“Shut up, already?” That might be what some hiring managers are thinking when they conduct job interviews, according to a new survey of executive recruiters.
Thirty-six percent of the recruiters said the most common mistake job applicants make is talking too much, according to a survey of 212 of its recruiters worldwide by Korn/Ferry International, a global executive-search firm based in Los Angeles.
But being a big talker often indicates a different problem, said Scott Kingdom, managing director of industrial markets at Korn/Ferry International.
“Talking too much is, in some ways, code for not listening very well,” he said.
“Most people, particularly if they’ve been a successful executive somewhere … they want to tell you how good they are and what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, instead of listening to the issues at hand, what does the client want, and relating that to what skills they have,” Kingdom said.
“You always do yourself a service by listening more than you talk. Listen thoughtfully, and when you talk have something meaningful to say on topic, on point,” Kingdom said.
Kingdom said recruiters are in prime position to know: Some sit in on interviews, and recruiters’ clients — the employers — often offer feedback about how job interviews with prospective hires went.
Be prepared, but not too rehearsed
The next most common mistake: A lack of knowledge about the company or the position, according to 22% of the recruiters, who are located in various countries.
“It sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s stunning how many very senior executives, very successful folks, show up and get into conversations that they’re not prepared for,” Kingdom said. “You have to assume your competition is going to be wickedly well prepared. If you’re not, it will show immediately.”
But be wary of being coached until you are too smooth, others warned.
“One of the things I’m hearing from our clients recently is people are maybe too rehearsed, too prepped,” said Dale Klamfoth, senior vice president of WJM Associates, a New York-based consulting firm that works with companies on organizational effectiveness, including hiring decisions.
“I’ve heard hiring managers say, ‘well, they’ve been coached’ or ‘they don’t ring true,'” Klamfoth said. “If they’re coached, they have all these pat answers.”
Often, a coached applicant’s chances are ruined by a follow-up question, because the formulaic responses don’t work.
For instance, if you’re asked what’s your biggest weakness and you offer a standard favorite such as “I’m a workaholic,” a follow-up question of “how many hours a week do you work?” could get you into trouble.
To combat that problem, use examples from your own experience, Klamfoth said.
For instance, when asked “what’s your weakness,” you could say “I’m not as technologically savvy as I ought to be, but I just enrolled in a course and I’ve gotten some new equipment and I’m really getting into it,” he said.
“Obviously, it has to be true,” he added.
Isn’t this all about me?
Sixteen percent of the recruiters said an overinflated ego is the most common mistake in job interviews, while 9% said appearing overly confident was the top problem, according to the survey.
The overinflated ego “shows itself in talking too much, and in the me, me, me conversation,” Kingdom said. “I did this, I did that. You certainly want to be assertive and able to convey your skills, but nobody ever does anything by themselves in any company.”
For instance, discuss how you led a team of people who accomplished something, Kingdom suggested.
Of course, the perception of “overinflated ego” varies in different cultures. “You would be very deferential in certain Asian discussions and in the U.S. there’s still a lot of ‘I can do this’ and ‘I can do that,'” Kingdom said.
Consider shifting focus, Klamfoth said. “My advice to people interviewing is show up as a solution and not as an applicant. Understand who you’re meeting with, understand the company, understand the competitive landscape that they’re in, understand the role that you are interviewing for, and how that role contributes to the core mission [of that company], and talk about how you would approach the position as a solution to an organizational problem or issue.”
Don’t talk money too soon
Another 8% of recruiters surveyed said inquiring about compensation too early in the process is the top mistake applicants make.
“You give the wrong impression, that you’re not going to be focused on doing a good job and making a contribution,” Klamfoth said. “Certainly you have a right to know, but it’s timing and etiquette.”
Plus, waiting may help to increase the employer’s salary offer, he said. “Once they like you and they want to hire you, you can get more,” he said.
Be warned: Sometimes, companies set you up by asking early on how much you hope to earn, Klamfoth said.
“If you say too low, you’ll sell yourself short; too high you knock yourself out. It’s important to say, ‘Well, before I answer that I’d like to know a little bit more about your compensation philosophy,'” he said.
Or, interviewees can respond with: “I’m sure if we can agree on the right opportunity for me, the compensation will not be a problem,” he said.
Let me think on it
Once you’ve been offered a job, how long can you take to respond? Eighteen percent of the recruiters said less than one week is ideal, while 44% said one week, and another 24% said it was OK to take two weeks.
Still, cultural norms vary, and in the U.S. one week is generally the longest you want to wait before responding, Kingdom said.
While he agrees that one week is the norm, applicants do have options, Klamfoth noted.
“Like everything in this process, it is negotiable,” he said. “Give your reason for needing more time [and ask], ‘Would it be OK if I gave you an answer on such and such a date?'”