Confident businessman in a green tie

Five job interview secrets that employers don’t tell candidates

Peter Harris|

I’ve had to hire team members for multiple roles over the years, and here are a few things I’ve learned from being on this side of the table that I didn’t know when I was a candidate applying for jobs.

When an employer invites you to interview for a job, they already think you’re qualified. Your resume and cover letter, job application or online profile have already told them that you have the skills, education and experience that they are looking for. If there is a phone interview, that is to pre-screen for these core skills before meeting you in person.

The job is yours to lose

Because they need someone with your abilities, and the hiring process is taking up valuable time from their regular duties, hiring managers usually come into the face-to-face interview wanting to give you the job. Your challenge is to not change their minds.

Employers want to like you as a person

Since they already think you have the skills, and they want to hire you, what are most employers looking for in an interview? Frankly, they want to know if they like you and if you’re going to fit in with the team. Once they hire you, you become someone they will have to see and speak to every day at work. They often end up spending more time with you than they do with their family or friends. So likeability really matters. 

This is why coming up with clichéd answers to standard questions won’t work. If you say that your biggest flaw is that you’re a ‘perfectionist workaholic,’ the interviewer won’t learn anything about the real you, and may be annoyed by your lack of sincerity.

Be personable, and talk in a friendly, conversational manner rather than simply quoting rehearsed answers. Try to build rapport with the interviewer.

Your looks really matter

How you look may determine whether or not you get the job. If you are dressed too casually, you may appear unprofessional or not serious about the role. If the company culture, or the hiring manager specifically has issues with multiple piercings, visible tattoos or odd facial hair, these may cost you the gig. If you appear nervous, sweaty and easily flustered, they might assume that you are not up for the job.  

Dress up, wear clothes that are just a touch more formal than required on the day-to-day of the job. Arrive a little early so that you don’t have to run to make it on time, and be at your calm and confident best.

You can be too eager for the role

While employers prefer candidates who are enthusiastic about working for them specifically, it is possible to be too enthusiastic.

Being overly needy makes you look bad and lowers your value as a potential hire. For example, if you’re currently employed and you tell your interviewer that you could start work right away, this could hurt your chances. It indicates that you’re willing to make an unprofessional exit from your present job by leaving them hanging with no notice. Is that the kind of person they would want on their team?

Although it’s good to send a thank-you note after an interview, too much follow-up can kill your chances. Calling or emailing multiple times to check up on the status of your application will make you look desperate and will likely get on the employer’s nerves.

The timing isn’t fair

The rules of timing are not the same for employers and candidates. The employer can take as long as they need to call you for an interview after your application, to follow up with you after an interview and to make you an offer. This process almost always takes longer than they think it will for a myriad of behind-the-scenes reasons at the company. So when the employer says they’ll make a decision by the end of the week, it may take up to a month.

On the other hand, if you’re asked to send in references or samples of your work the next day. Do it the next day. Candidates have to be on time and true to their word. Also, you can wait too long to respond to a job offer. If you’re waiting to hear from another company or using the offer to renegotiate with your current job, it can be rescinded. Employers are hiring because they have a talent gap. They need the help and don’t have time for candidates who string them along. Job offers come with expiration dates.

 

- Peter Harris


Category: Job interviews,
 
  • Max Rhein

    Great article Peter. Thanks (Max Rhein, Edmonton)

  • Bobby Tarumi

    Thank you Mr. Harris. I just came back from an interview. I spoke and behaved completely like myself while speaking to the hiring managers. I felt horrible after because I thought I might have been too candid. But as you expressed here, it’s not good to show a fake personality. I feel a little better.

  • Patrick MacKenna

    So if the employer asks me “why do you want to work for our company”, I should say “The reason why I want to work here is because I want to make friends. I like your click. I realized over time that this is more important than skills or talents, because when the company goes down, we are still all friends, and that’s all that counts” Sorry, I couldn’t resist! I have a touch of Aspergers and I am a really nice person and sweet, but people are never impressed by me so even though I have a genius level IQ, extremely amazing talents and skills, and I have a strong Christian care and bend over backwards for people, and I’m sweet, I don’t “fit in” anywhere and I find this method to not only be mean, but discriminatory. the person with the best personality is what’s important to an employer, and all the care and time I’ve put into myself is worth the garbage can. Thanks.

    • Julie

      Don’t forget Patrick that potential employers can also find a way to access your social media accounts and your profile picture may be a bit of a turn off for some. Just sayin’

      • steph

        So true. I was going through employee applications and looking into their online footprint. One girl was an excellent candidate on paper. She was awful online.

        • Guest

          Totally agree Julie!

        • colibriink

          So now you play detective… I would love to know at what point it became normal and expected to snoop through potential candidates’ personal lives. I do wonder, if an HR person doesn’t find anything about me online, what do they assume? Perhaps I should take my old photo albums and recordings of my conversations with friends to my next interview!

          Clearly I’m way out of touch. And so glad they’re not yet allowed to enter our homes and snoop around if we’ve applied for a job.
          For what it’s worth, I don’t do anything criminal or vulgar, at least not anymore, and I have nothing to hide. But I think it is possible to make some seriously false assumptions about people based on their ‘online footprint’. Much better to meet them in person and then judge.

          • Mufasa McFurry

            LinkedIn is the only social networking site that shows my real name. For other social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, my accounts are under my cat. (People I know personally know it’s me.) Don’t ever put your real name on Facebook. Meow!

          • sabretruthtiger

            Well said Colibriink! It’s creepy and wrong to snoop through people’s facebook posts and that’s not a reflection of them as a person.
            I completely disagree politically with some of my friends but get on with them as people.

          • Clarissa

            When posts are public, it’s not really snooping anymore. How do politics enter into it? If someone isn’t nice online, why would an employer assume they are nice IRL?

          • Nathan Crawford

            It’s only public when you can view it publicly from a search engine. Once you log in because you can’t, you’ve crossed the line.

            Now if someone is nice online or not does tend to have negative connotations, but not in the way that you think; they’re often very nice people in person.

            Which tends to mean that they’re afraid of conflict. Or does it?

            You know sweet all about someone until you put them in the thick of it and see how and what they do. As far as an employee goes, the only thing that you’ll truly ever glean about their working habits will be found on their resume and through their employment history and references.

            Who they are at home is none of an employer’s business because most people have a “work” face and a “personal” one, and unless they do anything that directly affects the company’s brand *at the time they do it*, what goes on in their personal life is irrelevant.

            All that matters is: Can they do it? How well? And how will they get along with others in the workplace? That’s it, period.

          • Clarissa

            “It’s only public when you can view it publicly from a search engine. Once you log in because you can’t, you’ve crossed the line. ”

            Um…no. Not only are Facebook accounts ubiquitous as email addresses, there are enough privacy protections provided by Facebook that if I ONLY have to login to view a person’s profile, that’s public enough. Profiles default to private, btw. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been on Facebook?

            “All that matters is: Can they do it? How well? And how will they get along with others in the workplace? That’s it, period.”

            I agree. Understanding what kind of personality a potential employee has and how they will mesh with office culture BEFORE I hire them is important. So if their posts are public, I will look.
            Also, your personal life absolutely impacts your professional one and vice versa. They really are not as separate as you seem to like to think they are.

            While I don’t care about or need to know the nitty-gritty details of someone’s private life, I would say people reveal a lot of their personality in personal profiles than can be gleaned from one interview. And who they are as people absolutely is my business.

          • Nathan Crawford

            You’re right, it is, but you’re putting way too much faith in Facebook, Twitter, et al.

            I work in a place where a lot of people are employed, and I have a fair number of them in my Friend’s list; very few of them are exactly like the person that I work with, as it were, so, no, social media is *not* a good qualifier of people’s professional attitude or personality.

            Part of the reason is because people are finally getting used to social media.

            Now, that said, regarding corporate culture, the only things that you can glean at a glance through social media are these things:

            1) Their level of competence with it.

            2) Their political associations

            3) Their religious associations

            4) Their hobbies

            5) Petty likes and dislikes

            One’s level of competence with social media does not necessarily reflect their competence with computers and the internet, but it can. That will require further investigation.

            Unless they are a zealot, you can’t legally touch politics and religion. That’s illegal. Plus, this isn’t something that can be judged based on a single glance due to different groups sharing monikers. Just Google skinhead to get what I mean.

            Hobbies don’t say too much unless they follow an extremism vibe, and these things are in the minority.

            Likes and dislikes are petty, period. In the workplace, you aren’t going to really see this, most people either hide it or don’t invest, and for good reason; a lot of it doesn’t matter.

            The other thing is, when you go on the internet, you really need to perceive everyone as a character until you meet them; that’s when you’ll see who they really are when they interact with live people. Ultimately, social media in and of itself really create more work for sincere employers looking for real talent; the tools for hiring good talent have existed long before the internet. They’re the same tools needed to get a job: Networking with real people and doing ground work.

            If you use the one thing that really needs to be taken with a grain of salt because everyone’s genuineness there is questionable – even yours and mine right now – as a filter of any kind, you wind up drawing your hiring process out further – which is already incredibly costly – and there’s a very high likelihood that you’re going to miss out on a lot of real talent. Especially if you’re looking at younger prospects as potential employees.

          • Clarissa

            “You’re right, it is, but you’re putting way too much faith in Facebook, Twitter, et al.”

            I think you’re overestimating the “faith” I’m putting in. I frankly admitted that most profiles are by default set to private, after all. Since it’s at maximum an optional supplementary to how I review candidates, how can I possibly put too much faith in it? My point is merely that social media provides valid insights into an individual’s personality and I have a right to make use of that if it is publicly accessible.

            “I work in a place where a lot of people are employed, and I have a fair number of them in my Friend’s list; very few of them are exactly like the person that I work with, as it were, so, no, social media is *not* a good qualifier of people’s professional attitude or personality.”

            Cool story. I didn’t specify that an individual’s personality online is exactly like their personality IRL but I’m glad you get along with your co-workers?

            Incidentally, do you hire employees? You’re dismissing a lot of things I did when I first started hiring people and now don’t anymore as I’ve seen how these things can play out in the work place. Additionally, I can legally discriminate against bigots. And I will. I don’t need to hire people with sexist, racist or homophobic, etc attitudes since that negatively impacts my workplace culture. If you really think that doesn’t make an appearance in Facebook posts you are either naive or not paying attention. The rarity of this or any of the other occurrences you detailed happening doesn’t negate the benefits of checking someone’s social media. It literally takes five minutes.

            It’s MUCH MORE costly to hire the wrong person and either need to re-hire or deal with the negative impacts of their personality and attitude. I’ve worked with bigots and people with serious anger management problems. It affects the ENTIRE work place. Please, don’t insult my intelligence by dismissing that. “Real talent” means shit if it’s attached to someone who behaves like an asshole.

            I don’t really want to continue this discussion since you seem to think your experiences are the only truth and apparently think social media is a sacred cow that can’t be touched by hiring management. Also, this article on Workopolis has been deleted so it would be a pain to respond anyway.

          • Samuel Sogeke

            All I wish to say to these two ladies; Nathan and Clarissa is , pls pls and pls check the online footprint of your next babysitter.

          • Kay

            I certainly hope you have time to do a real interview with candidates instead of playing around on facebook.

          • Clarissa

            Sorry, what was that? All I got from that was “I can’t stand when people use technology in ways I don’t approve of! Meh-eh-eh-eh!! D:<"
            Anyway, have fun posting bitter little comments on the internet. :)

          • Clarissa

            If your “personal” lives are public and searchable by Google, they’re not so “personal” anymore, are they? If you want privacy, use a pseudonym. That’s what usernames are for. Did that really need to be explained?

          • Kay

            I’m pretty normal and laid back, I stay out of trouble and don’t do anything crazy, yet I still don’t do facebook or twitter or use my real name on anything. (With facebook, I figure anyone who’s a real friend will give me a phone call if they want to hang out.)

            HR is bad enough with their laziness and refusal to do their job and contact candidates. Why do they have the time to facebook stalk people? Unbelievable.

      • AB

        Totally agree Julie!

    • AB

      I think you your picture needs to be changed Patrick since it could be accessible to employers.

    • sabretruthtiger

      Yes, unfortunately it’s like a big high school, ‘popularity’ and whether you’re ‘cool’ still seems more important than skills. Politics is worse now than ever and a good-looking person with average skills can win out over someone with more personality and better skills.

      No wonder so many companies struggle, they’re run by idiots.

    • carolyn

      I love what u said ! it all depends who is behind the desk. We have t match up with them; I learned, if they sitting forward, so should we, and do not show too much of our personality; we at a job interview not at their house watching a movie, for example. being too sweet may make them think u flirting or something, or u may seem that u will play around too much on the job not taken seriously.

    • priszena morais

      I would like to know you…I like you already. Do you have facebook?

    • whitneyrose

      Lol…your picture, though…XD

  • Julia

    I live in Quebec, and it is required to speak and write in french. My french is not perfect.
    I had 2 interviews at this particular company, 1 on Friday and the next one was one the Monday. Both interviewers said they liked me and my qualifications and that they were both very interested, HOWEVER, my french concerned them. They called me yesterday evening, minutes before 5pm and I missed the call. They left a message without telling me whether I got the position or not. I called back this morning and left a message for them to call me back, but I haven’t heard from them yet. What do you think? Good or Bad sign?

    • Francois Bwanga

      Hi Julia,
      I live in South Africa, i do speak french also but what i can say is that you just need to believe and have hope specially when your application or qualification has made impact in both of them. Remember the Employer can take as long as they need to call you, this process almost takes longer than they think but the candidates have to be on time and true to their word. Sorry still your JOB be patient.

  • Winifred

    Peter, Thanks for the information. It’s quite enlightening.

  • Pabs

    I went for an interview last Friday. They told me they would let me know Wednesday. It is now Thursday afternoon and the job starts Monday. Should I call/email them?

    • Big Booty Judy

      Looool :D

      • Paul Grant

        Always go by the 3 day rule (excluding weekends). If no call or contact by then, they’ve moved on and so should you. Good rule for dating as well.

  • Julien

    How long can I wait to schedule an interview when an employer asks for one? Is a week okay?

  • Luke

    On my application, i wrote down that i can work till 12am. I got hired on the spot. The problem is I am still under 18 and my Dad does not allow me to work that late. Who can tell for the change?

    • whitneyrose

      Sounds like that would cost you the job.

  • mohd ellyasaq

    I went to interview yesterday. I like to think I did ok but I just wish now I could ask more question but I was overwhelmed. The hiring manager introduce me to the HR manager and they did offer to me to contact them if I have anything more to ask, could I take that offer to ask a few more question?

  • KaayC

    Hiring managers ready to hire? On what planet?

  • Jon

    peter, you couldn’t be more accurate in your descriptions. It is so important for potential candidates to be well prepared for their interview.
    Following on from Peter’s answer; I would also suggest doing some research on the prospective company and remembering their key values and goals.
    Also, you can gain a lot of information from a company website – these day’s if a company doesn’t have a website then I would personally avoid them AT ALL COSTS.
    I wish you all well
    Jon

    • Sharon McGuigan-Baki

      If you have controls on FB then how can an employer access your account?They have to ask for a friend request to see your activity. Frankly a lot of interviews I have gone to- the employers were not up to my standards and I would not want to be part of their so called “culture”

  • Elizabeth

    My biggest frustration is from HR managers who tell you that they will call on specific day at a specific time, and then fail to follow through on their commitments. I have been sent for drug tests (I am clean, so no issue there) have discussed and agreed upon salary requirements, and have been given tentative start dates. I have been promised phone calls to finalize the details, with a promise that an offer letter was forthcoming, and then NOTHING. If this had only happened once or twice, I would chalk it up to one person’s lack of professionalism. However, this is more the rule than the exception. Employers say that they are looking for candidates with a certain work ethic and professionalism, yet they fall extremely short in demonstrating these qualities themselves. I would rather be told “no thank you” than to be left hanging, thinking that I have a job offer. There is absolutely NO excuse for such a lack of professionalism, and the higher ups in the company should know how badly this reflects on their company. I actually DECLINED a job offer when I realized how unprofessional my potential supervisor was.

    • jaeda

      wow that is pretty bad… ive read about this happening but never realized it was actually like that for others..i also had an interview where it seemed like she had already decided to hire me, talking about where i would sit and finding a spot for me and introducing me to who i would be working with but then nothing happened, she kept telling me to get back to her in a week, then after she came back from vacation, then another week and finally I just stopped cause it was a waste of my time!! And I dont like feeling like I’m begging like a puppy dog, I have my integrity! You’re right ,its incredibly unprofessional and disrespectful..and kind of cruel in this economy to get people’s hope up like that…

    • Kay

      A lot of it is due to the fact that HR is considered a career now. It’s a career field for lazy people who know how to get a degree and push paper, when they probably know nothing about the jobs they’re hiring for. I had actually started towards a second bachelors’ degree in HR because I wanted to help people. I changed my mind rather quickly. They are taught NOTHING. The classes consist of writing research papers on management theory and memorizing stupid models and who came up with them. That I can do, but I find it pointless after having been through all this junk with my first degree. It has nothing to do with the real world. It is no wonder HR managers do nothing. They are taught nothing about how to do their job. Supposedly everything is done by a database and they just have to make the calls, but they’re too busy playing around online to do that. My husband once got called for a job interview an hour and a half before the interview was to take place because the HR manager FORGOT to call the candidates to schedule, but she penciled it in for the supervisor for that job. My husband arrived on time in his suit, because we’ve been prepared for this sort of thing. They were impressed. But it’s inexcusable for HR managers to be so incompetent, inconsiderate, and unprofessional. It’s not like their jobs are difficult! Read resumes and make a phone call on time. Woop-dee-doo.

      And if you notice, many of the HR career commenters on here are always negative people who think they’re better than everyone else. With an attitude like that, they don’t deserve to be employed.

    • Barry

      That has happened to me twice this year. Physometric, drug, physical, education and criminal checks, and called my references. Then to not get the job.

  • Sharon McGuigan-Baki

    Another pet peeve: Recruiters who call you and ask for a time to do the initial phone interview and when you call them you never get a call back or their phone always goes right to VM. Wasting precious time IMO!

  • fee

    I had an interview on Tuesday and they told me I would hear thursday, however, they called me and said they have had a few good ones and that they cant let me know until monday.. are they interested in me?

  • Kay

    “Too enthusiastic”? You have got to be kidding me.

    HR people need to get their heads out of their asses. People need a job to pay the bills. If the bills aren’t paid you don’t put food on the table or have water or power. This isn’t a damn game, it’s peoples’ lives.

    HR needs to get over themselves and quit being so picky. You’re not God, stop having fun messing with people and thinking you’re hot stuff because you have power. You’re a paper pusher. Hire someone who has the skills to do the job. Quit making it a giant mind game. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

    • Guled Abdulahi

      Kay, I sympathize with your plight and I hope you become gainfully employed. As recent graduate in HR and someone in the process of obtaining my CHRP designation, I would like to think of myself a lot more than “paper pusher”, as you put it. I will keep my comment here brief, but I hope you someday get the change to read my book titled (thanks for the idea) “The role of HR Professionals in the 21st century economy”.

      Hiring qualified, competent, and capable people with the desired skills and attitude is important role HR professionals are trusted with, but it’s tiny aspect of the role in the grand scheme of things.

      Have you ever wondered what happens after someone is hired? Perhaps not, but for information purposes, HR Professionals are responsible for training, developing, retaining (or as the case may be, relieving from duties), compensating (competitively, as well as complying with the
      appropriate statutory regulations at all times), and motivating to achieve group and organizational objectives.

      I also feel it’s time HR professionals, like myself, to educate the public and not let misconceptions, misrepresentations and misnomers to frame our chosen profession.

  • Kevin

    No doubt, an interview is all about research, confidence and creating a good rapport. The hiring manager needs to know that you are capable of performing the tasks of the job and also that you will be a good addition to the team.
    Now I know what are the 5 secrets that employers usually don’t tell me.
    Well, I found this article, secrets of interview: http://gsjobpoint.com/blog/career/secrets-of-interview-revealed.do
    Might be useful.

    Thank you,
    Kevin.