Great news! The Human Resources Department of a company to which you recently applied, and which may have already successfully “screened” you as a potential candidate with a preliminary telephone interview, now wants to set up a face-to-face interview with you at company headquarters! The company must really be serious about you as a candidate, right? Well, perhaps, but it’s far more likely that the real purpose of the interview is to eliminate you from further consideration, and, quite probably, scores of other potential candidates with whom HR may also have scheduled face-to-face interviews around the same times as yours.
If there was ever a time for you to be on “full alert” during your job search, this is the time!
It’s crucial to keep in mind that the HR interview process is driven by one principal goal: To weed out any potentially “unsafe hires.” That is, they want to eliminate anyone and everyone who might even remotely end up costing the company more money, cause legal issues, not be a good cultural fit, or in any other way cause the company some type of embarrassment and/or inconvenience. Contrary to popular belief, companies do not necessarily always hire the best candidates. It is usually the safest candidates who get hired!
Anything said to HR can and WILL be Used Against you!
HR also tends to ask potential candidates very direct and pointed questions. If you are not on full alert you can easily—and quickly!—fall into the various “traps” they are trying to set for you and you will therefore quickly be eliminated from further consideration. So, it’s important to keep in mind that “anything you say can and WILL be used against you” during an HR interview. Let me give you a specific example of what I’m talking about here.
My executive recruiting firm recently had a candidate in for an HR interview and the very first—the very first!— question the HR representative asked was, “What is your current salary?” Now, think about it, while it certainly isn’t all that unusual for HR to inquire about current salary and/or salary expectations, would this in fact be the first question you would ask a candidate if you were looking for the best talent available for a position? Of course not! But, as I just stated, HR is all too often not looking for the best talent, they are looking for ways to easily and quickly eliminate all but the safest candidates!
If you don’t answer this salary question in an acceptable manner, you will be quickly eliminated, by the way. (Click on this link to learn the best way to answer “the salary question,” regardless of when it comes up in the early stages of the hiring process.)
You see, HR generally see itself as “the first line of defense” for the company and, in fairness to these men and women, not totally without at least some justification. As a result, they usually don’t view hiring in terms of, say, the extra value a more costly person might bring to the company. Rather, they view hiring in terms of the extra costs the company will incur if they pass along to hiring managers candidates whose current salary and/or salary expectations exceed the amount budgeted for the position.
Your new ‘best friend’ is the HR representative
Well-trained HR representatives know the value of immediately putting applicants at ease by projecting a friendly, totally non-threatening attitude, to make the applicant feel as though they (the HR representative) are their “new best friend.” The theory is—most times, quite true, by the way!—the more relaxed the applicant is the more easily and more quickly he/she will fall into the various “traps” the HR representative has planned for him/her. Let me explain.
Let’s say the HR representative begins the interview, in a very casual, relaxed manner, by telling the applicant about the various company benefits, e. g., number of vacation days, sick days, group insurance plans, etc. Normally, this is followed up with comments such as, “How does this sound to you?” “How do these benefits compare to what you have in your current position?”
The whole idea, of course, is to put you the applicant at ease and make you feel that you are practically a “shoo-in” for the position. The fact of the matter is, however, the HR representative is actually just setting you up to fall, quite willingly, into another “trap” so you can be eliminated! How?
Well, suppose you come back with a response such as this: “In my current job I get three weeks of vacation, not just the two weeks your company offers.” A response like this will immediately set off alarm bells in the HR representative’s mind and quickly brand you as an applicant who certainly is not safe. The HR representative may well think: It seems this applicant is more interested in “playing” than in working. I’ll pass on him/her.
The key here, as is the case throughout the HR (and subsequent) interviews, e.g., with a hiring managers and/or others within the company hierarchy, is never to “tip your hand” too early in the game. If you do, you will simply be eliminated from further consideration. The time to negotiate such things as salary and benefits is not in the early interview stages. That sort of thing is done once you are actually offered the position!
Don’t be fooled by the ‘Grand Tour’
And finally, you may even get the “Grand Tour.” As the HR representative shows you “your” workspace and the general company work/break areas, she may say things such as, “This is where you will sit.” “This is where you will take your breaks.” “This is Bob, whom you will be working with.” Face it, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t infer from these comments, from this tour, that you must have already been selected for the position! Don’t you be fooled, however. Don’t let down your guard at this point because that is precisely what the HR representative is hoping you will do!
Another real life example of what I’m talking about here. This is how one candidate recently responded when the HR representative was showing him the break room: “Oh, I am glad to see that you have Diet Dr. Pepper in your machine. I get tired of just having Diet Cokes. I am a diabetic and too many places don’t give you a choice.” An innocent comment by the candidate? Certainly. Still, it was a comment that unwittingly branded him as being “unsafe” because he could potentially end up costing the company a great deal of money in medical expenses. Unfair? Yes. Nonetheless true? Yes, again.
Probably the biggest risk a candidate can take after having taken the “Grand Tour” is that he/she will be so certain, so absolutely certain, that he/she will be offered the position that he/she simply discontinues all other job search activities. We actually had a candidate who did this recently, only to learn five weeks later that he was not the candidate selected by the company. Don’t you fall into a similar trap.
Successful interviewing skills can be learned
Successfully interviewing merely involves effectively employing another set of skills, and these skills can certainly be learned and refined. I covered how you can develop and then successfully utilize interviewing and other skills during the entire job hunting process in “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game have Changed Forever!
If you have already purchased my book, or at least have seen it advertised on Amazon.com and other places throughout the Internet, then you know the cover design features a three-dimensional chess board. There is a very good reason why I chose this cover design. Like chess, the hiring process is in every sense of the word a “game,” a very complicated, quite challenging game. And again, just like chess, at every step of the hiring “game,” the other “player” (in the case of this blog, the HR representative) can, at any time and without any forewarning, make a move that will literally take you out of the game!
Don’t you fall into one of the many “traps” that the HR department, hiring managers and others routinely set up for you and virtually all other job seekers in today’s job market. Learn, and then consistently practice, interviewing skills that are known to be effective. If you do, you will be branding yourself as an applicant who is professional, knowledgeable—and, yes, even as someone who is ostensibly a “safe” hire—and one to be highly sought after by hiring companies.
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.