A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot

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.

That's me in the middle.

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.

Shorthorn heifer with foot and mouth disease. Does this affect humans?

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.  



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10 responses to “A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot

  1. Ah yes, I too am one of those people who just opens my mouth to change feet. I could tell you examples of when I have done that, but it’s much funnier to laugh at other people 😉 One time at work we were recruiting for a particular administrative post and for some reason it generated a whole string of candidates who put their foot in it. These are some of their responses:

    Q. Could you tell me what you enjoy most about your current job?
    A. Well, every August our boss goes away for the whole month, so it’s just like a month long party in the office!

    Q. Could you tell me what you enjoy most about your current job?
    A. I love that in my current job I spend some of the time out and about, and some of the time doing admin in the office, because I’d go crazy if I had to spend my whole time in the office doing admin.
    (Note. The job she was applying for was completely office based admin work).

    Q. This role you are applying for is quite different to what you have been doing, could you tell me what it is about it that appeals to you?
    A. Well actually I think they might be trying to get rid of me at work so I’m just applying for everything I see until I know for sure if they’re keeping me.

    Q. If we were to offer you this position, could you tell me what you think would be the main challenge for you in the role?
    A. I think probably the job itself.

    It’s a shame isn’t it. You see their faces as soon as the words have left their mouths and they realise what they’ve said. Part of you wants to reassure them that it doesn’t matter, and the other part just wants to laugh.

  2. Your reply was a funny post. Yep, you see it in their faces as soon as the words leave their mouths. It always matters. Thanks for stopping by.

    I edited the post to show a bill insert from Mountain Bell. You should check it out.

  3. Your favorite niece

    I feel for you. The world of interviewing and resume building has changed dramatically even in the relatively short time I’ve been responsible for hiring employees.

  4. Your favorite niece

    Many of the larger companies like Sony have adapted these 67 Lominger competencies to the interview process and review processes. What they have us do is define a set of values/characteristic/skills that we feel best for the position out of the 67 competencies. It appeared that your interviewer was skilled in these.


    • Wow, there are 67 competencies? Why not 68? I don’t think my interviewer was skilled at all, just sayin’. Who the hell is Lominger? LOL

      • Your favorite niece

        I often wonder myself why 67. There are an additional 7 for International business. Why 7? Not sure.
        Lominger is some famous social researcher. Actually it is all quite interesting and helpful.

      • Yes it was. I was being glib. I went right to Google and checked them out. Lombardi and some other guy whose name ends in “inger”.

  5. I love the title of this post. So deftly written, too. At least you don’t have your keyboard stuck in your mouth!

    I, too, hate interview questions. Worst one I got was from an arrogant professor whose question was longer than most lectures. He blathered on about how students never come to class prepared no matter what you do. Then he asked me what I do to make sure my students come to class prepared. I just looked at him and said, “You raise an important problem facing all teaching professionals. What do you do to make sure your students come to your classes prepared?”

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