One of the perks of my job is that people like to vent to me about their ridiculous workplace adventures, sometimes after a couple glasses of wine. A few nights ago I got an email from my friend, Periwinkle (alias used to protect the innocent), an HR Manager for a city in California. She was coming off an entire workday spent sitting on an interview panel, was emotionally exhausted, and not feeling terribly charitable. I think you see where this is going…
Without further ado, here’s why you’re making interviewers cry on the inside, and my feedback about how to stop screwing up so badly.
Periwinkle: “Are candidates being told to ask a bunch of questions like, ‘why do you like working for x company?’ at the end of their interviews? If so, tell them to stop. At least on panel interviews for government agencies.”
Kim: Yes, this type of question is making the rounds, and I like it. A lot. Candidates should be interviewing employers as much as employers are interviewing them. A good fit is in everyone’s mutual best interest, and the only way that happens is if candidates assert themselves. Part of that assertion is asking probing questions to understand the culture. This is a fundamentally good thing.
I also think it’s a perfectly fine question for government agency employees – I don’t care what kind of bureaucracy you’re mired in. It’s kosher to ask people about their personal experiences.
Where I do agree with Periwinkle, though, is that panel interviews are the wrong setting for this question. It’s kind of personal, and possible the person you’re asking isn’t going to answer honestly or comfortably in front of their colleagues. Use your emotional intelligence and only ask this sort of thing to someone in a one-on-one meeting, once you’ve established rapport.
Periwinkle: “When asked behavioral questions, give real examples. Do not generalize.”
Kim: Lordy, lordy, lordy. This comes up all the time in my mock interview sessions. I say something like, “tell me about a time you had a conflict with your immediate supervisor,” and rather than answer the question, my client proceeds to describe the importance of conflict resolution skills.
DO NOT DO THIS. When you are asked to tell a story or give an example, you need to be ready to give a specific answer! Yes, these questions are difficult. This is why we practice ahead of time. You need to prepare and have a variety of stories at the ready.
Periwinkle: “Do not give examples from school unless you absolutely need to.”
Kim: Yep. Once you’ve been out of school for a couple years, you should almost exclusively be talking about your professional experience. If it’s super relevant or super recent, consider talking about it but proceed with caution.
Periwinkle: “Do share all the relevant training you have had from professional associations.”
Kim: Absolutely. If there are things you do outside of work that contribute to your professional development, by all means share them! Tread lightly when talking about anything that’s protected information (i.e. family status, faith, etc.), but you can use community leadership and engagement examples if you don’t have specific on-the-job experience.
Periwinkle: “Do not name drop in an interview. Cover letters & reference lists cover that sh*t.”
Kim: One time I interviewed a candidate for a position and he spent the entire time name-dropping. I had no idea who any of the people were, so all he succeeded in doing was making me think he was clueless. And kind of arrogant.
Periwinkle: “Don’t complain about coworkers or bosses in an explicit way. DUH!”
Kim: Even if they’re terrible horrible monsters, never say anything bad about your current or previous employers. It makes you seem unprofessional and untrustworthy, and no good will come of it. If there’s bad blood in your past (or present) figure out a way to very simply explain your transition in neutral or positive terms, and be ready to shift the conversation elsewhere on a positive, forward-looking note.
Periwinkle: “Iron your clothes.”
Kim: Seriously?!?! I’m not even dignifying this with a response.