Over the years I’ve developed quite a taste for shoe leather. I’m the guy that is always saying something when the person I’m saying it about is standing behind me. You know the type. I can rarely spread a rumor successfully, without the rumored knowing that I’m the one who broadcast it. Yeah, it’s all about a closed mouth. The shoe can’t get in if you just shut the fluffy up. It’s definitely harder to say something embarrassing if you don’t say anything.
Last week, in a job interview, I was asked what motivated me. I said without hesitation, “Money.” The interviewer looked at me like I had potatoes growing out my ears. I quickly tried to confine the obvious damage by further explaining that I was far more likely to be motivated to do something if I was paid for it, than if I wasn’t. The interviewer wrote that down as I continued with damage control.
“I’m mostly motivated by challenge,” I lied. Challenges don’t motivate me that much by themselves. A challenge with a monetary reward, well now we’re talking. But the interviewer smiled and wrote that down, hopefully crossing off that awful word, money.
I continued with my interminable need for the taste of shoe leather as the next question asked was, “Why, would you say, that someone won’t hire you?” Where do they come up with this stuff? I answered that the only reason I can think of that someone wouldn’t hire me was because of my age. I got the look again. The woman who was interviewing me was clearly older than me, or she had suffered a hard life. Again, at some lame attempt at crowd control, I sputtered that I had recently felt that my age had come into play in an earlier interview I had. When I was telling that interviewer about my experience with Mountain Bell, the interviewer said that I was “dating myself.” He went on to say that he remembered the “breakup” of the Bell System, but just barely. Sounds like he was dating himself too, don’t you think? I was one of five to be interviewed for the position of factory sales rep, and I got an email two days later stating that they had decided to “go in another direction.” I’m going to believe that it was because I have no direct outside sales experience, but that conversation about Mountain Bell haunted me. I sent a reply stating that I hoped their decision to move in another direction had nothing to do with the interviewer’s comments about “dating myself.” See, even keeping your mouth closed doesn’t help. Sometimes the foot gets in there anyway.
Back to why someone won’t hire me. The interviewer said, and this a direct quote, “A lot of people say that, but end up getting the job anyway.” The interviewer was a third-party, not employed by the company with the opening. Her job was to screen the candidates, probably in the neighborhood of 200 resumes that had been received from the job placement, to determine who to pass on to the hiring authority for a second interview. I’m waiting for the email about going in different directions.
Hindsight, having the clarity that it does, I decided on the ride home that the correct answer might have been that I couldn’t think of one damn reason why anyone wouldn’t hire me. Then I figured out that the question was absolutely designed to get you to put your foot in your mouth. I wondered how others would answer that in a job interview. Probably trying to think of some obscure, unimportant thing that would make them un-hire-able. What would that be? Let’s go back to that money answer. Maybe I should have said, “Because I want too much money.” But, in fact, when asked that question, what was the least amount I would take for the position, I had answered in the mid-thirteens an hour. She said something to the effect that they were offering in the twenties, so maybe I should say eighteenish. I quickly agreed and promised not to tell she had suggested that answer.
Every job interview has a set of questions that are asked all the time. Questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years.” My answer used to be, and I emphasize the “used to be,” “I see myself in your job.” I always thought that answer showed some motivation to succeed and move up within the company. The shoe leather taste was evident every time I said it. What I really want to say now, is that I see myself retired in five years with a huge amount of stock options, and a 401K that puts me in a higher tax bracket, but I know how stupid that answer might be. So I struggle with the question.
Another one of the questions in an interview that I despise is, “Give me an example of a time when you had a difficult customer and what you did to resolve the issue,” or some such “give me an example question.” I sit there totally lost. I can’t think of one example in all the years of experience that I have, to offer in answer. The mouth is clenched tightly shut, afraid that anything I say will invite a foot. So I make something up. What are they going to do, check it? Is it written down somewhere in a history book? Sometimes I come up with some pretty good stuff, but in truth I have a cheat sheet.
I’ve done my share of interviewing over the years. I remember one candidate I interviewed would look at pages in a manila folder she held on her lap every time I asked a question. She would then read, yes, actually read, the answer she had on the sheet, verbatim. I asked her how long she had lived here, and she read the answer. I asked her the example questions, and she read the answer off her sheet. There was not one question that I asked that she didn’t have the answer written down on the sheet. That’s where I got the idea for the “cheat sheet.” She didn’t get the job.
My least favorite question in an interview is, “Why should we hire you over all the other candidates for the position?” Well, first of all, I don’t have any idea the caliber of the other contestants. What I want to say is that I NEED a job. What I usually do is start spouting off all the great skills and experience that I have that makes me highly qualified for the position, more qualified than any other mortal person applying for it, and how dependable I am, and a team player, and, and, and, faster than the interviewer can write the stuff down.
Although a closed mouth gathers no foot, you can’t follow that advice in a job interview. You have to answer, and sometimes the foot is going to find its way to your mouth, no matter what you say.