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What do interviewers dislike most about candidates?

18 February 2015

Whatever your area of expertise, when it comes to job applications and interviews, it seems some ‘pet hates’ are universal. Whether it’s a stock CV phrase (a personal "unfavourite" of mine!) or an interview bugbear, most hiring managers know exactly what they like and what they don’t like.

A recent survey of over 300 recruiters attempted to identify their biggest recruitment turn-offs and exactly what they’re looking out for when considering a candidate. Is poor spelling and grammar and a weak handshake really the recipe for candidate rejection? Read on....

1. Bad presentation

Aside from the obvious (i.e. qualifications and previous experience), most recruiters indicated that presentation should take precedence. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed selected a logical order for presentation as the most important thing to consider on a CV.

Good formatting was also underlined by most hiring managers as pre-requisites, suggesting that even the best-written CV can be let down by poor presentation.

And if you’re wondering how long is too long, an overwhelming 91% of recruiters see a word document of two to three pages as the right way to go. Although obviously, it’s what you do with it that counts…Not sure I agree with that one as a CV is a candidate’s advertisement for themselves. Also, they could miss out the very thing that would get them an interview.

PDF CVs are a real pain, I agree. As a recruiter we can do nothing with them. We need to be able to remove personal information and add file notes before sending to a client. Can’t do that with a PDF. The result, in our case, is that the CV has to be truly outstanding to make it worth our while converting it back to a Word document through expensive Adobe software. I suspect that in many cases recruitment companies will simply delete PDF CVs.

2. Poor spelling and grammar

Over 50% of recruiters highlighted poor spelling and grammar as their number one application turn-off. These are common bugbears for recruiters as not only do they demonstrate a lack of time and effort spent re-reading a CV, they’re also relatively easily fixed. In comparison, only one in four of those surveyed stated that an obvious lack of qualifications specific to the role was their main CV gripe. If a recruiter is very specific  in the advertisement regarding qualifications and experience then an unsuitable CV should get very short shrift. No excuse. It says that the applicant is simply applying for anything and everything in their geographical area. Throw enough brown stuff and some just might stick…

3. ‘Socialising with friends’

For many hiring managers, there’s nothing worse than a generic CV. With that in mind, one in three recruiters stated that their biggest pet-hate phrase is ‘I enjoy socialising with friends’. This was closely followed by the similarly stock-statement ‘Good team player/good working in a team or as an individual’, with 28% of hiring managers surveyed identifying it as their own pet-peeve phrase. It’s lazy and shows a lack of imagination.

4. Arriving late

42% of recruiters highlighted arriving late as their number one interview irritation.

Although it can’t always be helped, candidates arriving late can start their interview on the wrong foot and one in five hiring managers indicated experiencing this at some point during their career. For many, it’s those candidates nonchalantly arriving late without an apology which really gets their goat. Interviewees who have the courtesy to call ahead could just set themselves apart.

Aside from tardiness, an obvious lack of preparation for the interview came in second place, with one in four voting it their biggest interview faux-pas. Naughty, but sometimes a call ahead warning that you might be late when you are actually standing outside the building – then turning up on time, can be a useful applicant tactic but I couldn’t possibly condone it!

5. Weak handshake

Finally, the importance placed on positive body language and a good handshake should never be overlooked. They may seem like old-fashioned ideas but, for many recruiters, the right body language still rings true and sends out a positive message about an interviewee. It is important to remember, especially when being interviewed by a manager who is not used to interviewing, that they are as nervous as the candidate. They want the candidate to do well. It makes their life easier and validates their decision to include the person on the interview list.

Most employers will employ the person they like best. If they happen to be as well or better suited than the others that’s a bonus. But, you can bet your life that an applicant who isn’t liked will rarely get the job.


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