Things Not to Do in an Interview

Quote of the Day

The Lord told me it's flat none of your business.

Jimmy Swaggert, video minister, responding to a question after having been caught for the second time with a prostitute.

I have been in management since 1995, and I literally have hired many dozens of people and interviewed hundreds of people in the process. I have heard just about everything you can imagine in an interview. After a recent interview, I thought it might be useful to mention a few things not to do in an interview:

  • When asked about what you feel is your strength, it probably is best not to respond that "I find that I solve problems in a few minutes that others struggle to solve in days or weeks."

    This just seems way too arrogant. As I have commented before, I have a limit on the prima donnas per square foot that I will tolerate.

  • When asked about what you do in your spare time, it probably is best not to discuss your love of combat knives and how you would use them in practice.

    With all the violence in the workplace, why would someone mention this in an interview?

  • When discussing your previous work experience, it probably is best not to focus on how rotten your previous jobs were and how you hated all your former managers.

    Will any workplace situation make you happy?

  • When you are asked at the end of the interview if you have any questions, it probably is best if every question were not about vacation, sick time, personal time, paternity leave, leave of absence, etc.

    After all, it is a job.

  • When you arrive at the interview, it is probably best not to smell like peppermint schnaps.

    This was kind of funny. The guy came in and started talking, when an engineer walked by and said, "It smells like peppermint schnapps in here." The candidate then took out a breath mint and started sucking on it.

  • When negotiating your salary needs, do not be rude to the HR people – they do not take kindly to this.

    Really … why be rude to anybody? I cannot imagine why someone who got through the entire interview process would then shoot himself in the foot at the very end of the process. I have been told that Google gives everyone who had contact with the interviewee a form to fill out, including drivers. I have always included the input from EVERYONE. You can tell much about the character of a person by how he treats those not in a position to do him any favors. In the end, character is what distinguishes the best employees.

  • When interviewing for a job, it is probably best not to find the work morally repugnant.

    I used to work for a defense contractor, and one interview involved an engineer who turned out to also be a peace activist. Somehow, it completely escaped his attention that the job involved designing weapons – the interview was very short.

  • When interviewing for a job, it is probably best not to list as a reference the manager who just fired you.

    I terminated an employee for improper use of hands in the workplace. Three weeks after I terminated him, I get a call from a friend of mine who was thinking of hiring him. My friend said this person had listed me as a reference.  Really?

In case you are wondering, all of these things actually happened. The only one that really bothered me was the combat knife stuff. Very creepy …


I should mention some other things people have done to ruin their chances for a job.

  • When negotiating for a salary, it is best not to constantly change your requirements.

    I give people one cycle of negotiation. Any more cycles cause me to worry about how argumentative the candidate is. We are an engineering organization – not a debating society.

  • While sending a "thank you" letter after an interview is nice, do not use this letter as an opportunity to write a manifesto on your thoughts on the meaning of life or other unrelated topics.

    Yes, I actually had a person that I wanted to hire until I read her extensive manifesto on the meaning of life sent as part of her thank you letter. It just seemed inappropriate and a sign of poor judgement.

  • On your first day of work, do not come in drunk.

    Yes, I actually had a person who passed-out while coming in the door for his first day of work.


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2 Responses to Things Not to Do in an Interview

  1. Filip says:

    If you are left over with the final candidates what is your next strategy? Do you let them interact with your team for some time or do you make the final decision just based upon the interview?

    • mathscinotes says:

      It depends. I do much of my hiring based on references from people I trust. If the interview goes well, and they have good references from people I know and trust, I hire them. Candidates that have references from sources that I do not know go through a multi-interview process. I also ask for some examples of their work and an opportunity to ask questions about the work.


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