There are five pitfalls job candidates need to avoid if they want to make a good impression. Photo: iStock

The Singaporean Ministry of Law announced on Feb 3, 2017  that the Red Dot Traffic Building, which houses the iconic Red Dot Design Museum and various food and beverage outlets, would be returned to the government and recommissioned as an extension to Maxwell Chambers by 2019, a move that reflects Singapore’s ambition to be an international arbitration center.

The building houses many memories for me, as it is next to my office. In its now-defunct cafe, I have had many inspiring moments that have led to the launching of new programs and campaigns, and also, many hours spent enjoying good coffee and resting after the gym or flight school. And it was here that I overheard many conversations between recruiters and candidates.

There I was, sipping a hot cuppa, and observing yet another exchange between a boss of a recruitment firm and a candidate. And as a human resource development (HRD) practitioner for the past 30 years, the whole session ran through my mind in the same way that I profiled candidates for clients.

The young man worked in a telesales center that serves an international bank, and was just out of the army after his diploma studies. The gentleman who interviewed the young man spoke with a distinct British accent, and what struck me was how patient he was with the young candidate, who was obviously failing with every single interview question, and yet had no idea he was flunking the interview.

1) Don’t get personal

The young man asked the interviewer why he sounded like an angmo (colloquial Chinese dialect term meaning “red hair,” which is used as a byword for Caucasian). The interviewer politely replied he had lived and studied in the UK for a long time, and quickly deflected further personal questions from the candidate.

Further into the interview, the young man said that his girlfriend also applied for the job and he hoped both of them could work for the same company. The interviewer was taken aback and paused. It dawned on me that the young man’s girlfriend had probably already been rejected by the company. But the interviewer politely said he would look into it.

An interviewer is not a candidate’s friend or family. A candidate must always project a professional and respectful image, and never cross the line into personal territory. The candidate should always answer every question from the interviewer succinctly and elaborate when needed to showcase talents, skills and experience.

2) Fun, you said?

The interviewer asked the young man what his key attributes were. He said he was a “fun-loving” person. The interviewer politely smiled and I cringed. That was probably the worst thing to say to a potential employer.

A candidate is looking for a job – to work hard, to contribute to a company’s bottom line and the achievement of its objectives, and receive fair wages for that. A candidate should not go into a job expecting to be entertained or to attend a party. Unless they happen to be in the entertainment industry, most jobs are serious and demanding, especially in today’s economic climate. Nobody would imagine a surgeon having fun with scalpels, or a policeman having fun with his revolver, or an administrator having fun with the switchboard.

Most of us work in industries and jobs that are “serious” (unless one happens to work in a “fun” industry). We are passionate about our work and treat it with the utmost seriousness and professionalism. Employers treasure professionalism (and that means not getting personal or saying you are fun-loving).

3) No prior research

The young man asked about the firm and many aspects of the job that clearly implied he came into the interview having done no prior research. The interviewer still patiently went through the company’s history, the structure, the job scope, and so on.

Unless the job happens to be in the entertainment industry, most positions are serious and demanding, especially in today’s economic climate.

Many candidates are cavalier about interviews, and the rare few who bother to research the companies they hope to work for are already miles ahead. Most companies have websites and a social media presence. Established companies tend to have historical data one can easily find through search engines, statutory or other reporting platforms. It takes no more than half a day at most, to find out all one needs to know about a company, the executives, the interviewers, and the job description. There is no need to ask basic questions during the first interview. To ask them is to basically tell the interviewer that you have no interest in the company or job (or worse, you are too ignorant to know how to use the computer).

4) Demands during your first interview

The young man promptly asked about the remuneration and perks, and said he had heard there would be paid company vacation trips. The interviewer patiently explained that the job would require the candidate to make sales calls and then close contracts, and so on, and did not elaborate on remuneration and perks.

The first interview is for a candidate to articulate his skills and experience, and why he stands out against competing candidates. It is not the occasion to make demands. Too many candidates demand terms and perks before they are even shortlisted.

When a candidate asks me about such things during the first interview, it immediately creates the impression that he is only concerned about his own desires and needs, rather than the needs and goals of the company. There are many good questions a candidates can ask, such as these.

5) Pegging remuneration to personal needs.

The candidate went on to say that he would require a minimum salary in order pay his mortgage and bills. The interviewer nodded and said he understood, but he was clearly not impressed.

Remuneration will always be based on performance and output. If you have to service a loan that is over your head, no employer has a moral or legal obligation to help you pay it by raising your remuneration beyond your capabilities and performance. In short, perhaps you should have better financial management skills. The employer is not your ATM.

The young man left first. The interviewer left later, but not without exchanging glances with me. We gave each other knowing smiles: the young man was not going to be hired.

It is not easy to land a job these days. The market is down, and the global economy will only get worse. The minimum a candidate can do is conduct prior research and make a good first impression. The first interview is already a precious opportunity, and there may be second or third interviews before a candidate lands a job.

Seamus Phan

Seamus Phan is a professional speaker, published author, and artist. He straddles between the creative and technology spheres, and has great interest in studying Asian cultures, philosophies, leadership, and branding. On the side, he is an artist specializing in Chinese brush painting.

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