A View from the Top: What makes an interview go wrong?


Several years ago a good friend of mine was considering a career switch and called in every marker in their social network to obtain an interview with the head of well-known Not for Profit in the Boston area. They had a great discussion for about thirty minutes, but the last thirty minutes were devoted to a polite, but clear “thanks but no thanks” message. Having interviewed, and been interviewed, for decades I had several hypotheses about what happened, which I’d like to share with you today. Let’s explore some of the potential situations that could cause an interview to go flat.

  1. Your parents, or someone in your network, called in a marker. Working diligently, someone you know managed to arrange an interview for you with a company that you are interested in working for. Unlike the stories outlined by the media, this approach rarely ends well unless the person who recommends you is a) not your parent, b) not a friend of your parent and/or c) someone who has worked with you closely and most importantly d) you have all the skills needed for a job that is open and the company is actively interviewing for.

Otherwise you are likely to experience a “courtesy interview”. The hiring manager or HR representative scans your resume briefly in order to ask a few questions, but they are not actively trying to see if you are a serious candidate for a role. Such interviews almost never result in job opportunities.

If you are calling in a marker for an interview be extra prepared, and understand that it may not give you a leg up on your job search. If you do call in a marker for an interview, be aware that you could be viewed as a “line jumper” and that it is highly likely that those you interview with will discuss the fact that you used a reference to gain access to an interview.

  1. You just said something that took you completely out of the running. The interviewer asked you about your technology background and you indicated you know SAP but did not perform well in the class. The interviewer knows that strong SAP skills are necessary, and their interest in you as a candidate flags.
  2. The interviewer keeps asking basic questions that are covered on your resume. This can happen (unfortunately) for many reasons. The person who interviewed just before you was the perfect fit, an offer was just extended to an internal candidate, the interviewer did not have time to prepare for the interview due to a crisis, the interviewer is unskilled at interviewing — there are a million possible reasons why you feel as if you are explaining basic information.  In this case you need to avoid becoming defensive and pointing out how your resume answers all of their questions perfectly adequately. Rather, answer their questions, and then as the interview closes, mention that you understand that it is necessary to cover all the basics about your background, but you hope that there will be a future opportunity to discuss some of the more strategic elements of the job as well as for you to highlight your background and expertise. If they take you up on your offer, be prepared to offer up an insight about the company that highlights your more strategic abilities, not what clubs you belonged to.

Every interview is a chance to practice your interviewing skills in a different set of circumstances. It is also a chance for you to begin to understand what kind of company cultures exist, and what hiring managers are looking for. Simply repeat Dr. Seuss’s mantra “I think I can, I think I can”. Have a relaxing night with friends and/or family, and then restart your job search right away.

You are encouraged to send questions directly to me at e.walker@bentley.edu or to visit me at 310 Adamian. Or simply bookmark this blog which will occur on a regular basis. In the next blog we will discuss pointers for those students who are not sure what their future career path will look like.

By Elaine Walker
Elaine Walker Lecturer Elaine Walker