Job seekers get prepped for a high-performance interview by The Apprentice’s Carolyn Kepcher, author of Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice’s Straight Shooter.
Your résumé and cover letter have passed muster! I’ve just called you in for an interview. Here’s where the going gets tough and the tough get going.
- Come in looking as if you’re planning to spend a day at the beach. I am a professional. So are you. Look the part. Dress the part. Be the part.
- Plunk yourself down in a chair without so much as a by-your-leave. Wait for me to invite you to sit down. Don’t worry, I will. And don’t lean back too far in that chair and cross your legs casually as if we’re friends. I don’t want to hire a slouch.
- Lead with information about your personal life, particularly if it has no bearing on your capacity to handle the job. I once interviewed a woman to be a restaurant manager who came in with a strong résumé but blew the interview in the first five seconds by saying, “I’m a recently divorced single mother of two.” I didn’t give a hoot if she was divorced or lived on the moon. I wasn’t impressed that she started out with this particular fact — it made me wonder if she was asking me to cut her some slack. I wanted to know if she could do the job. In any interview, it’s important not to lead with a fact that raises more questions than it answers.
- Start with a question. When I hear at the beginning of an interview, “Tell me what it will take for me to succeed in this job,” the alarm bell goes off. The problem with starting out with such a question is twofold:
- It makes me feel as if you are trying to interview me.
- It seems lazy. I need you to be thinking about what it will take to succeed at the job.
- Say, “Gee, that sounds exciting,” if I do decide to explain the job to you. I want you to be excited before you enter my office, and bring that excitement in here.
- Hand me a line if I ask you why you left your last job. As far as I’m concerned, if the answer is “Well” (after hemming and hawing and looking at the floor) “my manager and I didn’t get along,” the interview ends then and there. Your job should be to get along with your manager. If you didn’t, don’t tell me about it. Honesty is usually the best policy, but don’t bring this matter up if I don’t ask you. If I do ask, try to tell me the story in a way that unfailingly stresses the positive points of the situation and your role in it without undermining or bad-mouthing anyone else. Keep in mind that I am your prospective manager, and at your next job interview, I don’t want you bad-mouthing me.
Here’s an example of what not to do in handling these sensitive situations. When the Trump National Golf Club first opened, I needed to hire a controller. A promising candidate who had worked at a prestigious club in New York came in.
“So,” I asked him, “why did you leave Brentbrook?”
“I left Brentbrook,” he responded, in a voice that bristled with resentment, “because the manager there was so unimaginative. He didn’t listen to any of my ideas. He came up with a few decent ideas, but my ideas were better. He didn’t listen to me. All he wanted to do was promote his ideas.”
Tell me what is wrong with this picture. My basic reaction to this tale of woe (although I didn’t say it outright) was “Get over it. And while you’re at it, get out of my office. It’s really stupid to tell me how bad your senior is, and we don’t hire idiots here.”
Curiously enough, a few years went by and I needed to hire a controller for our newly opened Bedminster, New Jersey, property. Somehow I ended up meeting this same candidate again. I couldn’t remember what it was about him that had bugged me until he opened his mouth. It was the same old story, only set at a different club, with a different narrow-minded manager.
So what do you do when you didn’t get along with your last manager? As you know that I know, not every superior is a good egg. And some are rotten. But that’s not really the point in this situation, is it? Think about where you are now. Isn’t that why you’re here and not there? The point is calmly, carefully, and subtly to steer our conversation toward some aspect of your work and your life where you can demonstrate a positive attitude, and tell me an anecdote in which you can impress me by having done something that benefited your previous company. Tell me why you succeeded, not why you failed.
- Call me Ms. Kepcher. It’s a common courtesy that I appreciate. Unless we’ve been introduced socially, calling me by my first name is too informal.
- Give me something I’m going to remember after you’re gone. I don’t mean wear a Day-Glo tie or say “Howdy!” Tell me a great story. Or better yet, tell me a great story that shows you at your best. You’ve got five minutes here, and the most important thing I am looking for is how effectively you seize opportunities and utilize your time and mine.
- Show me your confidence level. I want you to come in selling yourself, creating credibility from the moment you enter. Show me self-confidence. Show me that you know who you are. Just be clear, crisp, calm, and professional. Remember, no matter what position we are trying to fill, I want to hire a future manager. And I want to see you upbeat and positive about being the perfect person to fill this position. If you have the slightest doubt about it, don’t bother.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carolyn Kepcher, author of Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice’s Straight Shooter (Copyright © 2004 by Carolyn Kepcher), is an Executive Vice President with The Trump Organization and the COO of Trump National Golf Clubs in New York and New Jersey. She has worked for The Trump Organization for nearly ten years and costars with her boss, Donald Trump, on the hit reality television series The Apprentice. She lives with her husband and two children in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- Read an excerpt from Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice’s Straight Shooter
- See the book’s Table of Contents