How Do You Air Your Dirty Linen at Interview?
We all have moments in our lives that we would rather forget – some even extend into our careers…
I’m not sure that I will ever write about mine, but as I am lucky enough to run my own recruitment agency, hopefully I’ll never to have to divulge the unfortunate details to a potential employer! I might be exaggerating a little, but we have all been there, or uncomfortably close to being there... Something definitely didn’t go to plan… You failed to pay attention at a crucial moment… You chose to do something against someone’s wishes or even your own better judgement… disastrous consequences…
I am of the belief that such errors can be the hallmark of someone who is pushing their ability to the limits. Stories of calamities and near misses are to be expected in any interview – after all, we in recruitment work with people, not products!
Why, therefore, do we hear so few candidates talk about what didn’t go so well? (Or if they do, they don’t explain very well…)
The strongest people welcome mistakes as a learning experience, we all know of successful entrepreneurs who have tried repetitively with persistence and perseverance. They genuinely seek out an opportunity to test their boundaries - and when the boundaries bite back, they have a unique chance to adapt their behaviour for the future. Someone who simply plays it safe and stays within the prescribed groove is not someone who is likely to take their employer’s business to the next level.
Candidates haven’t necessarily had dealings with their recruiter before. Not all recruiters can possibly have worked with a particular hiring manager. The stakes are high and the pressure to find the right person for the role is on. When such new-born relationships are put under such strain, breakages are inevitable. However, for me, the mark of the great recruiter is not the calamity itself - but how they deal with the issues and dramas that arise – is it dealt with professionally, fairly, honestly – or are further holes being dug?
I’m delighted to hear about good (even massive!) billing figures, impressive business development skills and client wins - but I’d much rather hear about how they negotiated the hidden obstacles along the way. Hearing a story about something that went horribly wrong and how they brought it back from the brink to demonstrate real success and a strong long-term relationship is going to impress more than a squeaky clean record of excellence. Being strong, and fair, in difficult times is what we all want to see!
Basically, I am suggesting that candidates should be more honest in their interviews – talking about the “bad” stuff won’t necessarily reflect negatively on them, if positioned correctly.
Of course, there are certain issues that are slightly more sensitive. Naturally it is always better to attract the interest of a potential employer with the sound sensible stuff before you wheel out the skeletons from the closet! As recruiters, we help to advise about the more sensitive issues. We definitely recommend honesty from the start - it is better to be open about certain things at the right time - rather than create stumbling blocks at the end of the process. No client will be impressed to hear of issues at final meeting, or even at point of references (which has happened). If you have an issue that could affect a visa and you are interviewing for jobs internationally, let us know. Don’t change a CV; if you haven’t included all the companies on the CV – why not? It will be found out and you will feel and look worse then. If you haven’t really earned X don’t embellish and don’t say that you have – OTE isn’t the same as a P60!
Every candidate should, of course, give the best account of themselves at interview, but their mistakes are part and parcel of how they have grown as an individual and as a recruiter, so they could form part of the story too.
Be genuine, be sincere and you should have every chance of getting the job.