The strong and the tasteless

In interviews, recruiters see two main types of applicants
Tuesday, November 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:36 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

It wasn’t his matted hair, or even his decades-old faded red-and-white plaid suit, that made local recruiter Traci Scardina recall her experience interviewing this man with a gasp of horror. It was, to borrow a phrase from the recruiting industry, the whole package.

Scardina’s first warning sign came from her nose, which detected a body odor so repugnant that she had to make an excuse of the weather to open her office window during the interview. Scardina said that she could not work in her office for an hour after the interview because of the offensive smell the man left behind.

When she did return to her office, Scardina noticed a large grease stain on the back of one of her chairs where the man’s hair had been. Scardina said his odor was so distracting that she couldn’t even remember his qualifications on paper.

“I knew he wasn’t our ideal management candidate,” Scardina said. “I don’t think personal hygiene was even in this person’s vocabulary.”

Although this is an extreme example, Scardina and other local recruiters said they are amazed by how many people make big, preventable mistakes during the interview process.

These super screw-ups vary from being physically repugnant to putting the wrong company name on a resume. The one thing they have in common is that they often lead otherwise qualified candidates to lose their chances at the position.

“In general, people just need to be more careful when preparing for interviews,” said Monica Stevens, a career specialist who works with college students at MU’s Student Success Center. Stevens and other career specialists offer resume writing and mock interview services to MU students who are looking for their first job.

Stevens said many recruiters have a horror story similar to Scardina’s, and added that a lack of personal hygiene and interview fashion sense is the deadliest of sins in the job-hunting world. Often, people walk into an interview unshaven, wearing too much cologne, or, for women, wearing a skirt that is way too short for a professional setting, Stevens said.

“When people come in with a lack of hygiene or fashion sense, it’s very distracting,” Scardina said. “Sometimes I can barely focus on the resume.”

This problem can be easily avoided by following a dress code that, if anything, is overly conservative. Stevens recommends navy, dark-gray and black interview suits of a conservative cut for both men and women. Make sure the clothes are well-pressed, and for women, that the amount of jewelry or accessories is at a minimum.

As for hygiene, make sure nails are clean and clipped short for men, and that hair and body smell pleasant.

Another common mistake that often destroys people’s chances of being hired is a complete lack of knowledge about the company of being hired is a complete lack of knowledge about the company with which they are interviewing.

Of all the recruiters surveyed, lack of knowledge was the one big mistake they all mentioned .

“You should always know what business they are in, who their customers are, and stuff like that,” said Bruce Strickland, who does hiring for all positions at Columbia College.

Strickland said it is easy to tell which candidates have researched Columbia College and which have not, just from their answers to many traditional questions.

Other recruiters even have special strategies to find out how well you’ve done your homework.

“I always ask people what their favorite menu item here is,” said Kevin McCarty, who does hiring for Columbia’s Stony Creek Inn. “Most people can’t give me an answer because they have never eaten here before.”

Whether it be a local hotel or a multinational conglomerate, the best way to avoid the pitfall of ignorance is to research the company thoroughly . Stevens recommends using the Internet, company annual reports, the Better Business Bureau, and publications such as Fortune, BusinessWeek, and The Wall Street Journal.

People also hurt their chances by including items on their resume that are inconsequential, highly exaggerated or downright false.

“A lot of people try to include the random volunteer experience they did for one day,” Stevens said. “And this can really backfire because most good recruiters will challenge the person on this. This leaves them one of two options: Confess that they only did it for a day and that it adds nothing to their candidacy or start lying.”

McCarty recalls one candidate he had for a cook’s position who wrote “will explain in interview” by the application question asking whether he had been convicted of a felony.

When the interview came, the candidate said that technically he had not been convicted yet, but that he expected to be in just a few days.

And then of course there are the little things: cell phones unexpectedly going off, nervous tapping or other distracting body language, staring down the interviewer, and showing up late.

But it’s not all bad news.

Most recruiters agree that there are a few things that can score an applicant major points in an interview. Confidence is the number one plus in this category; all the recruiters surveyed made some mention of it. Recruiters also said that asking intelligent questions about the company and a candidate’s potential place in that company can put a candidate over the top.

“And make sure you come in with a big smile,” McCarty said.

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