When I was asked to write a blog about interviews – and what can sometimes go wrong with them – one part of me wanted to do a piece that offered interview tips knowing that there are record numbers of unemployed people out there desperate for any insight that might help them secure a job.

Another part of me (the loudest part) wanted to just lampoon the process. So in the spirit of coalition and compromise, I decided to embrace both these opposing forces of serious and the less serious.

Okay, here goes…

The internet is full of interview tips for jobseekers – much of it insisting that the candidate needs to ‘brand themselves properly’, treat themselves as a product and sell their way into the job. This is all very well if you work in sales or marketing, but less okay if you work in data analysis or accountancy.

Naturally, what most of this well-intentioned advice is trying to do is encourage the candidate to commercialise their approach to securing a new job.

Nothing wrong with that if being commercial is a key component of the job – but where it starts to be a problem is when it reaches the stage where someone has to become some kind of ‘performer’ – the very nature of which is to disguise or to conceal true identity.

How often have we heard the expression “He didn’t perform well at the interview”? I’d wager more times than we’ve heard “He doesn’t have the skills/knowledge we really need”.

Putting on a performance is fine if those traits that were ‘performed’ are real and can be backed up once you’re employed there. But the nearer you get to being diversionary about the type of person you really are, the more you’re storing up problems further down the road. Bigger problems.

Just be yourself

For me, the safest advice out there is this to just be yourself. It’s probably about the only thing you’re ever going to be able to do perfectly. The other key thing to remember is that when you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.

Now, being yourself isn’t always going to work for you. For example, telling the interviewer you’re a big fan of Richard Curtis’s films can wait until they’ve made you an offer. Okay, now we’re easing into the less serious part.

Candidate howlers

Below are some interview howlers that candidates have made – fresh from the mouths of hiring managers and recruiters. These are obviously clangers that are only made by a tiny percentage of the jobseeking community – and so in deference to their pointlessness, I’m going to list them here and add some insight as to what these actions might say about you:

  • Wearing shorts and sandals to the interview: You smoke a lot of pot
  • Answering your mobile during the interview: You’re time is more important to you than the interviewer’s. While this is probably true, the best time to affirm this is a few months later when you’re asked to work late on a Friday night.
  • Arriving too late: You haven’t learnt to tell the time yet.
  • Arriving too early: You’ve got nothing better to do.
  • Lying about your skills/experience/knowledge: You’re potential CEO material.
  • Failing to research the employer in advance: You’ve already got a job that you’re reasonably happy with and the interviewer should be researching you rather than the other way round.
  • Interrupting the interviewer: You’re a mind reader.
  • Failing to make eye contact: You think the interviewer is ugly
  • Making continuous eye contact: You’re a trainee serial killer.
  • Asking to use the toilet halfway through the interview: You’re a lot older than you stated on your CV.
  • Sounding desperate: You’re desperate.
  • Shaking hands too firmly: “Screw you”.
  • Shaking hands too weakly: “Screw me”.

And from the interviewers

And in the interest of balance, here are some examples of the more unusual interview questions that have been asked by hiring managers and recruiters – and some suggested answers. All suggested answers are used at the interviewee’s own risk:

  • How would you explain a database in three sentences to your eight year-old nephew? “He already knows more about database technology than me.”
  • How do you stack a dishwasher? “I take the clean stuff out first.”
  • Why are manhole covers round? “Because the holes are round.”
  • Pepsi or Coke? “No thanks. Have you seen the rubbish they put in that stuff?”
  • If you won the lottery, would you quit working? “Depends where I was working.”
  • OK, let’s say you were working here. “Yes.”
  • What was the last book you read? “How To Deal With Dumb Interview Questions.”
  • You’re not taking this seriously, are you? “You started it.”

To finish on a more serious note, unless the interviewer is a psychologist with a PhD and a licence to practice, digging deep into the depths of a candidate’s personality is at best a ridiculous waste of their time and yours – and at worst flat out illegal.

Beware of interviewers who don’t just stick to what their business objectives are and whether the candidate will be able to execute that role satisfactorily.

The best job-hunting advice I’m aware of is this: The best time to find a new job is when you already have a job.

That way you’ll be more able to play the interview game on your terms.