November 28, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

“Mr. Beaver, I do the hiring for a paint and coatings company based in the South and frankly wonder if I am going insane, or if today’s job applicants think that a job interview is the same thing as Saturday night with the gang — wear what you want and don’t mind your language! You can’t imagine the people who come so unprepared for a job interview. They have little concept of how to dress professionally or act professionally — they answer questions while looking at the floor or ceiling and in general give an ‘I don’t care if I get the job’ attitude. I think it would be instructive if you looked at how not to get hired! Thanks, Theo.”

I ran Theo’s timely question by two friends of this column, senior HR consultants Marinor Ifurung and Andu Yohannes with the Southern California-based law firm Klein DeNatale Goldner. I asked them to list behaviors that can ruin your chances of getting hired.

Six red-flag behaviors, courtesy of HR consultants

1. Coming to the interview unprepared.

Andu: A lack of preparation can slam the door shut on a job offer. When you are asked to bring a copy of your résumé, a filled-out application or other documents, and you show up without them, this failure tells me you are not able to follow simple instructions. So, I would conclude you may have a hard time following directions and may struggle with successfully performing your job duties.

Marinor: If someone really wants this job, then they will take the steps to show they are prepared for it. Showing up without the requested documents is an interview killer. There are no excuses. This occurs less when interviewing for an administrative/professional position than when hiring for an entry-level job such as a receptionist or restaurant server. This shows lack of interest and, potentially, the applicant’s inability to follow reasonable instructions.

2. Failing to convince us that you are right for this role. Poor communication skills. Talking over and interrupting the interviewer.

Andu: We want to know what you can bring to the position. We don’t know which aspects of your past experience could be highly beneficial unless you sell yourself. This is an opportunity to communicate how your past experiences will help you succeed in this position.

Marinor: If communication skills are lacking, we can’t tell if this applicant will be a good fit for the position. What can you bring to the table? If you don’t tell us, your chances of being hired are diminished. You have to sell yourself.

3. Failing to dress appropriately for this employer and the position.

Andu: Showing up in a T-shirt and shorts and treating the interview as just another errand you had to do that day says, “I’m not taking this interview seriously.” Do that, and no one will take you seriously, as you are revealing a lack of self-awareness.

Marinor: Dressing for the position says a great deal about your seriousness.

4. Displaying excessive piercings and objectionable tattoos.

Andu: In the real world, display of piercings and objectionable tattoos aren’t going to help you land that job. So, before the interview, learn what the grooming standards are and comply. If you’re hired, violating those standards when you come to work will be a basis for termination.

Marinor: The person conducting the interview needs to be direct with the applicant and carefully study their body language. Often the applicant says, “Yes,” but their body language says something different, and when hired, they might come to work displaying tattoos and piercings. Applicants need to know that these are not constitutionally protected classes, and there is no right to wear them at work.

5. Believing that physical requirements listed for a job do not apply.

Andu: Applicants need to consider the physical requirements of the job and reflect on their ability to meet them with or without an accommodation. There are positions that require pre-employment physicals designed to determine the applicant’s ability to meet the physical requirements of a job. We often get asked if an applicant’s weight plays a role in the hiring process. With the exception of Michigan, New York, Washington state and a few local jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, weight is not a protected classification unless it is related to a medical condition or a disability.

Marinor: There is a completely false belief that, regardless of appearance, there is a “right” to be employed. There isn’t. However, some states have exceptions. California, for example, has a laundry list of protected classifications, so appearance matters to the extent allowable by law. Rather than focusing on the appearance of an applicant, hiring managers should base their decision on an applicant’s ability to fulfill the job expectations as well as the employer’s expectations.

6. Failing to show up on time for the interview.

Andu: Punctuality is critical. Show up late to the interview, and you will likely show up late to the job as well.

Marinor: Not showing up at all! This shows a lack of consideration for your potential employer. No call, no show = no job.

Some advice for the person doing the hiring

Concluding our interview, both Andu and Marinor offered this advice for the person conducting the interview: Don’t just hire anybody — that is an invitation for trouble later. If you doubt your interview skills, speak with an HR consultant. It will be money well spent.

Check back for my follow-up article to this one, about how to get yourself fired.