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Job Interview Failures, the biggest culprit will surprise you

The most common interview failures

There is an infinite number of ways interview failures happen. Video may have killed the radio star, but the cell phone killed the interview star. Yes, you went to HairMasters, re-vamped your resume and wore a great suit, all well-intentioned moves and all need to happen. What candidates don’t realize is that there are a number of ways interview failures come about and if candidates just listened to their mothers growing up, they would be getting more offers. The following will not only kill your interview before it starts, you won’t even know you died a slow painful death behind the closed doors of HR:   

  • Enter the company lobby at the last-minute with a cup of coffee in hand
  • Arrive in the company lobby while taking a phone call
  • Arrive chewing gum
  • Arrive with sunglasses on your head
  • Arrive inappropriately dressed / too much perfume or cologne

All of the above smack of a bad first impression and will result in interview failures. Coming in for an interview is the equivalent of meeting the parents of your significant other. Remember, you are not just meeting the parent’s, you are meeting the parents in THEIR house. You wouldn’t arrive late to meet your SO’s parents with a cup of coffee in hand, chewing gum or with sunglasses on your head.  I don’t think that a movie star with half a brain would attempt the above so unless you are a movie star with less than half a brain, leave the sunglasses at home. 

That out-of-the-way, the number one item that causes interview failures on a regular basis is the cell phone. There are a number of hiring managers and individual contributors that conduct interviews questioning this logic and thinking, “HRNasty you are being dramatic, I rarely see someone come into an interview with a cell phone.” I will tell you why “Oh ye of little faith”. 

I am the doorman.  The guy in HR / recruiting is interviewing your candidates before you and culling the weak. I have a tough time sending a candidate into an interview if I think a cell phone is going to cause a distraction. I will discretely decline them before they reach round 2 and walk them out the back door. A few examples of interview failures:

  • I meet a candidate in the lobby that is busy typing away on their phone and I have to wait for them to finish before they stand up to greet me. The interview hasn’t even started so I can only assume this is the first of what will be many interview failures.
  • I am interviewing a candidate and the cell phone is placed on the table in plain sight as if they are waiting for an important call. FAIL. (If it goes off, it will be a distraction.) 
  • The phone call goes off during the interview. This one is touchy. Depending on the candidate and how they handle turning off the phone, I can go either way. If they spend 5 long “dog seconds” trying to turn off the phone and another 5 long “dog seconds” making excuses (every second is the equivalent of 7 in my busy day) then the interview is over.  If they apologize and handle business quickly, they still have a shot but they are working themselves out of a very deep hole. Both are paths to interview failures.
  • The text goes off during the interview. You may not respond to the text, but the fact that the phone was left on AND they picked up the phone to check out the message will end the interview. 

Many are questioning how often this happens because if you interview someone AFTER HR, you rarely see these evolutionary throwbacks. It isn’t Behavioral Interviewing, this is Darwinian Interviewing and only the adaptable survive. If your parents passed along the “common courtesy” gene, you will probably survive the cruel world of interviewing. If you were too thick-headed to get your parents message, a more adaptable candidate moves their skill set forward in the evolution of interviews.  One mistake is all it takes to wipe out a species or bring out the beast of the interview failures.             

Candidates may not be as shallow or worried about their image as I am, but they should be. I am the face of the company and I am always thinking about the company image and who is going to “represent”.  If they are thinking about their image, it should be their professional image, not their after 5, let down your hair – nightclub image. Don’t think Facebook, because I am thinking LinkedIn. 

Picture this: I bring a candidate into the interview room with the hiring manager. I make some nice introductions; explain some quick accomplishments of both the hiring manager and the candidate to each other so they have a starting point for conversation. Because I played the courteous host, I leave them to their chit-chat and the offered coffee and tea.  Forty-five minutes later, the hiring manager comes out of the interview room, hands me the resume and with a roll of their eyes says “cell phone went off during the interview”. They don’t stop or break stride to give me any more feedback, they just keep on walking and leave me with a now worthless resume in hand.  My spirit is broken and my head is hung low.  Realistically, how much more feedback does anyone need than that?  As much as I am muttering, “bitch” underneath my breath, I can’t blame the hiring manager. I should have vetted this one out.  This isn’t just a rookie mistake on the candidate’s part, it is MY rookie mistake.  The candidate made me look bad and I really don’t have a leg to stand on. There is just no getting around this one and the next time I get a candidate to this hiring manager you can be sure I am not taking any chances.  Suddenly I, HRNasty am working from behind the 8 ball and my job just became more stressful. 

Heard from the interview room as I walk in and shut the door behind me. . .   

“Hey Johnny candidate.  The hiring manager really enjoyed their talk with you.  As you know, we are talking with a lot of candidates.  Can I email you an update early next week?”      

In this day an age, we take cell phones for granted. They are as much of us as our wallet, keys, and favorite hair product. Like the Amex card, we don’t leave home without it. Most of us carry our phones everywhere we go including the bathroom.  Even when we go out to a nightclub and are trying to carry as little as possible, we still carry our cell phones. The interview room is not a nightclub. The interview room is the equivalent of a symphony or a Broadway play. You can bring a cell phone to church, a first date dinner, and even a wedding reception. Do not bring a cell phone to an interview.         

Interviews are not a place to see and be seen.  Interviews are a place to make a PROFESSIONAL impression.  A Starbucks, sunglasses and a cell phone are the daytime version of a drink in hand, you trying to hide a hangover all while trying to figure out the next hook up. This is an especially bad look (and all too common) at a university career fair. Interview failures show up like clockwork every 15 minutes on-campus recruiting events.

If you are heading into an interview, take my advice:  leave the cell phone, sunglasses, and coffee in the car. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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