Could Your Interview Style Use a Seven Second Delay?

by Safani, Barbara Tuesday, July 05, 2011
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Time magazine editor-at-large and MSNBC analyst Marc Halperin, botched an interview yesterday on Morning Joe when he made a derogatory remark about President Obama during a discussion about Obama’s press conference earlier this week. Halperin thought he could say what he was really thinking about the president and his speech and “take it back” at the same time because of the network’s 7 second delay. But that was not the case and Halperin’s expletives are now plastered all over television and the Internet.

I talk to many job seekers who relay stories of “interviews gone bad” and reveal statements they wish they could take back. But in real interviews (and real life) there is no 7 second delay and that first impression often sticks and plays over and over again in the interviewer’s mind.

Here are some things said in interviews that people realize afterwards would be better left unsaid.

What is your biggest weakness?

Candidates often respond by saying they are a perfectionist thinking this answer actually positions them well by showing their diligence. Not so; most hiring managers interpret the “I’m a perfectionist” response as “I can’t get stuff done.” Focus on a “forgivable” weakness that won’t be a deal breaker in the new job. Discuss a competency that was part of your last job role but won’t play a large part in the new job.

What did you accomplish in your last job that you are most proud of?

Sometimes candidates focus on a situation that was a great success but has little relevance to the role the new employer is trying to fill. Showcase an authentic success but pick one that will still resonate with the needs of the employer.

Tell me about yourself.

Job seekers often respond by telling employers they are motivated, hard working, great communicators, blah, blah, blah. They think this is what employers want to hear (and who can blame them; employers use these words ad nauseam on job specs and wonder why they can’t find the right candidate). Focus on competencies and tangible skills, not personal attributes. And for every competency you claim to have, offer an example of how you have used that competency to accomplish something for an employer.

Why did you leave your last job?

It can be so tempting to tell the whole story…the one about the unreasonable boss, the boss who you suspect let you go so he could bring in someone cheaper, the corporate politics that you had no control over. Keep your response short and sweet. If you were laid off, explain the business reasons why the position was eliminated. If you left on your own or were asked to leave, discuss a change in the direction of the department, business objectives, etc. Keep the conversation focused on the business reasons and not the personalities.

Since you will never have the luxury of a 7 second delay during a job interview, the best preparation strategy is to practice. Write out all your stories of success beforehand and make some decisions about which stories to showcase for certain types of questions. While you don’t want to sound stiff and rehearsed, having some sort of a script is a sound strategy and will help you avoid saying something that you can’t take back.