Category Archives: Avoid Sychophantic Behavior in Interviews

Follow-Up to Post on Marc Cenedella’s “Proven Question for Getting the Job”

Admittedly, I hurried my previous post without offering more helpful suggestions. I will try to rectify that here.

I read Marc Cenedella’s blog often as he offers some fresh perspectives and ideas on employment issues from which everyone can benefit. I am a fan; I just think that his “proven question for getting the job” is all wrong for the reasons I stated in my previous post.

In my workshops, seminars, and books, I advocate a forward-leaning perspective when it comes to cover letters and job interviews. Essentially, you have to imagine you are in business for yourself in your approach to your self-promotion efforts for any job. Your accomplishments and achievements (especially if they are supported by quantitative data–revenues generated, costs avoided, revenues recovered, percent improvement, percent growth, etc.) will speak louder than any type of suck-up question you can toss in front of a hiring manager.

To the point, I once interviewed an individual whose response to the question: “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” was this: “I want to help you get your boss’s job so I can have yours.” Ambitious? Maybe. Ambitious, presumptuous suck-up? Definitely. Needless to say, he didn’t get a job offer. He’s probably in Congress now.

You should realize that one of the first and biggest hurdles you have to get over in the interview process is coming off as a likeable person.

In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, researchers discovered a strong correlation between initial impressions of interviewers and their evaluations of candidate responses to structured interview questions. The initial impressions corresponded with candidate extroversion and verbal skills, with job qualifications being equal.[1] In other words, favorable first impressions created by candidates during the rapport-building stage of job interviews (that is, small talk) influenced interviewers’ subsequent evaluations.

All skills, knowledge, and experience being equal among candidates, most hiring managers will hire the candidate that makes a memorable impression on a professional and personal level. In other words, if you present yourself as a likeable person during the interview, people tend to be more interested in what you have to offer in the way of skills, knowledge, experience, and accomplishments. All of that, when clearly articulated, automatically answers the question in the hiring manager’s mind: “How can this individual help the team, the business unit, the company achieve its goals?”

However, if you do not connect on a personal level—regardless of your skill set—it will be more difficult to get an offer from a hiring manager. Someone once told me “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” While that may be true, it’s also a fact that squeaky wheels who often need grease (personal attention) can be high-maintenance employees and upset an established working team dynamic. Creating rapport and a positive connection is what opens doors for others to see and hear to what you have to offer. If there is no connection, it is likely your job hunt will continue–regardless of how many gold stars you can promise.

[1] Barrick, et al. (2012) “Candidate characteristics driving initial impressions during rapport building: implications for employment interview validity”. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 82 No. 2 pp. 330-352.

Marc Cenedella’s “Proven Question for Getting the Job” Doesn’t

New York City start-up founder and career advisor Marc Cenedella (he is CEO of TheLADDERS) posted on his July 9 2012 blog (  his “Proven Question for Getting the Job”:

Over the past decade, I’ve tried a lot of different thoughts, tricks and tips for getting you the job. But the one which I’ve found has been the most consistently successful for people is to ask their future or prospective bosses:

“How do I help you get a gold star on your review next year?”

With all due respect to Marc, I think he’s in the ballpark with the idea, but that question is out in left field from the hiring manager’s perspective. And “consistently successful”? I doubt it, unless someone is interviewing to be someone’s lackey.

Think about this: what do hiring managers really need? A butt-kissing sychophant or someone who will be the value-add solutions provider, game change, and problem solver who can make a difference for team, the project, the business unit–ultimately, the bottom line?

If someone made that “gold-star” pitch to me in an interview, there’s no way they’d get to the next level of consideration for the job. Such a statement suggests (or reveals) that this candidate has a short-term goal mindset, a calculated strategy of personal quid pro quo (“I’ll help you if you help me”) rather than one that supports the goals of the organization. Sorry, there’s just no room for obsequious sychophants on the hiring manager’s short list.

For anyone who remembers the early 1980s movie The Road Warrior (with Mel Gibson), one of the leading antagonists was a huge character named “Humongus.” One of his sidekicks always referred to him as “the warrior of the wasteland; the ayatollah of rock-and-rolla.” The other leading antagonist was a mohawk-wearing character named “Wez.” The sidekick referred to him as “almighty Wez.” This sidekick was appropriately named, “Toady.”

I just would never hire a toady.