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By Karen Debus, PHR

That’s what every applicant would benefit from knowing about the Human Resources Manager who is interviewing them. It doesn’t take long for an H.R. Manager to form an opinion. Statistics vary, but the general consensus is that it only takes a few minutes for an interviewer to form an opinion about a candidate and the rest of the time is spent justifying the decision. If you think that is being judgmental, you are absolutely right. Human Resources Managers receive hundreds of phone calls, applications, and resumes each week. They have to be able to assess someone’s knowledge, skills, and a multitude of additional characteristics very, very quickly. That’s what they do and some do it well, so make sure that you are on top of your game and don’t leave any room for error. Don’t give them the opportunity to put you on the “What Not To Do During An Interview” list because it’s more like an “I Can’t Believe He Just Said That” list.

It’s not just the interview that counts either. It’s the words you choose in the phone message you leave, your handwriting on the application you fill out, the clothes you wear, your speech, your smell, your attitude, what your references say about you and your follow-up. That’s just a general list. If you’re applying for a government position, the investigation about you can be intensified ten-fold.

So, you may be thinking, I know I’m supposed to act professionally and dress presentably, blah, blah, blah. But, are you aware of how much impact negative actions count against you? You are being compared to a larger pool of candidates and subsequently scrutinized more than ever. If you’re one step behind your competition, you’ve already lost. Here’s where it would help to have an H.R. friend – someone to give you the inside scoop about what an H.R. person is looking for in the candidate selection process. Here are some examples of what this H.R. Manager has experienced that made the hiring process more challenging:

  • An applicant whose handwriting was so illegible, I could not call to schedule an interview, send an email, or a letter.
  • An applicant whose email address was something similar to sexyhotchick plus some numbers at
  • Having to listen to an outgoing message on an applicant’s voicemail that was two minutes and three seconds of a vulgar rap song and no actual message. By the way, it only takes five seconds to leave an outgoing message.
  • An applicant who lifted up his shirt to show me his gunshot wound.
  • An applicant who said that if asked, his teachers would say the following about him: “One would say ‘he’s a waste of talent’” (ok, maybe he has some potential?) “and the other would say ‘he’s downright lazy’” (nope).
  • An employment inquiry email from “babyamber” in which there were 17 grammatical errors in only seven sentences.
  • Being told way too much about someone’s marital woes and medical history (true H.R. professionals won’t dare ask).
  • A seven page resume. (Please don’t make it difficult for me to hire you!)

If you want the competitive edge, the most important pieces of advice are to be prepared, be respectful, and never let your guard down. A good interviewer will make you feel relaxed, but don’t let yourself slip into friend mode. That person is not your friend yet; he or she is your potential employer. If you have any reservations about your interviewing abilities, get some advice from a hiring manager, talk to a job coach, or search the Internet for information on how to slam dunk getting a job. At a minimum, consider the following suggestions: They are the most easily forgotten and disregarded.

  • Don’t leave too many messages and become a nuisance.
  • Be cautious of your tone; the slightest change may come across as sarcastic or condescending.
  • All correspondence should be written professionally and grammatically correct, never like a text or instant message.
  • Physical hygiene is one of the most instantly noticeable expressions of your character. Don’t smoke or eat garlic before an interview. Body odors including too much cologne can be offensive. Make sure your hair including goatees and beards are clean, neat, and trimmed.
  • It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed even if you’re better dressed than the interviewer. This holds true for jobs that only require casual attire as well. Never wear sweats, short, tennis shoes, or flip flops to an interview – you’d be surprised how many people do.
  • Posture is important. Sit up straight and make eye contact. Both signify confidence and respect.
  • Fill out your application entirely and legibly. Never write “see resume” on the application. All resumes are written in different styles and formats; it’s not easy to extract bits and pieces from each person’s. The signed application is considered the employer’s legal document.
  • Ask your references for permission to use them. Ask what they will say about you including how they will answer questions regarding your weaknesses or areas for improvement. Give them a heads-up if a long time has passed since you’ve spoken to them.
  • It’s o.k. to ask the interviewer if your qualifications are acceptable. Be careful not to come across as pressuring. “How well do you feel that my experience and qualifications meet your current needs” is a good way of finding out where you stand.
  • Thank the interviewer. A short email or note will send a positive message.
  • If you’re not chosen for a position, but are fortunate enough to have a follow up conversation with the interviewer, ask if they would feel comfortable divulging the areas where your qualifications did not meet their needs. They might share information that will be helpful to you in future interviews.

H.R. Managers want to make the best possible decisions they can because each hire is a reflection on them. If you know what they’re thinking, you will be able to act accordingly. Sometimes hiring is more about who you are and how you act than what you know technically. Don’t give them an opportunity to discount you.

Karen Debus is the Human Resources Manager for Valley View Farms, a large independent garden center/ nursery/Christmas shop in Baltimore, Maryland. Over her 22 year career in staffing and employment, she has interviewed thousands of candidates and reviewed even more resumes. Karen reviews and writes resumes as a part-time business as well. She attended Towson University and the College of Notre Dame and is certified as a Professional in Human Resources.