woman’s candidacy for the position she sought!

ONE OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: Keep your personal business to yourself or you will raise all kinds of “red flags” in a hiring manager’s mind and be IMMEDIATELY eliminated from further consideration for virtually any job you are pursuing in today’s tough job market!

 Wear your ‘school colors’ on game day, not on job interviews!

A top-notch candidate I was presenting to a Fortune 500 company for a sales position had literally sailed through both the telephone interview and the first-time, face-to-face interview at the company’s headquarters. He was now going into his final interview and all indications were that he would be a virtual “shoo-in” for the position.

To put it mildly, I was flabbergasted when the hiring manager called me immediately following the final interview with the candidate and advised me that he wanted me to send him more candidates! Why? In anticipation and support of an important upcoming BIG game for his alma mater, the candidate had chosen to wear a bright orange shirt and a purple tie—his school “colors”—to the final interview!

Game over! (At least for the candidate. Don’t know how his school fared in “The Big Game.”)

ANOTHER OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: Always dress for a job interview like the person who can promote you! (Keep your “school colors” for game days.)

Snatching ‘victory’ from the ‘jaws of defeat’!

All faux pas made during a job interview don’t necessarily end in disaster for the candidate. Consider the plight of another candidate of ours who also was in for his final interview.

The hiring manager and one of her colleagues had taken the candidate out to lunch. He had ordered French fries with his entre. While engaged in lively conversation, the candidate reached for the ketchup and his tie, unbeknownst to him, had flown up and fallen across his plate. He proceeded to put a healthy dose of ketchup on his plate and very artistically decorated his tie along with the fries! He suddenly noted that the hiring manager and colleague were staring at him with their mouths wide open. He looked down and very calmly stated, “I like ketchup with my fries and ties.” They all laughed uproariously and he ended up getting the job.

The comment from the hiring manager was, “He remains calm and maintains a sense of humor under pressure.”

YET ANOTHER OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: Many times, having a good, healthy (and appropriate) sense of humor can literally “save the day,” particularly in stressful situations such as job interviews.

 Hey, you said it, we didn’t!

Some job candidates just seem dead set on “shooting themselves in the foot.” Take an innocent thing like an email address. I mean, how much potential damage could an email address cause a job candidate? More than you might suppose, actually.

Here are just three examples of some of the more outrageous email addresses candidates have actually used over the years when applying for positions offered by my recruiting firm:

Iwouldratherbegolfing@provider.net

(Sure makes you wonder how committed this person would be to the job, doesn’t it?)

mydadsresume@provider.net

(And exactly why is it that “dad” couldn’t prepare his own résumé?)

partygirl@provider.net

(Hmm. ‘Nuf said.)

ONE MORE OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: Everything, and I do mean everything, that you use to project your professional image when searching for a new job is crucial and important—including your email address. Select a professional one!

My name is NOT ‘Larry’!

Another of our job candidates had just finished a very productive telephone interview. In closing, the hiring manager excitedly told the candidate that he was ready to move forward and would be setting up a second telephone interview very soon. Great news!

The candidate quickly crafted and sent a very professional “Thank You” email to the hiring manager. The email started off this way:

Dear Larry,

Thank you for your time today. The more I learn about your company, the more interested I become. Based upon our conversation, the three areas where I can add value are….

Regards,

The candidate

Great “Thank You” email, right? It even included a “value proposition”! Well, as it turned out, not exactly. Here is the terse email response the candidate received from the person who interviewed him:

First, my name is Ron, not Larry. Your information has been forwarded to HR and they will be getting back with you. (Of course, they never did.)

AND ANOTHER OF LITTLE LIFE’S LESSON: You would be more likely to get away with kicking a hiring manager in the shins than you would by calling him or her by the wrong name! No word in the English language is more important (or more pleasant sounding) to most people than their name, so make sure you get it right! The first time!

Be Prepared: You Never Know Who Might be Calling You!

Since the initial contact from a hiring manager or company is very likely to come over the telephone, I always advise candidates to set up a dedicated “job search” number, to answer the phone professionally (not using the traditional “hello”) and to “screen” all incoming calls, i.e., to allow calls to go directly into voice mail or to be recorded by an answering machine. Why? Because by not directly answering the telephone, if it is a hiring manager or company calling, the candidate can be fully prepared to discuss a position when he or she returns the call and not be caught “flat-footed.”

Despite my best efforts, though, some candidates still don’t seem to understand the importance of my suggested approach. One exceptional candidate comes immediately to mind.

She was attending her son’s soccer game when a hiring manager called. The hiring manager repeatedly tried to make the woman understand who he was and why he was calling, but as he related to me later, the crowd noise in the background prevented him from succeeding. When the candidate finally shouted over the phone, “I can’t hear you! I am at my son’s soccer game. Call me back tomorrow!” the hiring manager hung up in frustration. (He never tried to reach the candidate again.)

YET ANOTHER OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: The Boy Scouts of America have a great motto: Be Prepared. This is good advice and certainly relevant throughout the job search!

 Don’t Answer That Phone!

Oftentimes, the first contact a candidate has with a hiring manager or company comes over the telephone, I therefore advise candidates to set up a dedicated “job search” number, to answer the phone professionally (not using the traditional “hello”) and, equally importantly, to “screen” all incoming calls by allowing them to go directly into voice mail or to be recorded by an answering machine. Why? Because, if it is a hiring manager or company calling, the candidate can then be more fully prepared to intelligently discuss a position when he or she returns the call.

Despite my best efforts, though, some candidates still don’t seem to understand the importance of my advice. One recent candidate I was presenting for an important middle management position with a top company comes immediately to mind.

She was attending her son’s soccer game when a hiring manager called. The hiring manager repeatedly tried to make the woman understand who he was and why he was calling, but as he related to me later, the crowd noise in the background prevented him from succeeding. When the candidate finally shouted over the phone, “I can’t hear you! I am at my son’s soccer game. Call me back tomorrow!” the hiring manager hung up in frustration. (He never tried to reach the candidate again.)

YET ANOTHER OF LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS: Some hiring managers or other “screeners” make it a point to contact candidates at “unusual” times just to see how a candidate will react to the unexpected. By “screening” calls you can prevent being caught “flat-footed”!

Using the Wrong References Can Come Back and ‘Bite’ You!

Unfortunately, some job candidates give short shrift to the references they list on their résumés. Bad move! While it’s true that references usually aren’t checked until a company gets really serious about a candidate, if those references haven’t been carefully chosen and “prepped” by the candidate, things can unravel pretty quickly and disastrously! Let me give you an example.

I was going over the résumé of a candidate for a position I was trying to fill for an international engineering company. On paper, the candidate looked excellent! My telephone interview with him also went very well. He was articulate, intelligent and obviously fully qualified for the position I was trying to fill. I was pretty convinced that I would indeed present the candidate to my client company, but first I wanted to call his references to see what others who knew him thought of him.

When I called the first person listed as a reference, told him who I was and why I was calling, he hesitated for a long moment and then said, “He told you I was one of his references? Why on earth would he do that?” After another long pause of uncomfortable silence, I asked the reference, “So this is something you would like to pass on?”

“I can’t believe he would ask me to be a reference for him!” the reference said. “Yes, I will pass.”

(So did I!)

AND A FINAL LIFE’S LITTLE LESSON: Never, never, never assume anything when it comes to a job search today, and that particularly includes whom to use as professional references!

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