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The long-awaited (yeah, right =P) follow up to How To Interview Without Sounding Like An Asshole covers what you should do and what you should know before you come interview. Someone like John Rambo or your typical hot-blooded Japanese anime hero might be able to succeed by just running in, guns blazing and counting on sheer nerve to carry the day, but that is not you. Which is as good an intro as anything.

REMINDER: The views expressed in this commentary reflect only the personal opinions and experiences of the writer, who has been a screening interviewer at a restaurant for two years. They do not reflect conventional corporate wisdom and likely will contradict any so-called "expert" or job coach. You have been warned.



You've probably heard of the 5 W's before, but for the uninitiated and the link-phobic, it stands for Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Sometimes "How" is added to this. It's a concept that applies in journalism, investigation, or any other type of information gathering, wherein for a report to be considered "full" or "complete" it should be able to answer all of those questions. For example, if you were writing a paper on, let's say, something I did, that paper should be able to answer the following:

- Who am I?
- What did I do?
- Where did I do it?
- When did I do it?
- Why did I do it?
- How did I do it?

You'll notice that none of those questions can be answered by a simple yes or no. They have to be answered with facts, facts necessary to include to have all the information you need. Coming into an interview is no different, and I'm going to share with you the 5 W's you should know before you even show up on Wednesday at 1:55 with an application.


You may not think that this is important, but it certainly can be. At the very least, it might save you some embarrassment when you come up to me and spend fifteen minutes telling me how much you want to work for -my- company and asking what -I- look for in a subordinate and how -I- should hire you for whatever reason ... only to find out that it's not my company, I'm not a manager, and I won't be the one hiring you. Which also comes with me thinking you're a bit of a suck-up or otherwise not genuine, since I know you won't be treating me like that if you get hired and realize that at best I'm first among equals.

Granted, it's an honest mistake, but it's one you can stave off by simply asking a couple of questions or otherwise paying attention. However, you can also turn what could be an honest mistake into an advantage for you if you know how. For instance, if you know going in that the person you're interviewing with is the head of the department that you're trying to get into, you can ask specific questions about the department. Or if you know that such is not the case, you know to avoid asking specific questions that may be difficult for your interviewer to answer, and that there might be another step in the process. Not to mention if you find out that you're interviewing with the general manager, then you know it's appropriate to throw in all the talk about how he or she should hire you and asking them what they look for, because it will actually apply.

Even if you don't think this is important, consider this: if you know the person you're interviewing is the one who makes the final decision and will be your immediate boss, will that mean you'll be trying harder to make a specific and good first impression? If the answer is yes (and it should be), then you understand the point. Good is just good, but -specific and applicable- and good is even better.


I get this one all the time, as I've pointed out in the last entry. Someone's in front of me, I ask them if they have any questions, and at least six times out of ten one of those questions is "What positions do you have open?" This is especially egregious when they mention that they saw a Craigslist ad saying exactly what was open. While this is partially the fault of our interviewing and hiring practices (specifically the sense that we'll always accept applications and always interview regardless of whether we have positions open or not, so nobody really knows whether we're hiring or not), I personally see that question as something you should already know before you ever talk to me.

Compounding this are those people who list "Any" or "Open" under the position they're applying for. If you'll take anything, why does it matter what we have open? Or is it because while you'll do anything, what you -really- want to do is one specific thing and you're just putting "Any" or "Open" to look better or increase your chances?

In most jobs, you're applying for a specific position that's available and looking to be filled. If we have positions that fit those criteria, it would behoove the potential job seeker to learn this well before coming to see me, and learning all you can about it. If -I- have to explain things, I'm going to have a dim view on your capacity to do the homework yourself. Since our training requires plenty of self-study to learn the menu, among other things, you can see how that might sink you right out of the gate.


This one is somewhat of a no-brainer, but I point it out if only because I personally know a few friends who didn't do this part of the homework or misinterpreted it and it cost them. There are some places that don't conduct their interviews in-house and will require you to go somewhere else to do so. It's important to know where you're interviewing and how to get there well in advance, because more than one person I know missed out because they got lost or underestimated traffic patterns. I've been late for functions because of this myself. If you need to, go to where you need to go once or twice so that you know everything about how to get there. How long it takes, traffic patterns, how to get home, and so forth.

The "when" follows this as well, but in my specific case there is one additional point, also made in the last entry. As stated, I do interviews between 2:00 to 4:00, but what that actually translates to is that I take people in the line as early as whenever they show up, but don't actually start interviewing until at least 2:00 (I admit, I like to ice people and wait until 2:05 or 2:10 while I get my own head together), and as long as you're there before 4:00 you can get in line. Only once did we completely stop interviewing at 4:00, and that's because there were still fifteen people waiting at that time so my general manager told them all to come back next week.

What should you derive from that paragraph? Two key things: it's better to show up early, and while you can show up at 3:55 and get interviewed you run the risk of having wasted your time if you cut it that close.

Also, going back to the last entry again, notice that I intimated that you had a better chance of getting hired if you came five minutes early as opposed to five minutes before I was supposed to be done and going home. This is not just managers liking people who show up early, but a combination of a simple theory and cynicism. The latter is simply that by 3:55, the chances that I might be burned out for the day and looking forward to going home and doing other things are exponentially higher than they would be at 1:55. The former is simply that by 3:55, the chances that I might have found someone awesome enough to fill whatever position you're applying for are exponentially higher than they would be at 1:55. Neither of these are completely true: I never reject someone solely because they showed up late and necessitated that I stay an extra few minutes, and I'll refer anybody who's good enough simply because it'll give the managers more to work with. However, they are both products of human nature, and just because I copped to it doesn't mean I don't do it on occasion. There are people who do what I just described, and worse, on a daily basis, and don't see anything wrong with it. Don't give them the opportunity.


No, seriously, why? Do you want to work for the company? Is it your dream? Do you just want money for college? Is your dad making you do it? Once you figure it out, you need to know two things. One, you need to know how to phrase it properly. Two, and even more importantly, is that no matter what you say, -the truth will show to the "perceptive"-.

That last statement requires two explanations. When I say that the truth will show to the perceptive, that means that you could tell a perceptive interviewer all about how you're a team player and looking to help the company grow, and all the other so-called right things to say. If your real reason for applying is that you just want money and will think nothing of 0taking a better offer from a competitor, then a perceptive interviewer will pick up on that, whether it be from your tone of voice, emphasis on the wrong words, or even non-verbal clues. I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me how happy they'd be to work in my restaurant in such a disinterested voice that I figured they'd be happier getting multiple tetanus shots. It's one thing to have a good reason but try to phrase it in proper "corporate speak", but it's a whole other to use "corporate speak" to try and cover up the fact that you don't -really- want to work in the restaurant but everywhere else turned you away. The bigger the lie, the higher the chance you'll get caught in it, and if you get a poker-faced interviewer you probably won't even know it.

The second explanation is why I put "perceptive" in quotes, and that's because some interviewers focus more on seeing what they want or what they don't want. For instance, I had never cared that much about what people wore to interviews as long as it looked presentable until I had a manager who would shoot people down for coming in shorts and flip-flops. He didn't want that, so he always looked for it even when, in my opinion, he missed some fantastic signs. That same manager also was bamboozled by someone who displayed so many traits that he found acceptable that he openly stated that he was going to make him a manager within six months, only to find out that he had missed a few basic but very heavy signs that another manager discovered: he had problems working as part of a team, left his last two jobs due to "personal reasons" that were actually heated conflicts with management, and would only come to interview and train when it suited him. Not to sound overly cynical, but in my two years of interviewing I've reported to eleven different managers (yep, we've had some extremely high turnover) and only three have had criteria for hiring that genuinely didn't seem to be tainted by their own perceptions. As in, only three of them would hire based on needs and compatibility and relatively free of their own personal likes and dislikes. Sadly, one of them had unrealistically high expectations that ruled out pretty much anybody that didn't have completely open availability and the right blend of experience, and another just took everybody out of desperation regardless of what anyone more experienced had to say.

Now that I've covered all that, you're probably wondering what I meant by "knowing how to phrase it properly". Oddly enough, this is pretty common sense. Just tell the truth, keep it free of vernacular grammar, and paint the proper picture, Your interviewer should be able to gather your reason from what you have to say, which is why I again caution the overuse of "corporate speak". Using big words and jargon doesn't make you sound intelligent if you don't normally talk that way, and I know from personal experience that even if you do it won't always be well received. It's better to relate and be related to, as opposed to impress, especially when you're interviewing for a team position. Even if a team needed a diva, they've probably already found several long before you, so they don't need another one potentially wrecking the chemistry.

So there are your five W's. We'll go into the "How" next time, when I feel like it. Or something like that.


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May 2012

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