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Why Do Interviews Die: That Sinking Feeling and How to Prevent it!

By Jeff Altman
Posted Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Interviews die because a mistake occurred. Sometimes, you've made a mistake; sometimes they die because someone who screened a resume did.

1. Interviews often occur because someone has reviewed a resume and interprets something that you have written in ways that you didn't intend. Someone believes that you have a skill that you didn't list; sometimes, they misread something in your experience. Within 15 minutes, each of you knows that something is wrong but because interview etiquette doesn't permit it, the conversation languishes on.

2. Sometimes it is your mistake. Sometimes you have overstated an experience or skill in your resume. In job markets like these, it is common for people to include every skill or experience they have been near or around in their resume in the hope that they will get an interview. As I screen resumes, it has become too common for me to find out about people having 4 months of experience with the core skill of the job I am trying to fill. That is rarely adequate for my client in the searches we are attempting to complete, yet, like mission inspectors in Iraq, I have to ask a follow-up question to deduce that the experience is inadequate.

3. The interviewer is off in another thought and you don't bring them around to pay attention to you. Although an interview may be the most important thing in your day, it may be one of 25 priorities in the interviewers. What you may interpret as a dying interview may be the interviewer thinking about a project responsibility, the next question they're going to ask, their commute, an argument with a spouse/significant other or child, an upcoming meeting or a million other possibilities.

4. You are boring the interviewer. Too often, answers to questions send the job-seeker off in lengthy answers that are just downright boring and long. It's not the question; it's that the person hasn't organized their thoughts around a subject so the answer is becomes so lengthy, uninteresting and, often, have no relationship with the original question.

How Can I Avoid This?

There are different strategies depending upon the mistake. I'll answer by offering ways to both avoid the mistake and to steer the interview along a better route.

1. When you are invited to interview with a firm, ask about the position that they want to interview you for. Try not to interview for jobs for which you are not qualified. They may saw a Director's position or a programmer's role. Ask then, if they can tell you more about the role and responsibilities of the position and what they are looking for in the way of a background or experience. If you detect a "red flag" or something that gives you reason to feel like there was mistake made, it is useful to say what your actual experience was in the area that and confirm that it is adequate.

For example, a company looking for a Notes developer invites a Notes administrator with some development experience for a senior developer's role. The administrator states that they are an administrator with two years of development experience during which time 40% of their work was development. Some of you may say that this will "kill the interview" and you'll be right. Yet in this market, the interview would be a waste of time.

2. Don't exaggerate your knowledge or experience on your resume. Be accurate when you present your experience or knowledge. If you worked with something for two months three years ago, indicate it on your resume. Don't worry, you are not going to lose an opportunity to get hired because you were honest. You're going to save yourself the agony of interviewing for a job that you wouldn't get hired for anyway.

3. If you sense an interviewer is off in thought, there is a simple way to bring them back to you--shift your position by crossing your leg or adjusting in the chair or clear your throat and apologize for doing so. These two simple actions will bring their consciousness back to you.

4. Pay attention. Paying attention is not something you would think should be a necessary reminder. Too often, jobseekers are off in their thoughts and not paying attention. Not paying attention to what the company is looking for in the way of a solution to the job; thinking that they know better than the employer what they should be asking and then going off and answering that question instead of the one asked. Then the answer goes on forever!

Try to answer the question in 30-45 seconds if possible. Some questions require more time than that; most don't. By keeping your answers to that length, you will make the interview interactive. It is unlikely that you will bore your audience. You will create a back and forth with the interviewer that will keep them engaged in the discussion with you. You can probably even anticipate what their follow-up question can be and practice your answer in advance of the interview.

You'll probably notice that the first two suggestions occur before an interview, the next two occur during the interview. I don't believe that smiling or asking a lot of questions are anything more than damage control. By following the points here, you will avoid going on interviews that you can't win and do a better job in the ones you get.

About the Author
Jeff Altman has successfully assisted many corporations identify technology management leaders and staff since 1971. He is also co-founder of Your Next Job, a networking group focused on assisting technology professionals with their job search, a certified leader of the ManKind Project, a not for profit organization that assists men with life issues, and a practicing psychotherapist. For additional job hunting or hiring tips, go to (


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