IT Employment

Hiring manager talks about what turns him off most in an interview

Read about what frustrates one hiring manager above all else in interviews.

I came across an interesting piece by Scot Herrick, writing for Dice.com, about three ways to turn off a hiring manager during an interview.

He's in the process of hiring someone for a consulting gig he's working on. He hasn't been satisfied with the candidates, not because they lack the technical skills needed, but, as he says "m not impressed enough because I’m not convinced they can use their job skills to achieve my goals for the work I have for them."

His first pet peeve is that, instead focusing on what they did themselves, many candidates talk about their prior experience in terms of a team, as in "we took this approach..." He wants the candidate to talk specifically about what personal steps and skills came into play to make a project successful.

Second, he is frustrated with answers that are all about buzzwords or methodology: "When I ask a question about how you would approach doing something based on some information I give you or an experience from your past, I expect you to answer how you would use the information to achieve your objective. And not spout all sorts of Corporate Speak or hide behind all the methodology as being the real answer" and "Following methodology is a job skill, not how you get stuff done."

Last, he has been unsatisfied with the answers he's been getting to the “Tell me about a time when” kind of question. Herrick says to answer it with a “well, it depends on your situation and how you want to do it,” is the kiss of death in his opinion. "I’m not doing the work, you are and I want to know how you would go about doing the work. If you answer as whatever I want to do as a client, it’s a cop out."

I think these are very good points that everyone should think about. Be sure to read the discussion following the piece as some more good points are made.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

40 comments
floram
floram

The 2nd point is a typical case of miscommunication: ???When I ask a question about how you would approach doing something based on some information I give you or an experience from your past, I expect you to answer how you would use the information to achieve your objective." When I read this sentence, I understand the question to be to say how I would approach the situation based on some background information given to me. In other words, the background information is meant to give me some understanding of the situation enough for me to answer the interviewer's question. But it seems that the interviewer in this example was actually looking to hear how the candidate would use the information to approach the situation. In other words, the interviewer wanted to hear what assumptions the candidate was making on the situation based on the information provided, and how those assumptions were worked into the approach the candidate would end up deciding on. I find that as a society, we have become very sloppy in the way we structure our sentences and don't respect grammar very much. Most people don't really think through how they are phrasing their questions and the fact that how the question may sound inside their own minds may not be the same way it is heard by the other person. Then, simply expecting people to read your mind is... well... arrogant and obtuse.

kjmartin
kjmartin

Another data point in my hypothesis that HR creates problems they then purport to solve. Try looking for an employee without HR's 'help' and then see if you can find people not proficient in buzzwords.

sn.roy
sn.roy

Sometimes, companies list out all the problems they would need to hire consultants for. This list is handed over to the hiring manager who then asks the candidates the "exact" solutions to those problems in interview mode. By the time hundreds of candidates have been interviewed, a plethora of solutions would have been compiled and the management simply has to choose the right solution, having gained valuable insights. No candidate needs to be actually hired. And all this for the cost of a newspaper advertisement. Some of the top companies have adopted this practice.

Raingirl
Raingirl

I've never understood the whole point of formal interviewing in the first place. You're both attempting to be on your best behavior, only neither one of you knows what that means to the other! Its a 'lose-lose' to throw a buzz in there~ I agree with a large number of comments, somewhere in the use of the technology we all work with, a beast has been created of buzz words, standard useless questions and my favorite; personalized 'star' syndrome and the 'There-is-no-I-in-TEAM' syndrome. When I'm asked in an interview to glorify something by an interviewee...you are all so right, it tells me more about them and the company culture than they wanted to know. Then when I'm asked to define something and all they are doing is looking at my shoes and scowling...well, I know one thing. Interaction between humans is more open in an active environment and I'd do better playing a round of pool or go bowling with someone to actually have a decent conversation on a level we can both understand. If you are a great employee and a terrible interviewer....its not a case of 'not-fair'; its a case of 'what am I doing wrong as a hiring person/manager'. Not because there is a right and a wrong here....only ways in which people do not step up to the plate to find the best solution for a companies issues. And that includes the hiring manager....who was once hired for that position.... OH! the irony ~

DLClark
DLClark

Is it any wonder why with clowns like this doing the hiring that companies are unable to fill open IT positions with US workers and end up outsourcing the work?

lja4comm
lja4comm

I agree with the majority of these comments, but if the interviewing manager is consistently disappointed with the direction of the responses, he needs to be more specific in his questions, e.g. "I realize and appreciate that you functioned as part of a team; that's important. But what I'm looking for is to hear more of what you, as an individual, contributed to the project. That is important to me/us because..." This not a competition between interviewer and the interviewee for who has the most savvy to read minds during inquiries. The goal for you, the interviewer, is to get to the underlying answers you are seeking in order to best gauge the fit for this person in your company. If you can help the candidate to understand your goals and provide those answers to you (be they right or wrong) - why not?

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

If you want to hire a person for specifically what personal skills they bring to your job; you???d better damn well not be emphasizing you want a team player first. You???re looking for a specific gear with the right shaped and sized teeth, not a can of grease. This is one reason why it???s better to be interviewed by the manager/supervisor rather than some HR schmuck who doesn???t really know the job. The manager is looking for the skills, HR has a predisposition to looking for charismatics and schmoozers. "How you would approach doing something based on some information I give you or an experience from your past, I expect you to answer how you would use the information to achieve your objective." The hiring process is adversarial. The questions every job applicant is considering are: are they looking for a solution to a specific problem, or are they looking for someone to solve lots of problems for them? How many times a so-called hiring manager has used that methodology to dig up solutions to a problem and then not hire anybody? That???s probably even more prevalent in today???s employment climate, especially where a job remains open for indefinate periods of time and the company takes forever to get back to you. You just gave them the solution to their problem at the cost of a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and an hour or so of their time (per job applicant.) Unless the employer/HR rep has provided sufficient good faith up front, they deserve only the vague, 40,000 foot general view. Your ???Tell me about a time when??? kind of question is really just a rehash of peeve #2. ???It depends??? is an initial response that the interviewee is acknowledging your question and realizes that it???s not a cut and dried response. Give them a minute (well, 15 to 20 seconds) to consider how to answer it and provide a more indepth response, or realize they don???t know you want more than that. I really hate when they hear that and immediately tune out the rest of the interview as a ???no hire???. One of the best interviews I sat in on was one a couple decades ago where that question was asked and the guy looked around the office, and asked to borrow the flip chart there. Sketched out the situation he???d had and then gave his answer. But he was a visual thinker, not an all-in-the-head type, and had plenty of balls to coopt our own supplies for it. He also got the job.

vampyreapocalypse
vampyreapocalypse

I 100% agree with most of you. These companies need to stop BS-ing, get to the point, and APPRECIATE a job candidate that has the skills necessary to do the job at hand. They say team team team but now all of a sudden get pissed if you don't talk about i i i? Fro now on I'll be straight shooting in an interview, regardless of what mindless crap the hiring manager has read that morning about how candidates should act. I used to give straight answers, act like myself, dress in what I was planning to wear to work every day, and pull no punches in my answers to interview questions - and I was offered every job I interviewed for. Of course that was back in 00-06... I bought into the whole song and dance routine for job interviews in the past several years and you know what? I've been offered ONE, 1, uno, job out of the dozens of interviews I've gone on. I'm going back to the 06 days... I don't interview well when I can't be myself and give the answers that are best for ME to give - which translate into the answers that are best for the hiring manager to hear. Whether he likes it or not. My advice to everyone on here: be yourself. Don't worry about getting the job or not getting it. Answer questions the way you feel they should be answered, and remember that above all, the job needs you, not the other way around. Don't worry about what these hiring managers feel is the flavor of the week for interview tactics, you're just setting yourself up for failure.

ganeal
ganeal

It sounds to me that this hiring manager doesn't have the skills to conduct an interview. I think the manager should take some classes or read some literature on how to conduct an interview.

james.m.newman
james.m.newman

I am currently searching for a job. Everything I have learned so far revolves around a team and how I can fit into the team. Whenever I have been in a team I don't refer to me or I. I refer to the team as us, we, the team. I am sure there is a balance, but what is it? I also agree with a lot of what other people have said above.

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

I'm a novice when it comes to interviewing candidates as I've only interviewed 5 during my professional life, though I'm thankful to have that experience. It has given me the opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes after having been on the other side. That said, here are the only things that I care about and would like to see demonstrated in an interview: 1. Some degree of humility. I want to know that you can be taught. 2. Socially skilled. I want to know that you know how to work with and relate to others. 3. Ability to learn. This is somewhat different from point 1 in that an ability to learn means either learning on your own, from your environment, or from your peers. 4. Creativity. I want to see whether you have the ability to "think outside the box" in order to solve problems. 5. Ownership. I want to know that you can be counted on to provide top notch service in those areas that you're responsible for and this should be apparent in the resume and cover letter. In my experience, a lack of experience isn't necessarily a death knell to your chances of being hired, either. An ability to learn and quick turnaround on application of those new skills learned is the key to removing any doubt about any experience questions.

randallizm
randallizm

These are ver cookie cutter questions that candidates dread and are so non-target, you would think employers should expect blah answers, they are blah questions. If you want to know how a person will handle a problem situation, give them a real question and you will get a real answer. You could ask a CCNA one of these: Example: What method would you use in a deadline situation with two routers that can no longer communicate after a pc roll out in three separate offices. Specifically the routers cannot communicate however they were not swapped out. What would you do to find the solution? This happened on our network and we ended up paying three outside entities before getting this solved. Now you have a question that is relevant and will give you a quick way to know if you have a candidate that can handle the job you are hiring for. I don't care about what they did. I care what they will do in my company. shouldn't you? Employers are too eager to play games that don't serve their own interests when asking interview questions. Ask a straight question, expect a straight answer, you know the rest.......K

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

Anyone consider that the hiring manager interviewed for this article may actually not be very good at his job or know what the hell he's talking about? I did. This article contains no useful information.

drbayer
drbayer

There are a lot of comments disparaging Mr. Herrick's (the hiring manager) approach, but it appears that many of the commenters have not read the original article. Ms. Bowers simply provided a synopsis and recommends reading the original article and the discussion that follows. If you follow Ms. Bowers' recommendation, you find that Mr. Herrick addresses most of these complaints. In particular, he addresses the "I" versus "we" issue both in the article and in the discussion. Mr. Herrick is correct in his assessment. As a hiring manager, you need to know what initiative the interviewee took, what decisions he or she made, and what steps he or she took to achieve the stated goals. Certainly it was part of a team, but the hiring manager needs to know both how you work with the team and how you handled your part of the team effort. A striker and a goalie are both essential parts of a football (soccer) team, and the team can't win without both. However, neither can do the other's job without sacrificing their own. The goalie can say "I stopped 3 goals to help my team win" without sounding arrogant or taking credit for the entire team.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I understand that you want to know what the individual brings to the table - but I want to ensure that the person plays well with others, too. Some people have the assumption that techies are not team players - because a bunch of them are not team players. Yeah, we need to know that you are a CONTRIBUTING member to a team - and for that, you need to know about individual skills/accomplishments, but I like hearing about "we did this." Rarely one person completes an important project for a business. But you can have a CONTRIBUTING member that adds so much. And that is who I am looking for.

bill.andersen
bill.andersen

I don't know about the rest of you on here and I haven't read the rest of the posts yet but I do know that I am sick to my back teeth of recruiters playing games. They drive everybody to try this or that and we have ended up with people re-inventing themselves to the point where their whole CV is a lie. Is this what they want? If so they should hire a fiction writer! Now when the interviewee has to answer some dumb question they feel they have to skirt around the question, to best answer in the format that the interviewer want's to hear, instead of just being themselves and being honest. Every day I read so much BS on here about how to conduct yourself at interviews, about how to write your resume to try to suit the company you are applying to, and how we shouldn't use that word or this phrase etc. All I want to hear coming out of an interviewer's mouth is details about the job and what they expect to achieve. I don't expect to have to try to discuss my work with a recruiter who most of the time doesn't know what I do. I'm perfectly willing to discuss methods of doing my job with someone who understands what I'm talking about, but not to waste my time with someone like this guy who is so obviously full of it. He should remember that time is money for us too, and we have better things to do than waste it trying to play his game.

Englebert
Englebert

...but I'd bet if he or she were asked questions, would not be able to reciprocate perfectly. If you don't believe me, test it out. Ask the hiring manager to ask the same question of an employee working in his company. Then compare responses to the applicant. I guarantee you it won't be any better.

TechrepLath
TechrepLath

I find it uncomfortable to talk about what I did without recognizing the fact that it was a team effort. It just to avoid coming across as an ego-tripping loner. But I guess it does make sense. Buzzwords and methodology are indeed shields rather than useful answers, but I think that a lot of the time the person you talk to is waiting for specific key words like experience in certain methodologies and concepts that may be buzzwords for some, but daily vocabulary for others. Though I would agree that that is actually a bad way to ensure you get a good candidate. So there again, I'd agree but wouldn't know if I'd apply it directly. The last one is clear though. "Tell me when" does not leave room for "depends". If you have a concrete example to address the question with you should be able to explain the choice you made and why you made it. Going into hypotheticals is dodging the question and you're actually saying, "I never did that."

fhrivers
fhrivers

This is why interviews are a crapshoot these days. You can have all the skills in the world and all of the project experience, but you don't get hired because of the hiring manager's pet peave. For example this part: His first pet peeve is that, instead focusing on what they did themselves, many candidates talk about their prior experience in terms of a team, as in ???we took this approach?????? Give me a break! Maybe the candidate wanted to emphasize that he could work in a team environment because he thought that's what the hiring manager wanted. Hell, he could have done the opposite and pissed off another hiring manager who cares more about "We" than "I". These goddam dog and pony interviews need to end. If you really care about how someone works individually, why don't you ask them??? Why the hell does every interview have to be American Idol or Miss America? If your pet peave is individual contributions, drill the candidate on that. Don't expect him to read your mind and then try to impress you with B.S. And CIOs wonder why they have such a hard time finding qualified IT candidates. It's because of crap like this that weeds out qualified candidates who can do the job, but he has the wrong color tie on that reminds the hiring manager of his ex-wife's father or some B.S. to that effect. Come on, people. No one gives a damn about your pet peaves. Does the candidate meet up with the qualifications? Does he have a good track record? Who cares if he talks with a lisp, the perfect candidate doesn't exist.

Woody Goode
Woody Goode

1. Does this idiot have any idea how many interviewers complain about the use of the words "I" and "me" in interviews? How many recruiters-- including the author of the article-- instruct candidates not to overuse the words-- to say "We" and "team"? 2. I cut and pasted his instructions into Word and ran a grammar check. The Flesch-Kincaid readability index (number of years of schooling needed to comprehend the sentence) was 17.1-- meaning you'd need a masters or better. The readability score was 43%-- standard conversational english grades between 60% and 70%. Interview 101, again, teaches "mimic the terms, phrasing and sentence structure of the person asking the questions." I get a guy who uses "objective" instead of "goal" and "information" instead of "facts", he'll get jargon. 3. When I learned project management, step one was "Create the mission statement by asking the project sponsor to define the goals." I don't guess at what my boss wants done-- I expect to be told. This hiring manager needs a high colonic.

stuartc
stuartc

If he is hiring for a consulting gig, then in my experience (well only the past 15 years as consultant) you will not be working on your own. You will be part of a team, either with the company who is hiring you or at the client. Therefore I would like to hear about how the candicate works in a team and not about "I and me"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

start of the interview, otherise we'll spout corporate team speak., after all many (if not most expect that of us. There is no I in team and such like.... Rest assured most of would be quite happy not to jump through those particular hoops, in fact delirious might be an understatement...

just1opinion
just1opinion

Point #1) Job posting reiterate "team, team, team" and definitely send the message that arrogant, narcissistic, know-it-alls need not apply; then you look for arrogant, narcissistic, know-it-alls. Point #2) Again, buzzwords are used to automatically screen candidates and figure prominently in job postings. I have never seen a goal listed in a job posting. In fact, highly paid experts make their careers pushing buzzword-laden paradigms that count for nothing. Pay some schmuck $250/hr to guide your next paradigm shift and then tell the folks you're hiring for the team that you don't want anyone who knows what the buzzword means; good luck!

mattohare
mattohare

I've done a lot of different things in a lot of different ways for a lot of different clients/employers. He expected me to know all of the flashy terms for the proper 'methodology'. Odd thing was he seemed to be rubbish with the health care sector (the area where the firm developed). He was clueless about healthcare-related issues. (I learnt another candidate with health care experience had the same experience. I'm so glad I didn't get that job, and I'm even more glad that I'm not a client. (Luckily, he works on stuff for the USA health care system, and I'm not in it any more.)

BubbaGlock
BubbaGlock

"he is frustrated with answers that are all about buzzwords or methodology" Maybe corporate political correctness and politics take some responsibility for that. Employees have been "trained" to use buzzwords. It is hilarious how buzzwords become a fad for a time in corporate circles. And how the sheeple follow the pipers in making sure to use them in every other sentence.

WorkingDigital
WorkingDigital

I agree 100% with point #1, and wrote a whole post on it back in April when I listed it as the biggest mistake at the job interview. Regarding point #3, I think the interviewer may be missing a few steps. I'm a certified Targeted Selection interviewer (ie. "Tell me about a time when" interviewing). This is a very effective methodology, but it does require some up-front instruction. The candidate should be told that each answer contains three parts: a situation or task, an action, and a result. The candidate is also instructed to talk about one specific event, not usual or theoretical approaches. If they miss on any of these, the interviewer should prompt for them. Getting the candidate to tell you about how the situation ended up (results) is especially hard for some reason. But getting all the info is important because it opens up some very good follow-up questions. As a technology guy, I used to be skeptical about this "behavioral" interviewing. I wanted to jump right to skills and techniques. Over the years, though, I've been amazed at how many great attributes (and big red flags) come out in the "tell me about a time" questions when asked properly. It really does work...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Most of my interviewing 'experience; is from being interviewed poorly. It not's really the setting (given there's no stupid distractions), it's turning it in to a formal interrogation, done by Sargeant Schultze.... I've only ever done one informal interview, enjoyed it but the job was crap...

randallizm
randallizm

Very well put. You have found what you are looking for in a candidate and will get to the heart of the interview, step by step. Your criteria is 1,2,3, and you will not try to trip up your candidates, no games. That gets you people you can trust to make you job not only easier, but also give you a way out of the turnover torture.

randallizm
randallizm

You are attempting to rabbit hole the situation. Good help is not hard to find, if you actually know what to look for. I understand the pressure of everyday interviewing, but maybe he should leave the job to someone that has a better grasp of the people he interviews. It is easy to lose sight of what you are looking for unless you do, or have a good memory of the job you are hiring for. Many of those passing to higher responsibilities, forget what the job they actually did requires NOW, not then. You can move from one field to another and your previous field has changed over time, now you are out of touch, and not qualified to judge unless you keep track , you WILL ask the wrong questions. Simply put, hiring managers need to pay attention to other things than HR training hype and get to the meat of the information they want to know. Don't beat around the bush. If you must, cut the bush down, especially if the bush needs to be cleared in the fist place, why waste your time and the time of your candidates, missing out on good the ones by your own questioning.

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

I sometimes wonder whether the current economic climate is the only reason for such a dismal employment rate these days. Certain tendencies, unreasonable expectations, and personality quirks of hiring managers must have a lot to do with that. And hiring managers wonder why potential candidates never seem to get it. Hiring manager personalities, lackadaisical resume screening (Ex: headhunters overly reliant on buzz words and certifications), credit checks, circus acrobatics, extremely specific experience, and any of a host of other obstacles are going to work against an otherwise capable and talented candidate today somewhere in America. It's almost as if you have to have a resume for each type of job you're applying for AND a "sub resume" underneath that category that is geared toward a specific personality type. They're not psychologists or mind readers: they're candidates looking for a job. I'm ever thankful to have a job these days.

beckiebr
beckiebr

It is these mutually exclusive requirements which make it so difficult to know what the interviewer is truly looking for. Most job postings are laden with team, team, team and a healthy dose of corporate buzzwords. Use these team and buzzwords and you are not independent or creative. Use I and thoughtful speech and you are egotistical and incapable of making it in the difficult and political corporate environment.

pivert
pivert

#1: If I get a candidate who did all those things on his/her own I get serious doubts. When I look at my team, everybody gives feedback/help/suggestions to everybody. Nobody can claim "it did this on my own". Well, I had 1 person who had this attitude and I fired him. #2: Ask the interviewer what "added-value" their company creates for its customers :-) See how many buzz-words you get as a reply. Even better: ask to see the corporate powerpoint. Nice thing is that you get to hear all those buzz-words from 4 years ago because only in IT they change every seazon. #3: Tell me about... I'd reply that you can't go in too deep on this matter because you'd give away too much confidential information. 2 birds with 1 stone: you show your integrity and you tell them to mind their own business. Most of the time I get such questions when they haven't read your resume. Tell me about why you chose for a career in IT, tell me about the latest crisis you had to manage (the one 10 minutes ago?), tell me about how you handled an angry customer (put phone down and went for a coffee), tell me about the last time a project failed (I can't read minds, if the customer doesn't know what he wants, let him find someone else to waste time or find a therapist) Yes, I'm a down-to-earth, hands-on guy who gets a rash from all that hot air. Cloud anyone?

sporter
sporter

I love it, and hope to use it at least twice today. Thank you!

dsrobinson
dsrobinson

Yes, you've shown you can make it through that part of it. Now they want to see something else. Makes sense to me.

nyexpat
nyexpat

I have to agree with Bubba on this. Just check out some of the job descriptions out there. And then check out the resumes you get. Because of those key word searches from the resume "bots", applicants have been told to make sure that their resumes match up. So what then? All the resumes begin to look/sound the same.

Too Old For IT
Too Old For IT

Well, I was in this interview for a technical position, and the HR drone asked "Tell me about a time when ..." I've found over time that the best technical candidates loathe behavioral to the point of not even considering an offer from firms who use it in interviews.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I just think it's hilarious and ironic that HR types created all of these buzzwords and corporate-speak, and now they're annoyed when a candidate uses them because they're meaningless! Whose fault is that??? ;-)

efernandez
efernandez

Your comment is quite astute. I feel as though I have been forced into a mold because of the technology database searches that have to be sated. I also feel as if many of the interview questions are double-edged swords. If I seem too confident, I'm not a team player. If I am too much a team player, I cannot think for myself. I also feel as though managers are looking for the perfect employee. If everyone were perfect, nobody would need to be managed. Management is an art, but nobody wants to do it anymore. Interview postings seems to present interviewers as people looking for the employee that will cause them the least amount of work. Irony at its best.

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