7/18/10 - Big Blunders Job Hunters Make
By SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN
Daphne Batts sometimes wonders if practical jokers with hidden cameras are spying on her as she interviews people for jobs at Bankrate Inc., an online publisher of financial information in North Palm Beach, Fla.
That's because job candidates—including experienced professionals—behave so inappropriately that Ms. Batts, vice president of human resources, suspects she's the target of a prank.
"I find myself peering out my blinds to see if Ashton Kutcher is on my office balcony with a camera crew," she says, referring to the host of the former MTV show "Punk'd," which featured pranks being played on celebrities.
Of course, there's nothing funny about a bad job interview, especially for the long-term unemployed. Yet hiring managers say many job hunters don't take their search efforts seriously enough and make the kind of mistakes that they should know better to avoid. In fact, many say they are frequently amazed by some of the colossal blunders they witness at a time when there are five job seekers for every job opening, according to the Labor Department.
Here's a look at eight bone-headed moves job hunters commonly make.
1. Entitlement syndrome.
At the conclusion of a job interview last year, a candidate for an administrative position at PopCap Games Inc. in Seattle asked human-resources executive Pamela J. Sampel if she could take him out to lunch on the company's dime. "He said he was a poor student and that I could just write it off," says Ms. Sampel, adding that for a moment she thought he was joking but his demeanor indicated otherwise. "I was so startled I almost started laughing."
Also last year, Ms. Sampel says she received an unsolicited résumé full of grammatical and spelling errors with a note asking her to have someone on the company's staff correct them. "I'm sure you have people there that could fix them before they put it into your online database on my behalf," the applicant wrote, according to Ms. Sampel.
2. Behaving rudely.
Earlier this year, a candidate for an administrative position at BankRate showed up to an interview with a preschooler in tow. "She didn't try to make any excuses or apologies, such as her babysitter backed out," says Ms. Batts, who conducted the meeting anyway, but didn't extend the candidate a job offer.
Similarly, a recent candidate for an entry-level outsourcing job at Accenture Ltd. unwrapped a sandwich during an interview and asked the hiring manager if he could eat it since it was lunchtime, says John Campagnino, senior director of recruitment for the global consulting company.
Job hunters have also acted rudely by showing up more than an hour early for interviews, interrupting interviewers in mid-sentence and refusing to fill out a job application, referring hiring managers to their résumés instead, say hiring managers and recruiters.
3. Acting arrogantly.
Recruiter Peter Polachi recently met with a candidate for an executive-level marketing job at a midsize technology firm. In the middle of the meeting, Mr. Polachi says he suddenly heard Madonna singing—it was the ring tone for the candidate's cell phone and the person took the call, which lasted about a minute.
Mr. Polachi, co-founder of Polachi Access Executive Search in Framingham, Mass., says the incident, plus the fact that the candidate was employed and arrived late to the meeting without apologizing, signaled that the executive considered himself a shoo-in for the job or just wasn't interested. Either way, "to accept the call and have a conversation is over the top," says Mr. Polachi.
4. Lies, lies, lies.
Six months ago, a candidate for an editing position at Factory VFX Inc. told hiring producer Liz Crawford that he came recommended by an artist on staff at the Santa Rosa, Calif., visual-effects company. After the interview, Ms. Crawford says she called the artist so the applicant could say hello to his supposed associate. That's when it became crystal clear that the two men didn't know each other. "He admitted he had fibbed and walked out of the room," says Ms. Crawford.
Job hunters also commonly lie by taking credit for work they didn't do, inflating their salaries and saying they don't smoke when seeking positions at companies with no-smoking policies.
5. Dressing down.
Last summer, Amy Demas says she was uncomfortable and distracted while interviewing a copywriter candidate for the small Los Angeles ad agency she co-founded in 2008, Standard Time LLC. "She was wearing a t-shirt three sizes too small with bright red letters across her chest," recalls Ms. Demas. "I couldn't help but pay more attention to her breasts than her résumé."
While it might be acceptable to skip a suit and tie in some office environments, it's never appropriate to wear jeans, cleavage-revealing tops, flip-flops or skin-tight pants—all interview fashion don'ts hiring managers say they've seen.
"You should also take out all your funky piercings and hide your tattoos," says career coach Cynthia Shapiro, who is also a former human-resources executive. "Even if you wear a business suit, if you have a piercing through your lip" it doesn't look good.
After learning that a position involved a great deal of travel, a candidate for a senior sales job at a midsize manufacturer told the interviewer he was worried about how his saltwater fish would get fed while he was away. The worst part of the exchange? "He wasn't kidding," says Russ Riendeau, an executive recruiter who set up the interview and confirmed the account with the job hunter. "He was trying to say that it was his only concern." The man, who had been unemployed for four months at the time, wasn't extended an offer for the position, adds Mr. Riendeau, a senior partner with East Wing Search Group in Barrington, Ill.
Other things employers say that job hunters reveal—but shouldn't —include comments about their health problems, details about their love lives and tales of their financial hardships.
7. Saying thanks with gifts.
A finalist for a head of business development job at a well-known Internet company recently sent a pricey fruit bowl from Tiffany & Co. to a hiring manager following a third interview. The candidate was instantly knocked out of the running. "That was a real big faux pas," says Erika Weinstein, president of Stephen-Bradford Search in New York, and the recruiter who introduced the candidate to the employer. "It's trying to buy yourself a job. It's brown-nosing."
A thank-you note is really the only appropriate way to show appreciation. But even so, hiring managers say they've received everything from pricey tickets to sporting events to bottles of alcohol—all big no-no's.
8. Sporting a mom-and-dad complex.
In the past two months, Accenture's Mr. Campagnino says he has received two emails from parents of applicants asking why the company hasn't extended their adult children job interviews. "There's a significant lack of judgment when you have your parents intercede with a potential employer," he says. "We expect individuals to be able to represent themselves and sell themselves."
Hiring managers say they've also seen moms and dads accompany their offspring to job interviews and try to intervene in salary negotiations.
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at