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back to article Think your CV is crap? Your interview skills are worse

The applicant stared like a rabbit caught in headlights at the interviewer. shutterstock_job_interview_in_story Image via Shutterstock He did not have a clue how to answer the question, so he decided to mumble something unintelligible because it would help him sound more clever as he racked his brain. Was it a fearsome query …

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Well, that's ONE half of the process sorted

Interviews work both ways. if we were to believe the article (which we shouldn't) you would get the unmistakable impression that somehow the interview process was akin to winning the lottery. That somehow the interviewers were GIVING AWAY something of value, and that only the best, most worthy applicant should be allowed through to win the prize.

In fact, as every half-decent candidate knows the interview should be as much about selling the company to the prospective employee (who should spend as much time looking for reasons why the company is / is not one they'd want to work for, as they do trying to sell themselves) and persuading them that they'd want to work there. While some people think the application and interview process is some form of courtship (yup, one or other could end up getting screwed), it's better to think of it as a chance to perform due diligence on your potential new provider of money. If they are unable or unwilling to go to the effort to make you feel they want you, personally, then you're probably just going to end up as a soon-forgotten cog in their faceless machine - and will be treated in employment just as the "asset" or "FTE" or "headcount" that you appear as during the interview - or to your current employer.

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You are winning a lottery, but with skilled testing questions

An employer who believes in his company, thinks it's great, and wants good people in it, does think that you are beign given an opportunity and a privilege to work for the organisation, and that, plus your wages, is part of the prize.

If you are smart, you will appear to consider the chance to work for THIS company as a really great opportunity. And if you actually believe it, you will have a happy working life.

But if you think your employer is there to give you money, then you wil start and remain unhappy.

Yes, an interview is a two-way process, but one of the partners has a lot more power.

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Paris Hilton

"yup, one or other could end up getting screwed"

But in which hole?

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Job Market

@Pete 2. It depends on the state of the job market. Your post might apply in a jobseeker's market, ie. where there are more vacancies than candidates. But when the reverse is true, I would advise treating the prospective employer like royalty, rather than as "your potential new provider of money". In fact I would approach all interviews like that. First get the job offer, then scrutinize the employer and the terms.

I agree strongly with the point about admitting frankly to not knowing something. If needs be you can politely add that you know where to find the answer.

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I'd agree

but be careful with one's attitude. Rather than 'what can your company do for me?' one of 'What can this position do for the best candidate' (with the unspoken implication that the best candidate is you) might be a good approach.

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It depends on the state of the job market.

Well, yes and no. I'm not suggesting you put the interviewer through the wringer - it's only on TV that "The Apprentice" style interviews and selection process would be tolerated. But it's not unreasonable to ask to meet the people you'll be working with, or to see the office conditions. You could even ask what a typical day's work actually involves (one place I was conducting group interviews, a candidate asked me "what did you do yesterday?" - not an easy Q to respond to _and_ make the place sound attractive at the same time).

Another theme that can provide some enlightenment is to inquire about how the vacancy arose: what's staff turnover like (but maybe be a bit more subtle in the approach), how long your prospective boss has been doing the job - essentially trying to find out if you'll be working for an idiot, since your immediate boss is usually the biggest factor in whether an IT position is good, bad or ugly.

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Anonymous Coward

A bit one sided?

Indeed all true.

Now what about all the interviewers who have no training in recruitment, ask questions so stupid that they can't be answered and are already weighing you up as a potential threat to their job?

How many interviewees have desperately tried to help the interviewer conduct the interview in a manner which will actually assess their suitability for the role?

How many interviewers have lied to hire someone on a false pretext? More or less than dishonest candidates?

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Stupidest interviewer question I've encountered...

"If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?"

This piece of arse sausage has come up time and again, usually asked by the most brainless HR people you could imagine (they got their job because daddy owns the company or they give the CEO good head). What the fuck this has to do with a person's ability is beyond me. And don't anyone dare say that it gives the interviewer insight into the job applicant's psyche - these HR drones have, at best, a certificate from some shit dump business college, and sure as hell not a psych degree otherwise they wouldn't be doing a job that entails little more than sending out birthday e-mails and handing out written warnings.

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Or the "stress interview" technique.

All read in some manager's self-help book, implemented, and decreasing the quality of hirees.

I'm still not sure what to do with such questions. Answering is by definition irrelevant babbling. Tell them as much and they feel bad and don't hire you.

Enough decent firms (unis also, typically) are strangled by their incompetent HR departments, that you have to put up with it to possibly work there.

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Anonymous Coward

If you say "a cat"

supposedly it means you're lazy. I wonder if their copy of "Interviewing for Dummies" mentions anything about catching mice or pooping in the neighbour's garden.

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It's not about the answer...

It's about how you consider and respond to leftfield problems. Do you panic and fluster? Do you consider and give a single definitive answer with no backup? Do you find out *why* the question was asked, and help the question-raiser narrow down their question to find their motivations in order to give them the most suitable answer possible? Do you work methodically and come up with a good estimate?

People behave consistently, so if you're a flusterer in this question, it's a good indication that you may not respond well to stressful circumstances at work.

Next time someone asks you 'How many cars are there in London?', they don't care what your answer is, they want to see how you think when you're away from rehearsed interview answers.

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"If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?"

It sounds like your interviewer had been on a course but slept through a lot of it. That's one part of a question sometimes used by psychometric testing people. The answer you give is not important. The follow-on is "give me a few words that describe <your animal>".

The insight (for want of a better term) is that the response you give will describe how you see yourself. Other questions probe: how you think other people see you and how you relate to others. The same kind of interviewers may also ask you to write something and then do a pop-psych analysis of your handwriting.

Whether you think there's anything in it, or it's down there with astrology probably doesn't matter (apart from telling yourself that you wouldn't work for a company that employed those sorts of techniques). However it can be a good way to pick up grils if you ever find yourself having to move the cooker. Nowadays there are far more scientific ways to discern a person's personality, such as looking on FB or seeing what forums they post comments on.

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Anonymous Coward

If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?

Guinea pig, no contest.

Google "hello sooty"

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"If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?"

Human. Do you really have to ask?

Look around. Every other animal's habitat is getting totally screwed to make way for humans. Every habitat we've ever moved into, we've driven the top predators to extinction. The majority of macroscopic animals on the planet exist only because we farm them.

Obviously you wouldn't want to be a *poor* human, but that wasn't the question.

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Easy

Just say "When I was a cat I found I *did* have the capability to become any animal so I chose to be a human, as you can clearly see." (optional: roll eyes)

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Happy

Tech.

Well, you are presumably some sort of at-least-appears-to-be-an-engineer, so give the engineering response:

"I take it you mean some sort of non-human animal, Sir/Ma'am?"

Then walk. Life's too short.

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Linux

It's an indicator of poor corporate culture...

> People behave consistently, so if you're a flusterer in this question, it's a good indication that you may not respond well to stressful circumstances at work.

If you have to deal with this kind of nonsense in the interview, chances are that you will have to deal with similar nonsense on the job. It's a sign of bad corporate culture and a company best avoided.

You've got to ask yourself if you are really that desperate.

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Happy

@Pete 2, "If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?"

Anyone who asked me that would get a Rock-paper-scissors answer, (in the style of Sword in the Stone), where I would pick increasing bizarre animals to trump whatever animal they picked, (and I would make them pick one) until both of us descended into a fantasy world. :)

I wouldn't care if I got the job, I would just have fun playing the game. :) … after all, they started it. ;)

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Go

Re: what animal would I be?

I've been asked this a few times in my careers, both in interviews and in company psych tests, and I have a single stock answer, that generally really throws people. If I could be any animal, what animal would I be?

A cockroach.

The look on people's faces when I say this cannot be described in mere words. When they ask me why I would want to be a cockroach, I also have my answer prepared:

Cockroaches *survive*. That is what they do, and it is what they are best at. They are an ancient species; they have survived through multiple extinction events, including the Permian/Triassic and Cretaceous/Tertiary, and they survive despite anything bigger than them preying on them, and they would survive the worst Man can do to them, including nuclear warfare. And I like to think of myself as a survivor, someone who can hang on despite whatever is thrown at me.

That answer has floored more than one interviewer. And I'm pretty sure it's played a role in getting me a few jobs, too.

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Boffin

downvote

No idea why you've had a down vote for that - though it was a great comment

(perhaps you should have attached the following icon)

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Survivors

So your ambition in life is just to survive, even if you have to live under a fridge and eat crap? You don't sound very ambitious.

I think you're confusing the impressive record of the cockroach species with that of an individual cockroach.

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Love it though the fact Cockroaches have some extra resistance to radiation has actually been proven not just a myth but if anything they are more vulnerable to it.

Sure the species would survive somewhere underground but those above ground would die like everything else!

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Anonymous Coward

Personally it sounds like a dreadful answer. I'm not sure in an interview you should be talking about "surviving", "hanging on despite whatever is thrown at me". Are you really saying that our company is like that? Are you really saying that the best you do is to merely survive, hang on, and be a parasite, rather than being elegant, liked, creative etc..?

Cockroaches are easily crushed underfoot. Not sure as I'd want that on my team.

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Re: Downvote

Come on, "Cockroaches survive and I'm a survivor", is positively cringeworthy. I can almost imagine him entering the interview with a ghettoblaster blaring out Eye of the Tiger or maybe he minces in to "I will survive". Either way, a definite down vote.

Also his last paragraph.

>That answer has floored more than one interviewer. And I'm pretty sure it's played a role in getting me a few jobs, too.

This might be an example questin from a text book, I've never been asked it and I can't believe that he's been asked so many times that he's sealed "a few jobs" with the answer.

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Coat

DUHN...chunka chunka chunka DUHNN DUH DUHNN...

"I can almost imagine him entering the interview with a ghettoblaster blaring out Eye of the Tiger..."

Wow... y'know, that's actually a pretty cool idea...! I never thought of that...

Y'know how all those big-time WWF wrestlers all have their own "entrance music" when they come down the aisle to the ring? I forget who started it... there was one in the late '80s who actually did enter the ring to "Eye Of The Tiger" -- I think it may have been Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.

But, anyway, yeah... come in with your iPod hooked up to a little pair of speakers in your jacket pockets as you walk into the interviewer's office. Fuck YEEAAAHHHH.

DUHN... chunka chunka chunka DUHN DUHH DUHN... chunka chunka chunka...

Welll-llll... OK, maybe not.

Still, you have to admit it would've been a really great League Of Gentlemen sketch.

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Flame

The flamers are the one's who just don't get it...

I remember a classic example of those who just don't get it. In a previous support role one of my teamates was told he was being sent on a Customer Care course.

"CUSTOMER CARE COURSE. WHAT THE FUCK DO I NEED A CUSTOMER CARE COURSE FOR!!!!!!"

When you sit on the bus, and you can't see the weirdo, congratulations, you're the weirdo.

Those who understand the rules of the game are those getting the promotions. Those who argue the advice in this article is shit.... HELLO!!!!!

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Anonymous Coward

We know the rules of the game. (You all just lost, by the way.)

That doesn't mean the rules are fair and unbiased.

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Well how fucking heartbreaking

Nobody took me aside on my way out of mum and told me life'd be fair. For that matter, if life were going to be fair, I wouldn't have nearly died on my way out of mum, but that's moot -- and so is your whining.

I know, I know, you've been raised on nothing but Whig history and you really do believe in your secret heart of hearts that life really *could* be fair if only everyone else in the world would stop coming up with excuses not to be as good a person as you yourself are. The quicker you figure out what bullshit that is and come to grips with the world as you actually find it, rather than distracting and infuriating yourself with these puerile fantasies of the world as you want it, the better off you'll be -- and so will the rest of us, too, because those of us who *have* grown up can stop worrying about what'll happen if the whiny children among us manage to tear down everything their forebears have built.

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Dear Velv,

There often is more than one weirdo on the bus, so spotting one doesn't tell you anything about yourself.

What if the one weirdo on the bus gets up and leaves? Are you now the weirdo? Is everybody suddenly the weirdo to themselves? Or are you trying some pop psych analogy and it's all going horribly wrong?

On topic of the article though, Mr Magic has apparently taken the comments to heart and tries to come across as reasonable. Pity, where's the fun now?

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Anonymous Coward

@Aaron

Or perhaps candidates, recruiters and employers could give each other a bit of honest feedback after the interview. There are gains to be made from that beyond giving the commenter something to cry into their tea over. But flaming's good too, I guess.

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Great idea

Let me know how many HR departments you manage to sell it to. (That pesky "deal with the world as you find it" thing again, you know.)

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Spot On

I think this artivle is spot on, just like the previous ione about CVs. Mr Connor is telling it like it is in the industry - if you dont like it, its not his fault you just need to learn to play the game. If you dont like the game because you feel it is unjust ? Tough, thats life, get over it.

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Happy

Yes, reality works that way, but can I bring a cosh to the interview?

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...and working in local government.

I work in the NHS; is that worse or better?.

My wife used to be head of technical section of [a clinical department] the NHS. She regularly interviewed for new posts; both student technical entry and qualified. From her descriptions of interviewees, I recognise every single one of the 'crimes' in the article.

Major downer was people not turning up...and not ringing to say they were not attending. Needless to say, having wasted interviewing panel time, they were blacklisted for future interviews.

No homework on the department; vague about job being interviewed for; poor personal presentation (suits/business-like appearance please even if you will be wearing a uniform after appointment); slouching in the interview - tick - all present.

As the article says - you are selling yourself to the panel, (who have probably taken time out of busy schedules to interview) so do the homework and do yourself justice

As for "...and working in local government"; almost all our ex-council employees left our NHS department after a couple of months. Reason: "too stressful"; "had to work at weekends"....

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This author got a fair few flames last time, most of which were a bit unfair. I dislike paying recruiters fees as much as the next person, but unless you are unfortunate enough to have to wade through stacks of CVs, you are really qualified to complain.

I interview and hire staff for my (small) company. Mainly developers, test and support staff. Most of the comments in the last article about CVs were correct - I don't read past the second spelling mistake in a CV. I don't care if English is not your second language, if you can't be arsed to spell check your CV and get someone else to read it before you send it to me, I'll bin it. In the last week I have seen four CVs which were Word documents that displayed red wiggly lines when I opened them. I'd probably have a bit more sympathy if I was hiring Nursery nurses, but come on - IT staff should have no fear of the humble word processor.

As far as interviews go, I ask myself three questions at the end of the interview - would they do the job?, could they do the job?, and most importantly, would they fit in?

The first one is easy, I just ask the candidate this question - "if we offer you the job at the salary you've asked for, would you accept it?". The only correct answer is an enthusiastic yes. Anything else means I won't offer you the job. I've had one no in twenty years, and about half of the remainder say something along the lines of "well, I am interviewing at other places so I may have to think about it". As if I cared. All I care about is that you are enthusiastic about my job. You can always change your mind later if I do offer it to you.

The second is hard. I can see from your CV what your experience is, but you could be rubbish at those skills. We used to set a programming test - until we hired a guy who aced the test and who we had to fire six months later as he was actually a very poor programmer. This one is mostly guesswork.

The third is gut feel. If I don't like you, I probably won't hire you. By like, I don't mean in a bosom buddy kind of way, just you need to come across as having the right kind of personality to fit in. Can do attitude, willingness to accept that you may not be right, ability to admit failures, these are all good. Not listening to the interviewer is bad, sometimes people answer a different question to the one you asked and we let them off as it's a pressured situation, but if it happens a lot, then it just seems like you don't understand or aren't listening.

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Unhappy

Many Word documents show red wiggly lines when I open them.

We're a multinational, standardised on American Engrish and the ruddy settings are locked down. Anything written by someone who actually knows basic English gets the thumbs down.

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Anonymous Coward

"and most importantly, would they fit in?"

And there's one of your problems. Sometimes deep technical problem-solving does not go hand-in-hand with communication skills. Some software testing companies, for example, specifically favour people with autism/Asperger's. And there have been articles associating high-ranking management with sociopathy.

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Stop

A perfect reason to submit a CV as a PDF.

There are other reasons: with the proliferation of applications that read Word documents - with varying levels of fidelity - there's a good chance of CV formatting getting screwed up. It never looks good. Even setting a different paper size from the reader's default (or their printer's) can cause problems.

PDFs are much more robust.

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I think that Word puts in red wiggly lines if the spelling doesn't match the document. I'm assuming that the wiggly lines that I see are the same as the ones that the candidate sees when s/he writes their CV, so they've no excuse for not correcting the error.

Anyway, the errors I see are usually worse than that - I have one CV here where the guy's last place of work is spelled three different ways. That shows too little attention to detail and if you can't pay attention to detail on your CV, then you aren't advertising yourself very well.

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Well I agree with that. We have some staff who are great communicators and some who aren't. The important thing is that everyone can work together and nobody is constantly pissed off or pissing someone else off.

I think that in an interview this is the most important thing that I'm trying to find out, bearing in mind that I think that I'm crap at working out if someone is actually capable of doing what they say they can do.

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Especially when a recruiter has mangled the CV to insert their header or to obfuscate the candidate name or place of work on speculative CVs.

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Anonymous Coward

> The first one is easy, I just ask the candidate this question - "if we offer you the job at the salary you've asked for, would you accept it?". The only correct answer is an enthusiastic yes

Answering yes to this question doesn't demonstrate enthusiasm, it demonstrates the ability to construct a facade of enthusiasm. You can't seriously believe that everyone wants to work in your organisation as soon as they walk through the door, so why have them pretend? Loaded questions like this just result in loaded tactical answers from which you can glean nothing.

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realy

>"if we offer you the job at the salary you've asked for"

Rule one is never be the first to mention what salary you looking for - I have fired agencies (from representing me) over this.

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@ AC 15:58

The point is that the ones that don't say yes disqualify themselves by not being enthusiastic. The remainder either constructed a facade or were truly enthusiastic so the ratio of truly enthusiastic to not enthusiastic just got better in my favour.

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@mjwalshe

It doesn't matter who mentions salary first - the employer needs to know how much you want to be paid so it's going to be discussed. And presumably you didn't turn up for an interview without having some idea of the salary on offer?

What always amazes me is the candidates (usually young admittedly) who have no idea how much the recruiter is getting.

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WTF?

Word? Sic.

"In the last week I have seen four CVs which were Word documents that displayed red wiggly lines when I opened them."

You DID set your copy of Word to spelcheck in the same language as the author of the document, yes? Yes? No? Perhaps not?

If you trust to MS Word to check a document, I certainly do not trust you to pay my salary on time.

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Trollface

@Windrose Trolling? Not sure

if yes then fair play

if not it's a pity you didn't "spell check" your response...

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FAIL

Egg. You know where.

You DID notice WHICH word I didn't "spell check", did you? No?

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Anonymous Coward

... until you dissed working in Local Government, not all staff are useless and some do get value out of the work they accomplish, it's just unfortunate that the majority of crap hires in Local Gov all tend to be incompetent managers, the frontline staff tend to do their job well despite the lack of decent management.

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Anonymous Coward

Cognitive Dissonance.

"You need to sprinkle the words 'team' and 'enjoy' into your conversation. The more you think this advice is stupid, the more you need to do it."

Arrrgggghhhh!

And anyway, I don't! There I said it. They're all bastards. My stapler!

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