Procrastination in a Job Interview

A number of years ago a man came to me for interview guidance. We knew his cover letter and resume were fine because he was averaging two interviews a week. But hard as he tried, he could not close the deal. He received no job offers.

My rules are simple: If you are not getting interviews the problem is either with your cover letter, resume or both. And you will never know which. No one is going to call and tell you why they are not calling you! If however, you are getting interviews, but no offers, then the problem is clearly with your interviewing skills. (For those of you who prefer, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…)

Some people will rightly point out that people are rejected not because they do not interview well but for any of a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons. But two interviews a week and no offers? Sorry, it’s your interviewing.

Another gentleman had come to me after getting his first interview. He had been laid off after 20 years with the same company. He was perplexed. After all, he had not been interviewed for two decades! But his daughter had. A year earlier she had graduated. In preparation for her job search, she had purchased a number of books. He took them and made a list of all the questions that the “experts” said he could be asked. When he came to my office he had a list of 75 questions, or maybe it was 100! In any event, he had written down answers to each and every one. But at the actual interview, not a single one of the “experts’ ” questions was asked.

The truth of the matter is, the only questions a candidate knows for certain they are going to be asked are those directly related to the job description. Yes, there will be surprise questions. But by their very nature, you can’t know in advance what they will be – that’s why they are surprise questions.

Nevertheless, there are some standard questions that can be anticipated. When the first person I referenced came to me, we sat for two hours doing mock interviews based on the job descriptions he had brought with him. They were all for jobs for which he had interviewed.

He confirmed that the questions I was asking were, in fact, the questions he had been asked. I could find nothing wrong with his answers. The man was professional, articulate, knowledgeable and engaging. It made no sense to me why he was not getting any offers.

So, frustrated, I said, “Let’s go through the standards!”

The first question I asked was, “What is your greatest weakness?” He smiled and said he was always asked that one.

His answer: “I procrastinate.”

I asked him if he said anything else. He said, “Nope, just that I procrastinate.”

“And why,” I asked, “do you think someone would make you a job offer if you announce that you are a procrastinator, period, end of sentence, end of interview?”

I then asked him what he did about his procrastination. He said, “It’s silly.” I told him I did not care. He explained that he likes Snickers bars and whenever he finishes a project early he buys one.

I explained two things to him: First, you never end an answer on a negative note. You can’t get much more negative than admitting you are a procrastinator. Second, it is not what you say that counts, it’s what the interviewers hear. In this case, it was what they did not hear. They did not hear that he had a solution to the problem. And, no, it was not silly. It was effective. It worked. Not silly; good!

Next interview, when he was asked about weaknesses, he again said he was a procrastinator but, he added, that in order to overcome his procrastination he buys himself a Snickers bar whenever he finishes a project early. And, given that he was not overweight, he added, as we had discussed, that he now finishes all of his projects either early or on time, on or under budget, and exercises to “pay” for the Snickers bars.

That was the last time he called me. He got the offer and accepted it. He credited my advice. Now I am not opposed to accepting a compliment or credit but, as I told him, there can be a hundred reasons why a person does not get the offer, and a similar number as to why they do get the offer. But if you leave your interviewers believing that you know you have a problem but don’t do anything about it, that will be the reason why you do not get the offer.

Now go have a Snickers bar!