What to Avoid Highlighting in a Job Interview

June 29, 2010 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

In job hunting as in life, it’s best to be honest and never to tell an overt lie. One’s resume, cover letter and other materials should be fact-checked for accuracy, and in interviews, candidates should stick to the facts as well.

Yet honesty doesn’t mean you have to advertise things about your background — especially things that wouldn’t affect your performance in a job but which, if you highlight them, might likely end (or certainly complicate) your candidacy for a position. The reality is that recruiters and hiring managers all have their own biases, even if they are trying to be objective about candidates, and by advertising certain things about yourself you may trigger such a bias.

If asked a direct (and legally permissible) question, you should answer to the best of your ability — it’s never a good idea to try to “trick” a hiring manager, as the truth is likely to come out in other ways and then they will question your honesty. And why take a job for which you have to lie about your qualifications? But at the same time, if something may be a prejudice on the hiring editor’s part — not wanting to hire “older” workers, for instance — why highlight parts of your background that may play into that bias? Some of this may get into ethically gray areas, and each job candidate will have to figure out their comfort zone for such things. The point is not to highlight certain things in an interview while staying on the good side of the truth.

Here are some things that hiring experts say candidates should avoid highlighting in a job interview:

*Personal facts that are not relevant to the job. For instance, your age or references to your age, or when you went to college, etc., if you are worried about age discrimination or simply bias against older workers that a hiring manager might have, thinking workers of a certain age could be “out of gas” or “not adept at dealing with new technology.” This bias is often very real and there’s no reason to play into it. Also, you might avoid references to where you’re from, especially if you sense that could trigger some bias from the hiring manager (though if you have a foreign accent or were born in another country and you worry that they could think you’re not legally able to work in the United States — or would need the company’s support to stay in the United States, a situation in which organizations are increasingly reluctant to enter — you may mention your status here if you think it will reassure them). Also, younger women — unless it’s relevant for some reason, and it rarely is — should avoid mentioning if they are married as some hiring managers may wonder, though they’re unlikely to say this aloud (as it’s discriminatory) if you’re “likely to start a family” any time soon. The problem is that if you trigger certain worries on their part you’ll never know whether you didn’t get a job because of their bias, or because another candidate was better qualified. So it’s just better not to mention personal details that aren’t relevant to the position.

*Uncertainty about your career path going forward or how you might fit into this company. Never ask a hiring manager, for instance, what they think would be a good position for you at the company, or whether they think you’d be a good fit. You want to project confidence about your abilities and appear focused. Job seekers should do enough research about an organization to determine whether it’s a good fit for them, and then should pitch their skills accordingly. If they ask what positions you favor, describe your skills and make the best educated guess you can. Showing any lack of direction about your career isn’t a great idea — even if you do have some uncertainty about where you’re headed next, it’s not a good idea to bring that up in a job interview.

*Medical information. Sometimes when candidates have recently had cancer or another serious illness, they feel morally obligated to let a potential employer know this. If you’re healthy now and able to handle the duties of the job being discussed, there is absolutely no good reason to share medical information with a hiring manager. Believe me, bias about medical conditions is real and could be a big impediment to getting a job. It’s really none of their business. Some situations are trickier: If you’re pregnant (and not yet showing so it’s not obvious) or are in the process of adopting a baby, you’ll want to think hard about letting the hiring manager know this if you’re a finalist for a position. If you tell them, you may not get the job as what employer would be excited about hiring someone who will likely go on leave soon (and with the Family Leave Act, they would be legally required to grant unpaid leave)? Yet if you don’t tell them and they hire you, this could complicate your relationship with the company going forward and they may be unlikely to promote you in the future. Also, leave out medical information about family members — again, it’s none of their business.

*Dwelling on the reasons you left your most recent job. If asked if you were laid off or took a buyout from a previous employer, you’ll obviously want to answer honestly. But there’s no reason to go into great detail about why it happened, which might make you appear defensive. Explain the basic details — for instance, if there was a reorganization, your company was sold, or they were offering voluntary buyouts and you were eligible. You might try to spin it a bit — saying this gave you a chance to redirect your career. But don’t bring it up unless they do and don’t dwell on it. And never say anything negative about the former organization or people there, even if you still feel the sting of a recent layoff, for instance. You don’t want the hiring manager to think you could be a “problem” employee going forward and speaking ill of a previous employer could make them wonder just that.

*Though I realize this will be cold comfort to some job seekers, the D.C. area remains the best place in the nation to be job hunting, according to the job search engine, Juju.com; this is based on real government data and tracks with other surveys I’ve seen recently. Apparently, the breadth of organizations that are hiring — government agencies, associations, non-profits and companies — puts D.C. in the No. 1 spot. Just be happy you’re not looking in St. Louis:

Please find below the June 2010 Job Search Difficulty Index for major US cities ranked by Juju.com, a  job search engine. The US States Index measures the difficulty of finding employment in each state around the country. It was calculated by dividing the number of unemployed workers in each state, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by the number of jobs in Juju’s comprehensive index of millions of online jobs in the United States, which is compiled and updated continuously from thousands of employer career portals, recruiter websites, and job boards all over the Internet.

Washington, D.C., ranks as the least difficult city once again, with San Jose, CA., falling into the runner-up spot once again. Holding steady at number 50 is the city of St. Louis.

Job Search Difficulty (Least -> Most) Metro Change Since Last Ranking Unemployed Individuals Per Advertised Job
1 Washington, DC 0 1.28
2 San Jose, CA 0 1.64
3 New York, NY 0 1.76
4 Baltimore, MD 0 1.78
5 Hartford, CT 2 2.27
6 Oklahoma City, OK -1 2.46
7 Boston, MA 2 2.75
8 Salt Lake City, UT 0 2.80
9 San Antonio, TX -3 2.84
10 Denver, CO 1 2.85
11 Austin, TX -1 2.90
12 Seattle, WA 1 2.99
13 Philadelphia, PA 2 3.21
14 Richmond, VA 9 3.25
15 Indianapolis, IN -1 3.40
16 Milwaukee, WI 3 3.41
17 Kansas City, MO -1 3.41
18 Cleveland, OH 3 3.48
19 Dallas, TX -7 3.50
20 Pittsburgh, PA 0 3.51
21 St. Paul, MN 3 3.60
22 Virginia Beach, VA 4 3.65
23 Charlotte, NC 5 3.77
24 New Orleans, LA -6 3.81
25 San Francisco, CA -8 3.83
26 Tampa, FL 7 3.92
27 Nashville, TN -5 3.94
28 Atlanta, GA -3 4.20
29 Phoenix, AZ 5 4.31
30 Buffalo, NY -3 4.42
31 Houston, TX -2 4.43
32 Columbus, OH -1 4.44
33 Rochester, NY -3 4.60
34 Jacksonville, FL 3 4.81
35 San Diego, CA -3 4.81
36 Louisville, KY -1 4.82
37 Orlando, FL 4 4.96
38 Cincinnati, OH 1 5.28
39 Birmingham, AL 3 5.50
40 Chicago, IL -4 5.66
41 Providence, RI -3 5.69
42 Memphis, TN -2 5.90
43 Portland, OR 1 6.06
44 Sacramento, CA -1 6.81
45 Los Angeles, CA 0 7.54
46 Riverside, CA 0 8.58
47 Las Vegas, NV 0 9.14
48 Miami, FL 0 9.73
49 Detroit, MI 0 11.81
50 St. Louis, MO 0 12.02

*Meanwhile, according to dcrtv.com, there are some changes in the local radio world that may lead to some openings:

Radio One Looks To Re-Staff MMJ – 6/26 – It looks like Radio One, which jettisoned the local air staff
>of adult urban contemporary WMMJ, Majic 102.3, on Wednesday, is looking for three
>new personalities. Check out these “employment opportunities” at Radio-One.com…..
>Confirmed: Erica Hilary Leaving 107.3 – 6/26 – DCRTV gets confirmation on our earlier exclusive report that traffic, news, and lifestyle reporter Erica Hilary has given her notice and will soon be
>off WRQX, Mix 107.3’s Jack Diamond morning show. And that the Citadel station is
>seeking her replacement. Hilary is a longtime DC radio personality, having once
>hosted the “Girl Talk” show on WASH and the now-defunct Z104…..

*And here are some leads to peruse, pursue or pass along:

*SOS International in Reston is seeking a proposal coordinator/editor:
Proposal Coordinator/Editor
SOS International, Ltd. – Reston, VA
Proposal Coordinator/Editor Job Category Business… seeking a Proposal Coordinator/Editor to effectively manage communications, document management and…
From BusinessWorkforce.com

*The Catholic University of America in D.C. has two openings in its Office of Public Affairs — one for a managing editor and another for a senior writer/editor:


*U.S. News and World Report in D.C. appears to be doing some fill-in hiring after some recent layoffs, and is looking for a politics and policy reporter:

Politics & Policy reporter:

Responsibilities: The ideal candidate will be detail-oriented, able to manage numerous tasks and projects, and have creative flair and initiative. The Politics & Policy reporter will cover major legislation as it moves through Congress. He or she will produce longer more research based and enterprise projects. Experience covering politics and Congress, and knowledge of all of the major players is a must along with a strong familiarity with the Web. The reporter will contribute to multiple mediums and therefore must have a firm grasp of how to best produce content for the Web and print. Requirements: Superior writing, reporting, and editing skills with meticulous attention to detail. Online research skills. Experience covering Congress for a major publication Ability to multi-task Familiarity with writing for multiple mediums including short pieces for the web or longer, more analytical articles Experience with database work Strong knowledge of money and politics Experience level: 2-3 years experience with a major news outlet

Education level: bachelor’s degree Resumes: editorialjobs@usnews.com EOE – M/F/V/D

*This could be a good position for someone just starting out who wants to learn about how congressional offices deal with the press — House Majority Leader Hoyer’s office is looking for a press assistant/researcher:

The Office of the House Majority Leader is seeking a Press Assistant/Researcher to join an aggressive communications team. Candidates for this mid-level position must possess particularly strong research and writing skills, and be able to generate creative ideas. Must be a team player with working knowledge of the press and political know-how. Website management and Hill or campaign experience a plus. Attention to detail, willingness to take initiative, and ability to work under deadline pressure a must. Email cover letter and resume to resume.inbox4@mail.house.gov.

*And last but not least today, a soon-to-be-formed multimedia “magazine,” the Nation’s Pulse, is forming and looking for editorial talent:


“The voice of the voter”

Is looking for

Staff  writers, —



Web developers,

Staff writers,

Senior publisher,

Managing editor

Social Media Manager

We will award $ 1000.00 in prizes to those candidates we choose —  whose work, articles, and  mock-up ideas  are creative and  take a firm stand,  reaching out to be challenged.  All submissions should be sent to me along with resume and salary expectations.

Ben@sheppardconsulting.com | www.sheppardconsulting.com

Happy hunting!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

How to Handle Difficult People — Even if They Are Your Boss or the Recruiter Secrets to Figuring out the Corporate Culture

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