How NOT to get hired

I hired my first person when I was 19, must have been 20 years ago. Or maybe it was 30. Ok, ok, some of you know me, it was 40. Including Morrison, the companies I’ve worked for, and the organizations Morrison assists with searches, I can safely say I’ve been involved in hiring dozens of people, if not hundreds.

These have included heaven-knows-how-many interviews, which are always a good place not to get hired. Or you can save yourself the hassle and bother of interviewing and blow the job with your resume. However you do it, here are some of the best ways to not get the job:

  1. Prepare an incomprehensible resume. It has been standard advice in some circles to make a catalog of accomplishments and skills the focus of a resume, followed by a brief list of employers and dates. Don’t. Even if it doesn’t come off like something from a Dilbert comic, a bunch of disconnected accomplishments doesn’t tell anyone much. It matters whether you “Exceeded ownership expectations for budget efficiency” twenty years ago as an accounts clerk or last year as CFO.
  2. Don’t explain the short stays or gaps on your resume. As this is written, I have a resume on my desk that shows eight jobs over about 20 years, none for longer than four. The candidate has been at his present job for 11 months and has been aggressive about trying to get an interview; I can’t help but wonder if he’s about to lose the job he has. Or there may be a perfectly good explanation: I recently took a chance and contacted a potential candidate who appeared to have had four jobs over the last 11 years. It turned out he worked for a company that had been acquired and stayed with the acquiring company, was later assigned to a partner of his employer for a two-year project, then came back to a different unit of the company. It had only been one employer those 11 years but you wouldn’t guess it from the resume. He’s lucky I decided to call anyway.
  3. Use a boilerplate cover letter. It’s OK to start with a template of some sort but for Pete’s sake don’t send it off addressed to “Dear {Name Here}.” And use the name of the company if you have it, not “Employing Company.” Note the position you are applying for. Cover any apparent weaknesses or gaps on your resume, and don’t say you’re sure you’re the best candidate for the job if you don’t seem to know what the company and job is.
  4. Don’t explain why you’re applying for a job in a region or state in which you’ve apparently never been. I recently received a very strong resume for a position in California. The applicant went to colleges in Connecticut, belongs to organizations in Connecticut, and has worked his entire 20+ year career in Connecticut. I’m not going to call. A few years ago I received a resume from a candidate who had lived his entire life in Utah but explained in his cover letter that his wife’s family lived near the hiring company and they wanted to move nearby before starting a family. I interviewed him and he was eventually hired.
  5. Treat recruiters like your enemy. It is true that the recruiter works for the company, not you, but the recruiter wants the best candidates and making end runs or being adversarial won’t get you on that list. In our most extreme case, a candidate who didn’t pass our initial screening put on a suit and showed up at the company’s offices anyway. Several times, over several weeks. He was finally offered an opportunity to meet some of the finest members of local law enforcement. This kind of extreme is rare but remember that the recruiter wants to please his or her client. Make yourself pleasing.
  6. Don’t research the company before the interview. I’ve been around long enough to remember when this was hard. I once spent over 40 hours preparing for an interview, bringing myself up to speed on the company and its industry, history, key personnel, and anything else I could lay my hands on. Today that level of research might take an afternoon if you included a nap. At the very least, don’t ask questions that could have been answered by spending 20 minutes on the company’s website.
  7. Lie. I once asked a candidate with a stellar background but who recently became unemployed why he left his last job. His answer: “I was fired.” He explained that a new CEO had let a number of senior officers go to bring in his own team, a fact I was able to verify. If he had danced around it I’d have been suspicious and likely thought the worst. Into every career some rain will fall. Handle it honestly.

I could add more, like “Submit your resume in a foreign language even if you have no possible reason to believe the person doing the hiring might actually speak it” or “Include a photo of your vintage Pontiac” (true stories), but these seven out to do it. If you do these and get hired anyway it will be a sure sign that the economy has recovered.

About the Author
Brent Morrison is the founding principal at Morrison. To get in touch with Brent, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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