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Hiring Managers’ Pet Peeves

July 24, 2012
by Tim Tolan
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An inside look at common interviewing mistakes that sink a candidate’s chances for being hired
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After each interview, I solicit feedback from candidates to see how things went. If you are tracking both sides of the ledger (like I do), without question, candidates usually have great news to share when they call me. In fact, it’s rare to hear from a candidate that he/she did not feel good about their interaction with the hiring manager. My radar goes up when they say “They loved me!” Perfect examples of incurable optimists!

Then I get to make another phone call to speak with my clients to hear the other side of the story. Sometimes the news is great (which is awesome) and other times…well, not so great. A couple of weeks ago, I was on a client feedback call and after I hung up I started to think about the most consistent peeves regarding negative feedback I’ve received on candidates over the years. I’ve heard feedback on these many times.

Name Dropping—It’s such a shallow way to convey a candidate’s potential value. I simply don’t understand how any candidate could convince themselves that the best strategy to connect with a C-level executive during an interview is to drop a few names of people they found from researching their LinkedIn profile or the bio on the organization’s website. Employers are evaluating you for your skills, education, reputation, and success metrics—not who you know.

Winging It—This is one of my favorites. No preparation, i.e., no idea of the company’s products, services, executive bios, or recent press releases. It does not take that much time to review an organization, its people, and recent information in advance of an interview. The right strategy is to carefully and thoroughly do your pre-interview homework by planning for every interview with a hiring manager. Spend at least two to three hours preparing for your 45-minute interview, and you’ll be glad you did. With Google, there is simply no excuse! If you choose to wing it, the outcome is fairly predictable. No interest spells no offer.

Disparaging a Former Employer—This simply gives a potential employer a glimpse into what a candidate will be like if they are hired—sort of a preview of upcoming attractions. Candidates may actually be miserable in their current role or with the person they report to, but airing that dirty laundry during an interview changes the conversation in such a negative way that the person conducting the interview may have difficulty getting the conversation back on track.

No Questions—I preach this with candidates over and over. The worst possible answer a candidate can give to the interviewer when the question, “So do you have any questions for me?” is “No.” It demonstrates a lack of preparation and sends the message that the candidate knows it all. No need to waste time asking questions, as the candidate is probably already thinking about what the offer will look like. Guess what? The clients’ interest will likely end right there.

No Energy—This gives a potential employer serious concerns. No hand motions, no voice modulation, no connection whatsoever with the interviewer makes the person wonder, “How will this person ever get anything done?” The interviewer might be better off pouring the candidate a cup of coffee to get them to engage, because nobody wants to hire a “bump on a log.” What you see is probably what you will get if you elect to hire this person—it’s as good as it gets!

While the list is not scientific, it does reflect the majority of the pet peeves I hear from my clients. There are (so) many more—some sad, some embarrassing, and plenty of funny stories too—but in each case the candidate walked away empty handed.

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077.