August 1, 2006
Wall Street Journal Page B1
One afternoon in February 2003, Gateway Chief Executive Ted Waitt was supposed to interview a promising
candidate for the top human-resources spot at the struggling personal-computer maker. But an intense session
with his senior lieutenants lasted 30 minutes longer than expected.
Moments before Mr. Waitt emerged from his meeting, the contender walked out and took a company-provided limousine home. She felt annoyed "because she was kept waiting for Ted," says John Heubusch, Mr. Waitt's former chief of staff. "I remember being really shocked."
Most job applicants realize they should avoid such blatantly rude conduct during job searches. They treat support staff well, never slurp their soup and send thank-you notes promptly. But applicants often exhibit subtler forms of poor manners -- to their detriment.
"An overblown sense of entitlement can lead to a variety of candidate misbehaviors that will kill your chances," warns Mark Jaffe, president of Minneapolis recruiters Wyatt & Jaffe, which handled the Gateway assignment. His solution? "Always act like a guest."
Let's construct a job-hunt scenario to see how inadvertent impoliteness can derail you: Your demeanor comes under scrutiny the moment you arrive at a search firm. "We are building a picture of you piece by piece,'' explains Dora Vell, managing partner of Vell & Associates, high-tech recruiters in Waltham, Mass.
The receptionist notices whether you read your National Enquirer rather than her employer's annual report. She may also keep tabs on your hygiene habits. Ms. Vell once worked for a small Boston search firm where the receptionist alerted partners if candidates using the guest bathroom failed to wash their hands. (She could hear the faucet.)
Escorted to a partner's office doorway, you march right in -- even though he's engrossed in a confidential call. Bad idea. Wait outside until he finishes.
You chat briefly, repeatedly peeking at your BlackBerry. Another dumb move. Twice in the past six months, aspiring vice presidents have pulled out these e-mail devices during interviews with Dean Bare, a managing partner of recruiters Stanton Chase International in Atlanta. "It's time to turn that off," he sternly told them. "I wouldn't want to recommend anyone that insensitive and lacking in social graces,'' Mr. Bare adds. To appear more considerate, inform the recruiter upfront that work crises require frequent email checks.
He next suggests taking your car to a restaurant for lunch because yours is parked nearby. There is a hidden motive: "Assume you're being judged by how you drive," cautions Jane Howze, a managing director at the Alexander Group, a Houston search firm, who says driving habits are a good measure of character.
A job seeker keen to become a partner at a management consultancy hit a vehicle during one such trip with Mr. Bare. The collision crumpled the prospect's car hood. "It clearly was his fault,'' the recruiter recalls. But the man blamed the other driver.