Why’d you wear that?

I recently had a chance to catch up with some of my favorite local HR friends and let me just go on record now, that doesn’t happen enough! After catching up on other areas of life we did the usual: swapped weird stories, dissected everything around the one employee we can’t seem to make happy, and talked about our hiring woes.

A couple of the people in this group work at the same place and these two shared a fun story about their most recent hiring process which included interview faux pas. This one was a dress faux pas and as I sat with a look of sheer horror painted on my face while listening to them describe this terrible outfit choice for an interview, I remembered I have my own, “interview dress code violation.”

Listen, I tell the story of how I got into HR and Talent Management to every new crowd or client I get, but I usually leave out some of the details. Totally not on purpose because it just occurred to me last week that I’ve been skipping this part of the story. So here goes…

The day I interviewed with a staffing company (having no idea what I was getting into or what kind of job they would send me to) I was desperate. I was young and had been in Alabama for two whole months at that point and hadn’t landed a single job despite my best efforts. I always joke that employers could probably “smell the Arkansas” on me so they didn’t want to hire me. This was back in 2006, which happens to be the last time our college football team beat both Alabama and Auburn, today employers would probably just take pity on my Arkansas self and throw me some type of bone.

I digress.

So, I’m desperate. I need a job or I’m going to lose my mind. My then only boyfriend (now husband) had three jobs so like, we were fine $$ wise, but my sanity was absolutely in question. His sanity was probably in question too now that I think about it, I mean he did take me up there – KICKING AND SCREAMING – to apply. I was so stubborn I didn’t think I needed a staffing company to find me a job, I could find my own job, blah blah blah. I walk in and the lady at the front desk asks how she can help me. I tell her I’m here to apply and she hands me this thick packet of paper. Its 2006 and they just handed me a 20-page application, we are not off to a good start. She says “Do you want to fill it out here or take it home with you?” Friends, I knew if I took this application home, I wasn’t bringing it back so I quietly said “I’llfillitouthere.” She points me to a room to sit in while I complete this monstrous packet and the whole time I’m thinking “what am I doing here? What is happening? What if they want me to do assembly work? I would be terrible at assembly work. I’ll get fired; I won’t last one full shift of assembly work.”

I return to the front desk with a completed application. She says “Ok, follow me.” She plops my application down in front of the office manager who is eating a bag of popcorn and tells me to have a seat. YALL! I WAS IN AN INTERVIEW AND I DIDNT EVEN KNOW IT.

 

interview ready

This interview was so calm, so methodical, and every other question was followed with a couple of bites of popcorn. I’m still thinking “what is happening?” over and over again. By the end of the interview the office manager asks if I want to work in the office. I said I’d take it, a little too excitedly and that totally caught her off guard, but I felt relief from here to heaven that she didn’t offer me an assembly job and I just couldn’t contain myself. We discuss the details and work out my start date (the very next morning because I was tired of sitting in our empty apartment) and she says “one more thing… you’ll need to wear something less revealing in the office.”

So, here’s the part of the story I could’ve told you earlier… that same day I had drove myself to Huntsville and interviewed at Hooters. When you interview for Hooters, you dress the part (I think). I had a tight, black, low-cut top on that proved I was qualified for the job. When I interviewed for my first job in the recruiting realm, I was dressed like I was interviewing for a job at Hooters because I had.

I grabbed at my shirt when she said this, smiled awkwardly and said “of course, absolutely” and carried my red faced self out the door (only to discover that my sweet boyfriend had left me there and I needed to go back inside and use the phone to call him and  find out why he had left me there to relish in my tight, low-cut shame).

If that office manager had made a decision based on how I was dressed, she would’ve missed an opportunity to hire someone who became one of the best recruiters and closer at the company. She also would’ve missed an opportunity to hire someone who was sometimes the biggest pain in the neck she had, but I like to think my excellent numbers and customer service skills outweighed most of that. Some issues you can easily manage, like not the best choice in tops for an interview, but some issues also don’t have anything to do with how well a person will work, like not the best choice in tops for an interview.

inappropriate

If she would’ve said I couldn’t do that job because I dressed the wrong way for the interview, there is no telling what my career would’ve ended up being. I know it wouldn’t have been Hooters though, because they never called me again.

After interview thank you note advice:

Recently I called on some of my pals to help me navigate a question… What makes a thank you note from a candidate stand out after an interview. Check out what some of the best business professionals had to say below and let us know if you would add anything else!

Leading the witness

Often times we are eager to interview candidates to join our organization and some times we get so excited or have so much information to cover that we make this common interview mistake – we lead the witness.

leading the witness

With an estimated 5-6 million jobs open in the U.S. right now it makes sense that we would get eager to fill our jobs and excited to sell the candidate on our work, before letting the candidate do some talking. I’ve seen interviewers make this mistake so many times, and I always cringe when they do because it will directly impact the outcome of the interview/hiring decision.

I recently conducted a recruiting training with an HR team and I spent a lot of time on leading the witness, so much so that I had the team role play some cold calls and interviews to show them when they do this. Leading the witness can start as early as the first call (which I think is a result of so many people beating into the heads of recruiters that candidates don’t really want to talk to us – so in turn they blab everything about the job in 35 seconds because they are afraid they will never get that person on the phone again). Their HR director spoke up at one point in the training and said “If you ever get to sit in on an interview with Kristina, watch her…she does very little talking.” This is mostly because I want to hear what the candidate has to say (listen to learn), but it’s partially so I don’t do any leading. Of course to do this, you must be able to power through awkward silence. A lot of interviewers will jump to fill the silence when things get awkward and then babble down a path of telling the candidate exactly what the organization is looking for.

Now don’t get me wrong, the candidate should know what your organization is looking for and your culture shouldn’t be a secret. When you’ve done all the talking upfront and over shared what your company is looking for, you’re setting the candidate up to form their answers around what you want to hear. This makes it harder to screen for a culture fit since you’ve given away all of your culture buzzwords before you’ve heard what the candidate has in mind for their next position.

Here’s an example:

Interviewer: Here at XYZ company we are looking for candidates who believe in bringing their A game every day, we have no “off days” here. Employees give 110%. We believe in working late hours when we have a project deadline approaching, and expect project deadlines to be more important than anything else. We want some one who likes to play hard when it’s time to celebrate… etc. What are you looking for in your next job?

Interviewee: (thinking to themselves: an 8-5 where I can get my job done and go home and spend time with my kids every night, but gee, right now I really need a job) Well, I’m looking for a group of people who believe in hard work and put project deadlines above everything else.

Kind of a crummy example, but as I thought up example after example they all were descriptive of either my current or former employers and I don’t want to show all of their cards or call anyone out. The mistake here is telling them so much about your environment and THEN asking them what they want. In some cases the candidate is going to be perfectly honest with you and then you can have an honest discussion whether this is the right fit for them and the organization. In other cases people are going to say whatever you want to hear to get hired-at least until they can find the right job for themselves. In some cases people aren’t setting out to lie to you, they just haven’t put any thought into that question so they parrot back everything they just heard you say.

This mistake is most important to avoid in a company where you are screening for culture fit. If you believe culture is driving the success of your business, why widen the risk of bringing in someone who is just trying to fake it? Before you say it, remember we’ve talked about “there’s a place for everyone” i.e. “there’s a culture for everyone.”Also, this isn’t permission to disqualify people for the wrong reason. You CAN define culture so don’t rely on a vague “not a culture fit” reason for not extending an offer.

A quick search for some stats estimate that 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions and one of the reasons this happens is the candidate isn’t really a culture fit and it wasn’t discovered in the interview process (even though it can be). There’s all kinds of stats that pop up when looking to identify how much a bad hire costs our organizations – one source said 1/3 of the employee pay, one source says 50-60% of the pay, and another says 2.5 times their salary. There are a lot of variables to consider when calculating this number, but know this: you can actually identify how much it costs your organization. So, calculate it for your organization and use that number. Data outside of your organization should mostly be taken with a grain of salt in my opinion. Especially considering there is no one size fits all solution to any of our issues, right?

Super easy solutions to this “leading the witness” mistake in general. Ask your questions first. Then expand on the job and organization after your questions have been answered and give the interviewee a chance to ask you questions. Too much to remember? Try this, if Jack McCoy would get scolded for it in the courtroom, steer clear in the interview. Awkward silence is okay, let the interviewee think and you listen.