Step Brothers: A Cautionary Tale For Interview Success

May 9th, 2012 | Interviewing | No Comments »

Probably not a newsflash but the characters played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly make titanically bad choices. As stunted step brothers or NASCAR buddies, the two bumble through every human interaction with an utter obliviousness to the ways of the world and leave audiences choking on laughter. Many find them hilarious but, needless to say, they are not the type of guys you want to positively model your job search after. However, “Step Brothers” does offer a montage of cataclysmic interview “don’ts” that is a perfect cautionary tale for anyone looking to succeed during the hiring process.

Dress the Part: Dress to impress. It is an adage we’ve all heard and one that most job seekers choose to follow. The most common recommendation is dressing a job level above your position. Sweatpants, spaghetti strap shirts, and logo bearing tees are obvious ways to create first impressions that sink your prospects to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Interestingly enough, overdressing can accomplish the same result. If you walk into an interview decked out in coattails & a bowtie or a flowing prom dress & tiara, jaws will probably drop. But not in a good way. Hiring managers will wonder which limousine driver dumped you far from your wedding reception or high school prom. Then, they will direct you to the nearest banquet hall, pat you on the back and politely ask you to leave.

Come Alone: Avoid the allure of a tag-team interview. This isn’t professional wrestling and you are not being interviewed by Macho Man Randy Savage. This seems obvious since you probably aren’t wearing spandex. Oddly enough, a greater number of job searches have been involving a third party: parents. Michigan State University reported that out of 700 businesses surveyed, 15% received calls from parents trying to argue their child into a job and 9% said parents had attempted to haggle higher salaries and benefits. Having your mom or dad call on your behalf stopped working in middle school. Hiring managers see this as a sign of immaturity and are reluctant to continue negotiations when parents or next-of-kin become involved.

Listen Attentively: In the movie, Ferrell at one point repeatedly asks a hiring manager to repeat herself. Not a problem at first but then he silences her, repeatedly, and draws out a nuclear meltdown from a once composed woman. In most cases, any clarifying, insightful questions are welcome during an interview. Questions can demonstrate a genuine interest in learning as much about the company objectives, policies and environment as possible. Hiring managers are less excited about repetitive questions. If you get lost in a thought that leads to lamenting over the disappointing game last night, thinking about your lunch, or wondering why toast always lands butter side down, you will probably derail the conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hiring manager imagined a vacant, tumbleweed stricken lot occupying the upstairs apartment where your attention span used to reside.

Responses: Never tell a hiring manager to “shut her mouth.”

Keep the Personal Stuff Personal: Keep. It. Professional. Managers will sometimes probe into personal questions as a form of small talk. Answer honestly but never elaborate too much and never delve into the deepest, darkest secrets that only you and your psychoanalyst share. Limited personal disclosure is the name of the game. Better yet, avoid asking too many questions about their personal life. The moment a tuxedoed, crazy-eyed candidate starts asking deeply personal questions about a hiring manager’s spouse or family, that is the moment that tuxedoed, crazy-eyed candidate will be ejected from the building out onto the curb.

Avoid Discussing Money: Want to alienate a potential boss? Start talking about salaries. Job seekers are best avoiding the subject of compensation until the first interview is over. Sometimes, hiring managers will broach the topic early but you should always tread with care. Discussing salary makes you appear mercenary, as if you only care about money and will defect at a moment’s notice if the pay is good enough. An even worse tactic is to ask a hiring manager about his or her salary. You will know the meaning of lightning fast, when they shut you down.

Know Your Audience: Contradicting logic, Ferrell and Reilly finally luck out when they interview with Seth Rogan. He shares their sense of humor, irony, and even thinks they are cool guys. Unintentionally, they have played their cards right. One of the greatest tools in your arsenal is the ability to read your audience. Through observation, you can determine which way to direct your responses. Once again, honesty is key but by reading your audience, you will know exactly what truths to highlight. If you can get the hiring manager talking twice as much as listening to your responses, more than likely you have the job in the bag. In their favor, this was the best thing the brothers did by far.

Watch What You Eat: And then they ruin it with prolonged, unapologetic flatulence. What you eat before an interview makes a huge difference. Avoid broccoli, legumes, high-fiber cereals, and curry before an interview to keep your digestive system from voicing its opinions throughout your conversation. Additionally, watch the amount of liquids you drink. Coffee and water can shoot through you at inappropriate times, forcing you to rush for the restroom after being asked your greatest weakness (the answer is bladder control).

Overall, it all comes down to attention: attention to your appearance, attention to the way you are perceived, and attention to your approach. An interview is not something you just do. There should be considerable forethought, analysis, and preparation throughout the process. Every word and action suggests something about you, whether you intend it to or not. So your best bet is to prepare in advance, act shrewdly and offer your best face for the hiring manager. Down the road, when you are sitting in your new office, loving your new job, you can take a moment, and thank Ferrell and Reilly for failing stupendously and sending you down a different path. For now, just don’t show up in a tuxedo.

James Walsh