Don't Blow It: Eight Interview Pet Peeves


I figure that over my two decades of recruiting I have interviewed more than several thousand executives. Most of the time it is an honor and a privilege to meet such talented and accomplished individuals. I am indeed a lucky guy.

However, I’m continually surprised—but I shouldn’t be—that even the most experienced executives make faux pas so egregious that if they were in my chair the interview would come to a screeching halt.
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but these are some of my pet peeves.

1. Too many props. There are always candidates who bring PowerPoints, publications and other data there is no way we can cover during a 90 minute interview.

An interview is not a show-and-tell unless we ask for collateral materials. I remember one search I conducted where the candidate brought so much information that I literally had to check a bag on my way back to San Francisco.

Similarly, last year I interviewed someone for a Board position and after the interview she sent me films of her speeches. Now I get that if she had won the Nobel Peace Prize she would want to share, but honestly who is really going to watch a 90 minute speech of someone addressing Junior Achievement on work ethic? I bet her spouse would not even take that bait.

2. Name dropping. This is a universal pet peeve of recruiters. If I don’t respond to the first name you drop, consider that that is not a good sign. If I don’t respond to the tenth name you drop, you have completely lost me.

I’m either in a fog trying to figure out if I’ve met the people you mention or if I should have. Either way, I am now focused on the name of someone you worked for ten years ago rather than you.

3. Talking too much. This item bothers recruiters so much we devoted an entire blog to this subject. I have allotted a specific amount of time for the meeting. Each precious minute counts.

After twenty minutes, if you are still talking about the first third of your career I can assume that what you have done recently is not as important to you as it is to me.

4. Arriving too early. It goes without saying that you need to be on time but showing up 20 or 30 minutes early is just as bad as showing up late. Once I was conducting an interview in a hotel restaurant that was scheduled to conclude at 10:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m., the candidate scheduled for 10:45 approaches me at the table with the comment “I thought I would come early so we could spend more time together.” Did he think I was camped out at the restaurant just waiting for him?

Similarly, when I’m traveling and have an 8 a.m. interview and am just getting out of the shower, I don’t want to receive a call from the candidate telling me he is in the lobby or worse, the time when someone asked if he could just come to my room. “But of course. I need help ironing my shirt.”

 5. Punctual with an asterisk. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has rushed into the restaurant or my office for an interview, arriving on time but before they can even sit down or shake my hand, they say “Good to meet you. I think I will make a pit stop.”

I am left to sit by myself in this precious window of time wondering when they will return and hoping they dry their hands completely.

6. Oversharing personal information. Too many people get off topic and share personal information that is not relevant to the position. I am reminded of the otherwise talented executive who confided he was afraid of flying when interviewing for a position that called for heavy international travel.

Some single parents (be they male or female) talk about how difficult it is to balance their work and home life. 

If there is any doubt in my mind whether they are a fit for my client, oversharing tips it against them.

7. Shaken and stirred. Just because we meet after work, it is not an opportunity to take advantage of the restaurant’s two-for-one martinis or Margarita Monday. An interview is not a social engagement nor is it an opportunity to knock back a few.

To me this is not judging your audience correctly. Enjoy your drink because I will not be around for the second round.
8. Bad judgment. All of the above are really lack of emotional intelligence and bad judgment, but bad judgment manifests in many ways.

One way is when people who are not sincerely interested in the position or location, will come to the interview because “even though this may not be right, I wanted to get to know you so you will call me for other opportunities.” This happens especially to those of us recruiters who are well known in a particular area.

A corollary to talking too much is not respecting my time when I say we need to wrap up—or worse—asking for a follow-up call to discuss further and sending thank you emails so long that my battery goes out on my phone as I struggle to read them.

Again, consider your audience. If I have any doubt whether you are a good fit for my client, I will suggest a follow-up call and if you are right, I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure you are fully informed on the position.

My last example of bad judgment relates to food. If we meet for breakfast, please do not get in line for the buffet extravaganza. I was in Orlando last year during spring break and the candidate opted for the buffet, got in line behind 100 children and only returned when our allotted interview was halfway over.

But he got that omelet cooked just right, along with Mickey Mouse waffles. 


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