A design engineer I placed recently shared with me some of his experiences on the job search. Jim said that he had never expected his search to last so long or to be so emotionally taxing. One employer related to him that they liked his skills but needed an individual with “personality.” Ouch.
Hopefully, many of you will not be told that you lack a personality, but I often receive a request for the intangibles, the “right chemistry” or “attitude.” In some engineer searches, the recipe calls for “fire in the belly.” Next to qualifications, I dutifully jot down “nachos with extra jalapenos.” It’s head scratching time.
Sometimes the “personality” issue is code for skill sets that clients want but can’t quantify or communicate. The interview weans out people for obscure reasons. It may be a lack of perceived communication or leadership skills or just a firm introductory handshake. A candidate may be eliminated because he/she reminds them of a previous employee that didn’t work out. It may be vague answers to specific questions or specific, narrow answers to broad, general questions. In truth, it could be a wide variety of disqualifying factors that are real, imagined or illegal.
The first order of business for the recruiter or candidate is to eliminate the company that is looking for the intangibles that cover discriminatory hiring practices. This is often expressed in code like “energy level” for a mature candidate, “appearance” for an overweight, handicapped or minority candidate, “communication skills” for an immigrant or any number of non-specific “fire in the belly” disqualifiers. I would like to tell you that we live in an enlightened age where individuals are judged more on the “content of their character than the color of their skin” but we have not yet arrived there. A recruiter must NEVER buy into the variety of excuses that are meant to disguise discrimination but are not always evident.
If you find yourself in an interview hearing this code in conversation, tread carefully. Sometimes interviewers are unaware of the correct legal question. Answer only the intent of the question or just walk away. Discrimination is much more than skin deep. If you have been discriminated against, there are resources to help.
On the other hand, you and I will encounter the “can’t quite put my finger on it” disqualifier. Too many job changes without a strong reason, evasive answers, poor eye contact, poor interview posture, lack of preparation, hygiene or interview dress issues (that reflect more on judgment than fashion awareness), sincere interest in the job interview. These are preparation and planning issues. Consider an interview a directed conversation. The goal is to determine the match between your skills and goals and the company’s needs and opportunities. Then you must sell your capabilities and strengths. The interview could be the most important conversation you have in your life. Plan for it. There is no excuse for an unplanned interview presentation. Write out your skill sets and qualifications in advance. Know your goals, strengths and career successes. Be prepared for the tough questions (a future blog unto itself.) Sell your strengths and capabilities. Plan ahead and prepare.
Then you can skip the “nachos with extra jalapenos” breakfast. In fact, I probably recommend it.
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