How Not to Get Hired: Bring Your Cockatoo to the Interview

CockatooYou might have heard an urban legend about a job seeker who goes on a lunch interview with his potential boss. When the meal arrives, the job seeker sprinkles salt on his food before tasting it. Immediately the employer knows she has no interest in hiring this man. The job seeker isn't flexible, but he is presumptuous. No one wants to hire a rigid worker.

If you think about the persnickety habits of employers who don't have time to waste on unqualified candidates, the story doesn't seem too outrageous. After all, employers often spend less than a minute reading a resume and they'll toss your application in the wastebasket if you have a typo or don't include a cover letter. Even a handshake can ruin your chances of landing the job. True or not -- and in the case of the sodium-loving job seeker, probably not true -- the story is a reminder not to give employers a reason to pick someone else. Everything you do is being used to decide whether or not you're a good fit for the position.

Apparently not all job seekers know this. According to a recent Robert Half survey, job seekers keep making some egregious interview errors that are so exceptional that you want to believe they're joking. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Staffing firm Robert Half asked hiring managers to recount some of the most memorable interview mistakes they've experienced or heard of, and the answers are almost unbelievable.

Some mistakes were peculiar
  • "The candidate sent his sister to interview in his place."

  • "One candidate sang all of her responses to interview questions."

  • "When asked by the hiring manager if he had any questions for him, the candidate replied by telling a knock-knock joke."

  • "An applicant wore the uniform from his former employer."

  • "One prospect told me all of the reasons he shouldn't be hired."

  • "The candidate said she would really prefer a job offer from our competitor."

Some were odd violations of interview etiquette
  • "When asked by the hiring manager why she was leaving her current job, the applicant said, 'My manager is a jerk. All managers are jerks.' "

  • "One individual said we had nice benefits, which was good because he was going to need to take a lot of leave in the next year."

  • "An individual applied for a customer service job, and when asked what he might not like about the job, he said, 'dealing with people.' "

  • "I interviewed someone who had a jawbreaker in her mouth during the entire interview."

  • "A person came to the interview in pajamas with slippers."

  • "The applicant told me he really was not interested in the position, but he liked that we allowed for a lot of time off."

Others mistakes were bold but very misguided
  • "One candidate handcuffed himself to the desk during the interview."

  • "After being complimented on his choice of college and the GPA he achieved, the candidate replied, 'I'm glad that got your attention. I didn't really go there.' "

  • "A job applicant came in for an interview with a cockatoo on his shoulder."

  • "The candidate arrived in a catsuit."

Although job seekers are constantly looking for ways to stand out and impress interviewers, all of the above applicants stand out for the wrong reasons. Here are some basic guidelines to get you through an interview:

  • Mind your manners.
  • Be polite.
  • Give a firm handshake.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Engage in conversation.

Employers want to hire a nice person they'll get along with, and finding out if you're that person is one of the reasons they're interviewing you.

Have innovative ideas

Handcuffing yourself to the interviewer's desk says nothing about your skills. In fact, it overshadows your skills and experience. Rather than rely on gimmicks to grab the hiring manager's attention, have some creative ideas to offer. Having some examples of what you'd like to do if you joined the company shows that you're already thinking like a standout.

Dress appropriately

A catsuit isn't really appropriate for most professional settings, nor is wearing a bird as an accessory. Few employers will be impressed by loud, flashy apparel unless you're in a creative industry with a lax dress code. Stick to the industry norm when dressing for the interview. A professional but bright necktie or scarf can show your personality without becoming more memorable than you.

Ask yourself what the employer will remember

Whenever you're thinking of taking a risk in an interview, whether it's wearing a catsuit or sending your sister to the interview in your place, just ask yourself if there's a reason people don't normally do it. If you can think of one way, or many, that the plan could backfire, reconsider.

How about you, job seekers? Have you ever looked back at a past interview and realized you made an outrageous mistake that causes you to cringe even to this day?

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