“Try not to embarrass yourself”

Our friends over at AMC here in Manhattan gave me a sneak peek at tonight’s series premiere of “The Pitch” — the ad agency head-to-head battle series. Tonight’s show features a work-around-the-clock Vegas agency against a Clio-award-winning New York ad veteran.

What draws you into the show is the live pitch that the two agencies do against each other to win new business, with a real account being awarded at the end of each show. It’s intense, there are incredibly tight deadlines, and the two teams are playing for real stakes.

And watching the show, I thought about how you might feel going in to the interview.

Do you fret uneasily — maybe even ungraciously — about the competition? Do you worry about being over the hill? Are you pretty sure you’re not good enough?

As one competitor on the show says, do you fear that “try not to embarrass yourself” is the best you’ll be able to do?

Well, here are ten things you can do to chill out and relax a little before, during and after your big “Pitch”:

1. Show up with a “good” level of knowledge after doing a “reasonable” amount of research. You’d be surprised at the number of people who haven’t looked at the company’s homepage, Googled its name, and checked out the stock ticker, before showing up for an interview. In tonight’s show, for example, I liked how one ad guy actually went and took pictures of the client’s business “in the wild.” It shows interest.

Likewise, you might be surprised at the number of people who overdo it and show up with eight pages of questions — single-spaced — and start off with an inquiry as to why margins in the Southwest region have declined by 10% since seven years ago despite favorable currency rates. There is such a thing as overdoing it.

2. Be on time, unflustered, with a clean, well-presented copy of your resume. Sure, this sounds like “Interviewing 101″, but you know that you’ve violated this rule at least once in your life because you didn’t leave the house ten minutes earlier than you “thought” was safe. Do yourself a favor — it’s far better to be wasting 10 minutes in the lobby than stressing out in transit.

3. Dress the part — businesslike and professional, no matter how party-rocking the company is. Except in cases where the culture is aggressively anti-corporate, a coat and tie or string of pearls never makes you look bad. Even the super-groovy adman in “The Pitch” pops a necktie for his big presentation — you should too.

4. Be kind to every employee you meet. As a matter of fact, be kind to everybody within 2 miles of the interview building — the receptionist, the parking lot guy, the janitor and the intern. When I ask our receptionists how a candidate behaved, it is shocking to hear the number of people who think good manners and kindness are only to be trotted out in the interview room.

5. Remember JFK? (Or remember what your parents told you about JFK?) Ask not what the company can do for you, answer instead “what can I do for this company?”

6. This ain’t “Real Housewives” or “Biography” — “The Pitch” is about winning a business battle. Same thing with a job interview — it’s a time and place for you to explain and sell your ability to do the job. Stick, mostly, to the business side and how you can solve the problems your future boss is currently facing. Don’t go into a half-hour long disquisition on the relative merits of Mozart and Beethoven, the reasons you love or hate (but mostly love) the Yankees, or the intricacies of your college rivalries. The interviewer does not want your life story, they want to know your business capabilities.

7. “Bad mouth thee, bad mouth me.” Whenever you trash-talk your former or current employer, guess what the interviewer thinks? “Oh boy, if we hire this guy, I’m next on the firing line!” Never, ever say a bad, mean or unkind thing (especially if true!) because that just shows off your ability to be an ingrate, gossip or ne’er-do-well.

8. Save the money talk for last. You should get a range from the recruiter or HR person before going in (“in the interests of saving everybody time, I would need to know what range this position is budgeted for, before considering”) and side-step the grilling about your current compensation (“I think we’re talking about what I’m worth in the future, not what I was worth in the past for a different role, with different responsibilities, at a different company — am I right or is that off-base?”). Don’t bring it up in interviews until after they know how excited they are about working with you, because that’s when they’re most likely to get excited about paying you more.

9. Thank the interviewer for their time and ask (a few) good questions (especially my “single best question to ask in an interview“). A great all-purpose question to ask at the end: “Is there anything else I should’ve asked about this role or my future boss that I haven’t asked?”

10. Send a thank you email. Thank the interviewer again and reiterate (very briefly) what you discussed and how you can contribute. Three sentences is a good length. Five sentences maximum. Walk out of the interview with a note taken on one specific thing you discussed: “I enjoyed our conversation around the changes in the mobile ecosystem and how my background could be useful in designing the advertising strategy for the Big Mick in McDowell’s upcoming national campaign.” This helps the interviewer remember why they like you when time comes to make the go/no-go decision on hiring you.

Now one of the biggest differences between a job interview and “The Pitch” is that you’ll find out right away who wins tonight on “The Pitch.” I enjoyed the show and the competition a whole bunch, so tune in tonight for the two-hour premiere at 9pm/8pm CT for the big fight!

And I hope these tips will help reduce some of the anxiety or nerves you feel during your “pitch” in the interview room. Have a great week, Readers…

I’m rooting for you.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Robert Miller3364 says:

    Marc, I’m close to 62 and have a lot of reading behind me on interviewing.  This piece is directed at newbies and the only thing of real importance is following up with an email thanking the prospective employer for his time and perhaps asking a couple of more questions about the position that you might have forgotten during the interview.  As an intro for new grads, it’s a good base to begin on, but for us old farts who’ve been periodically between contract positions it’s all old hat.

  2. Rmgiancoli says:

    I like to end an interview by asking, “is there any doubt about my exceeding your expectations for this position that I can address?” I have found in a few cases the “interviewer” has “assumed” or “not discussed” various areas which were not totally accurate.  For example, one gentleman said “it “appears” you mostly dealt with Fortune 500′s. Here I was allowed to clarify that in my experience I also had vast dealings with every size company from ma/pa shops to Fortune 500′s.  I always want to ensure that there are no doubts or any need for clarification AFTER the interview!

  3. Anonymous says:

    That’s a good one, RM.  I like that approach.

  4. Ron Bender says:

    Smile, relax and be friendly!  I have been on both sides of the interview desk and I find that many people are so nervous or ‘official’ that they come across as cold or uninterested.

  5. Lal says:

    Also try not to embarrass the interviewer.

  6. Laurie B. says:

    The heel feel off my shoe on the way up the steps to one of my first interviews post-grad. As I walked (limping) into the room I showed the interviewer the heel in my hand explained my predicament.  We both laughed about it.

    Even though I really didn’t have strong qualifications for this job, it was one of the few that called me back for round 2. To this day – many years later – I’m still convinced that I got the callback primarily because the interviewer was impressed with my ability to deal with what could have been a very stressful situation.

    My conclusion: The best way to embarrass yourself in a job interview is to leave your sense of humor at home.

  7. Merrys09 says:

    Marc:  How about writing a piece directed at the companies – wouldn’t it be gracious and professional of them to provide honest feedback as to why a candidate is not chosen?  There is so much that applicants are admonished to do.  Don’t the corporations have a hand in the process, too?

  8. Mortified! says:

    I once made the mistake of drinking a carbonated beverage at lunch during the interview process for a company.  We met with the CEO right after lunch and I was horrified when I made the mistake of eliciting a small belch as I answered a question.  I promptly said “excuse me” and carried on but another candidate was selected.  I no longer partake in carbonated beverages!

  9. Guest says:

    Great advice! Re: not discussing compensation until later, I wonder if you have a suggestion about this increasingly common challenge: as part of the application process, an online questionnaire requires providing current and expected compensation. Not answering is not an option. Any ideas?

  10. Guest says:

    Sorry, I meant this question for Marc/the board, not Robert specifically!

  11. Guest says:

    It was nice to find this set of tips in my email box this morning, because I have my first interview in many years tomorrow.  Thank you for the pep talk!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Ok, people, here is how all interviewers judge you, consciously or otherwise:

    1. Intelligence – do you have the intelligence to do this job?
    2. Social & interpersonal skills – will you fit in and how will you get along with superiors, peers and subordinates?
    3. Insight – do you understand your own motivations and will you understand those of the people with whom you will be working?
    4. Organizational skills – how do you organize your workload and that of your subordinates?  Are you organized in thought as well as deed?
    5. Emotional control – do you have the emotional maturity and self-disipline to handle this job and the stress that goes along with it?
    6. Technical skills – not only do you meet the education and experience requirements, but do you actually possess the knowledge nessessary to do this job?  In other words, you may have the education and experience, but have you learned anything along the way?

    Be mindful that the answers to these questions WILL BE DIFFERENT for different employers.  Do your homework!

    a. Find out as much about your interviewer and the company culture as you can ahead of time.

    b. Look for ways to connect with the interviewer on a personal level where you have some things in common - kids, college, organizations, charities, hobbies, etc.  Not only will you connect, you will also be showing the interviewer something about yourself on a personal level.

    c. Know thyself! Have 1 or 2 personal anecdotes ready to tell about past experiences that speak to the above 6 points, i.e., how did you handle situations like these in the past.

    If you further develop and follow these guidelines and don’t get the job, it wasn’t meant to be.

    Good Luck!

  13. Karen says:

    I am beyond frustrated with the interview process. One point that every ones says not to do is talk salary during the first interview. Still it is the question that always comes up in the first interview.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thank you gagilfoil!  That is pretty darn good advice.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Yay! Good luck!!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Use $0, “not specified”, etc.  Any non-answer if you don’t feel like answering.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Yes, Merry! They have a hand in it as well.  The challenge for providing “honest feedback” is the litigiousness of our society.  If a company provides negative, but honest, feedback, too often they feel as if that will lead them to the courtroom.

  18. Abdessalem says:

    I saw your listing for as Painting & welding Inspector position. I feel
    certain I am qualified to fill this opening and hope you will agree when you
    read my enclosed resume. I am an Inspector as well as a
    Certified Painting & welding inspector CSWIP 3.2, having experience in the
    field of construction more than 5 years. I’m familiar with the tasks of this

    I am fluent in
    Arabic, English and French language and I have good computer skills.

    I’m writing this cover letter with the hope that we can meet in person to
    discuss the work. I’d be happy to come to your office for an interview.

    Thank you for considering me for the job and for
    reading my materials.


    Abdessalem ZAABI

  19. Edwin says:

    I’ve found the following question very helpful in past interviews (granted my career/experience is highly technical in nature):  “Have I provided you with enough information that you feel comfortable with my technical knowledge?  If not, lets discuss some issues.”  Interviewers seem to respect the confidence.  My current boss responded with “Oh, I can already tell you know your stuff.  Few people can talk about XXX with me.”  And that gave me the confidence to ask for more money after the offer came!  :)

  20. Nicky3_15 says:

    One good interview question you can ask of the hiring manager is “What can I do in this position to help make your job easier?” It shows that you understand your role in supporting your manager. It will normally catch them off guard, but they like the fact that you ask. It’s out of the ordinary, but very relevant, especially in a senior, lead or managment role.  We often emphasize our leadership ability when interviewing for senior level+ positions, but it’s also important to show that you have the ability to act in a supportive role at that level.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love it Nicky.  Those type of “service leadership” questions are the best.

  22. Brian J. Anderson says:

    Hi, Mark.
    I’m really enjoying the Ladders thus far–about 6 months.

    I do think, however, that in most cases although it may be inappropriate to report a previous supervisor or organization as less than satisfactory, doing so is warranted if the question about why one is leaving comes up.

    I say that because much of what passes for interviewing advice seems these days to be geared toward utter fakery on the interviewee’s part.  It creates a total lack of genuineness.  No enterprise can function at its best under those circumstances.

    I agree that kindness and comportment are the order of the day for any interviewee within a two-mile radius of the interview.  That’s great advice.  But these consistent [and often times constant] admonitions against telling the truth about working in a morass of incompetence in previous jobs [if that was in fact the case] simply are not realistic anymore, and I think preclude an opportunity to showcase one’s diplomacy about answering touchy questions.

    Let’s take an example regarding what do to when asked about one’s previous boss, if that boss was mostly incompetent and rained all over every idea the interviewee had for, say seven or eight years.  While one wouldn’t blurt out: “I quit because he’s a [fill in the blank with expletive]“, I do think it’s within the purview of good manners to say something like: “In order for me to do my best work I need an organized boss who presents her expectations clearly and sets reasonable time limits.  I want my future work life to be more like a team, rather than an adversarial, experience.  I know from having read your mission statement that…”  And so on.

    These career advice exhortations to essentially lie about every experience that could have been devastating in one’s previous job [i.e., the boss was promoted to his level of incompetence] should be re-thought.  I’m in the process of writing a book about this subject at present, but my feeling is that when the over-arching 2012 climate of the Job Interview is to lie, distort and deceive–by both sides–at the very outset, not much of a rewarding career experience can ever really come from that.  A paycheck can come from that, but the best fit for the person and the enterprise won’t.  

    I know someone who recently was utterly honest about a long-term previous incompetent boss and said so in no uncertain–but diplomatic–terms during the interview.  That person was hired.  

    I think the time to stop lying is upon us–bad economy or not.  At least that way a larger portion of the “cards” begins to be put on the table.  In the long run, it’s best that way.

    Thanks, Mark. I hope this comment made it to your e-mail.  Feel free to offer your thoughts.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comments, Brian.  I guarantee that interviewers will get an accurate perception of your relationship with your prior boss with this strategy.  Please keep us posted on how it unfolds…

  24. Aprilarfaras says:

    Hi Marc. I enjoyed the article and it sounds like “The Pitch” advice is right on. There is something I would like to add: I think it is imperative that you get to know the players in your  prospective workplace and especially your new supervisor. They will become your new family. If they are dysfunctional, unethical, immoral, micro-managing, or insecure, beware! Do not confuse your desire for the job description with your desire to work with a bunch of misfits. There is no need to play a game of “survivor” when you have excellent work experience, integrity, and a genuine passion for your work.  This is not only about selling yourself to them, but about them qualifying for your standards of professionalism. It is your job to do the research, ask the hard questions, and learn more about the team before you negotiate any offers.

  25. Brian J. Anderson says:

    Karen, it is part of the dishonesty that is now inherent in the job application and interview process.  Business feels somehow that beginning the entire process with a deception [in this case, not mentioning even a salary range] is good for…business.  It’s not.  It sends the unconscious message that the company with which you’re interviewing is duplicitous.  That message ultimately is internalized by the person hired, which makes it easier for the new employee to be chronically dishonest.  I believe the interviewee should wait until salary is brought up.  Once it is, you can respectfully respond with information about what that position pays on average, nationally, [you can research this on the web for most positions].  With that information as your base, you can say that you would like them to provide you with at least a range.  Certainly they have a range of salary in mind.  If they will not offer you even a range, I’d pay attention to your intuition and ask yourself if you really want to work for them.  This is obviously a very important issue for you.  

  26. One of the best parts of my MBA program was the recruiting process.  I say “best” in the context of learning about interviews and how I performed in them.  During internship recruiting season we would prep and prep and prep and then go through multiple rounds with multiple firms in the span of a few weeks.  It was intense but it created a large enough data set from which to draw on so that there was a huge amount of improvement from my first year to my second year (and presumably in the rest of my career).  A few tips I gleaned (and I had interviewed plenty before and given many interviews, especially during my career at TheLadders):

    1)  Know thy resume — if it’s on your resume, it’s fair game.  I think a lot of candidates assume that a minor point buried at the bottom of your resume won’t be brought up, but I had multiple interviews where they started with “tell me about your time at the Heath School” which was my first job out of college, 10 years ago.

    2)  Write the headlines — I learned to start all my answers with a succinct headline. “Tell me about your time at TheLadders?”  ”I spent five years at TheLadders and held multiple roles in sales, customer service, and business development.”  It sounds (too) short to answer the question like that, but that question is often a throwaway to start a more specific line of questioning, so why start rambling in directions the interviewer isn’t interested in.  In these cases. give the headline and MAYBE another line or two, then let the interviewer guide you into a deeper dive.  

    3)  Seriously, write all the headlines — It’s important to not just have headlines for your resume bullet points, but also for the behaviorally-focused questions.  I prepared headlines and short elaborations for the key questions that seem to come up in every interview: “What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?”  ”Tell me about a time when you disagreed with someone and what the outcome was?”  The headline gives the interviewer something to write down as notes so that they can then listen to the rest of your answer.

    4)  Quit while you’re ahead — you’re nervous.  you’re excited.  you’re on a roll.  But the more and more you talk, the more you start to stray from your headline.  Watch the interviewer: when they look down at your resume to start formulating their next question, wrap your question up (ideally referencing your headline to really drive home your main point.)

    5)  Acknowledge the negatives, but focus on the positives –No one is perfect. In response to a question about a time I had failed in a previous job, I used to tell a story about a time when I really failed at TheLadders.  Fair enough.  But I never spun it into a positive and told my interviewer what I had learned until my second year of interviewing.  That is, after all, what that question is really asking.  It’s not disingenuous to say “I had a really bad experience doing X, Y, and Z which led to this, but the next time it came I applied what I had learned about A, B, and C which led to a positive outcome the next time around.”

    6)  Finish with Marc’s gold-star question — “in my first year on the job, how do I help you, my new manager, get a gold star?”  Practice saying it out loud a few times before your interview since it’s a bit of an awkward question the first couple of times.

    7)  Have fun — you get to talk about yourself for a half-hour or an hour.  What’s so bad about that??

  27. Camelot17 says:

    Nice “Coming to America” reference at the end…love it!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for noticing! When you write for a large audience, you just never know if people catch all the little gifts you leave for them :)

  29. Camelot17 says:

    Suck Up!

  30. meandmybigmouth says:


  31. Kcdadamo says:

    Even though I usually ask about parking, etc., when I confirm the interview, I ALWAYS research the interview location beforehand. Check the Google map and go to street level detail so you can see the traffic and parking. Do you have to go past the building before you can access parking? Can you see the address before the turn? It can save you 10-15 minutes when you’re already pressured.

  32. Malikbarrett22 says:

    some time you go to a interview the way you look can tell them what you can do and what you can not do.

  33. Karen says:

    Thank you Brian. Good suggestion.

  34. Princesa11_baby says:

    Thank you Marc for that very nice suggestion and also those who blogged… I got more ideas… Thanks!

  35. Ltwingz says:

    Sorry Marc, but the whole bit about doing research on the company is a croc. I’ve never, ever had a interviewer ask me “What do you know about our company”. It’s a waste of time to do anything beyond what you (hopefully) did when you decided to apply in the first place. I might read the Yahoo Finance company summary. Anything more than that is a colossal waste of time. 

  36. Anonymous says:

    Since when is an interview about answering the questions they ask you? 

    I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong, LT.  An interview is your chance to show that you can contribute positively to the company, not a test where you patiently wait for the next question proffered. 

  37. DJ says:

    Brian, Do you think that by giving a range, you are setting an expectation already with the candidate? She is either expect a highest of that range or the mid-range? May be a better idea for hiring managers is to know the expectation in detail and then roll out an offer which may exceed the expectation. Any thoughts?

  38. Jgdegarramone says:

    This was excellent information that you think one would know, but reading through them I was surprised to figure out that I did not know but only 1/4 of these very helpful.  So helpful, that I am forwarding them to my Employment Specialist.  I am sure she will find them just as useful as I did!! Thank you for your time, once again!!

  39. Solomonoparaji says:

    The resume and what next

  40. Brian J. Anderson says:

    I think that’s more disingenuous game-playing.  Giving a range is perfectly reasonable.  Private industry–notorious for being cryptic about salary, as opposed to most government positions, which at least offer a range–really needs to evaluate the reasons for this silence on the subject.  Think about it: If the first interaction one has with a potential employer is riddled with distortions, pretensions and misleading statements or no statements at all about the main reason anyone takes a job [i.e., earnings], does that not set the stage completely for a distrustful relationship henceforth?  I think so.  Once that stage is set, very few people will work to their potential because they will unconsciously be looking for the myriad and subtle ways in which that employer dishonesty will play out.  DJ: It’s tragic that we now believe fakery is the best route to success.  I believe we are better than that.

  41. Catherine says:

    You also need to smile during your interview. A lesson learned in high school for cheer-leading was to dry your upper teeth; it keeps your lip up and makes it appear that your all smiles when your actually nervous inside.

  42. Gseraydarian813 says:

    I’d change your #10, don’t send an email.  Kids send emails, plus people get hundreds every day.  Want to be noticed and respected, send a real piece of mail as a thank you.  I guarantee the person/people who interviewed you will READ a card/letter.  The email gets deleted after seeing your name so the reader can move on the the other 99 emails in their inbox.

  43. Jacques Brouillette says:

    I’m not even sure where my physical mail box in my building as I don’t deal in paper. So, the paper only approach might not reach everyone.

  44. DJ says:

    I understand your point and I am not asking for being dishonest. My point is-

     #1. If you have already set a range, how will you justify why the candidate is chosen at a mid-salary level? And do you want to do it and then handle more salary negotiation from the candidate?

    #2. By knowing the salary expectation first, you can still pay within the range but EXCEED the expectation of the candidate. Is not it better for both parties?

    Marc, would be good to know your views as well.

  45. Terry Henderson says:

    I find this article helpful in reminding me of the things to do as a person being interviewed. I have been the interviewer for a long stretch and need to keep refreshing my thoughts on the other side so that I can approach with a renewed since of comfort.

    I will be interviewing for the first time in a long time shortly and the ideas brought up in this article have reminded me of some of the things that I seem to forget on the other side of the table.

    I would add that it is always a good idea to be completely honest about your history and abilities. The worst thing you can do is lie; that starts the relationship out with an air of mistrust and that is never good. Be willing to point out weaknesses BUT have a plan to address them. I am more willing to hire a candidate that knows his weaknesses AND has a plan to address them.

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