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If you really want the job, read this

September 14, 2006 10:14 IST

Imagine Michael Kalinsky's reaction when he received a resume with the word 'seduction' in the job applicant's e-mail address. "This was an experienced candidate who should have known better," says Kalinsky, president of Empyrean Management Group, a management consulting company focused on recruiting, training, and human resources services.

Unfortunately, this unprofessional behavior isn't an anomaly. Kalinsky and members of his team have received so much correspondence from candidates with overly personal e-mail addresses that they have compiled a best-of-the-worst list for their training classes.

Inappropriate e-mail addresses are just the beginning. Recruiters see all kinds of interview mistakes, some bordering on the shocking, such as bringing family members along, badmouthing former employers, dumping their personal belongings on hiring managers' desks.

The more common mistakes may be subtler, but they can torpedo a job interview almost as quickly.

Take a hint

Usually it's a matter of striking the right tone. Selling yourself is clearly the mission of the interview process. How hard to sell is not quite so clear. Being overly aggressive during any part of the interview process may hurt a candidate's chances.

As manager of human resources for Winston Flowers in Boston, Kiersten Peterson deals with situations like these all the time. Just last week she received a fourth e-mail from an overqualified candidate.

This time, the applicant expressed confusion over seeing an ad for the job he was interested in. He had assumed it was filled since he didn't get a call. "If somebody doesn't get back to you, take it as a hint to focus your attention elsewhere in the job search," Peterson says.

Finding the right level of persistence and preparation is also a challenge. For example, arriving at an interview 10 to 15 minutes early will show punctuality, but showing up any earlier than that will only annoy a recruiter.

Similarly, using memorized answers to questions makes a job-seeker sound unnatural, but having specific examples in mind when answering questions or asking thought-provoking questions to an interviewer will show preparation.

Weakest link

Dodging difficult but run of the mill questions is another common mistake candidates make. Recruiters routinely ask job seekers about their weaknesses, which most candidates don't want to acknowledge. Instead of saying, "I don't have any weakness," or the ever-popular, "I'm a perfectionist," careers experts advise interviewees to identify a real weakness and offer a plan for addressing it.

"You could say, 'Sometimes I'm not assertive enough, but I plan to take a course,' or 'I plan to be conscious of it,'" says Ciara Truglia, human resources manager for Nexion Health Management in Eldersburg, Md. "You don't want to come off as covering [something] up."

Too much information is an increasingly common job-search hazard. The Internet makes it possible for hiring managers to find out things about candidates that might not have surfaced in the interview. With the click of a mouse, recruiters can find information that compromises the candidate, like a risqué profile page on a social networking site or a scandalous news item from a college paper.

Keeping a secret

"You can pull up somebody's name and if [it says on] the college fraternity's Web site [that he] won the tequila-drinking contest and he wasn't seen or heard from in three days, that's not the kind of publicity a candidate will want," says Kim Silvers, president of Silvers HR Management in Sacramento, Calif.

In fact, Internet searching has become so popular that AfterCollege, an online recruiting and career network, is publishing a survey on the subject next month. Questions for employers will focus on what type of behavior is questionable and whether they have used social networking profiles or personal pages during recruiting.

Students will be surveyed to see if they have ever been snubbed by a company because of an online profile or whether they are careful about what information they post, says Robert Angulo, president of AfterCollege.

Julie Gordon, BusinessWeek