Interview Prep: Trying To Put Lipstick on A Pig?

As a recruiter, if you really want to make an average candidate look superior to others, you can do so by giving them exact detailed instructions on what to say, how to act, and what to do in an interview. But in doing so, you are conducting risky business.

All too often, the candidate who interviews the best will end up getting the offer. Unfortunately, this means candidates who are better fits will be turned down. It’s good to educate your candidates about the situation as much as possible, but it can turn into a problem when the interview prep you provide gives your candidates an unfair competitive advantage or makes the candidates appear better than what they really are.

Let’s say you set up three candidates to interview with your client/hiring manager. The first two candidates interview and your client/hiring manager passes on them for whatever reason. You still debrief the first two candidates after each of their interviews.

You ask them for detailed information about how the interview went and use this information to give the third candidate a unique edge or to try to compensate for any weaknesses.

I once had a client who asked each of the candidates I recruited the same question, “How can you get exactly four gallons of water using only a five-gallon jug and a three-gallon jug to measure?”

I don’t believe the interviewer was expecting an answer; instead, he wanted to see the response to this difficult question. If the candidates were prepared, the interviewer would not have been able to evaluate the candidates for who they really are.

Even worse, could you imagine if the candidate said, “The person who recruited me told me that you would ask this question.”

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Sometimes we come up with a candidate who looks good on paper, but once you meet or talk to the person you find out they have weak communication skills. If communication skills are a critical component of what this person will need to bring to the table, you may be able to give specific advice on how to win the interviewer over.

Even if you are successful at this, the problem is, the client/hiring manager may not be getting what they signed up for. You may even be affecting the candidate’s career by recruiting them into a position that they are not suited for.

If the candidate doesn’t have the right skills, accept it and find out what the individual is doing to improve. Perhaps the person is in Toastmasters or is taking courses on the subject. Then, if you feel comfortable and decide to proceed with the candidate in the hiring process anyhow, don’t try to coach them on what to say in the interview to compensate for their weakness. Share your concern with the hiring manager, but let them know the candidate is motivated and has shown the initiative to improve.

Here are some of the things I share with candidates when preparing them for an interview:

  1. Company background. Send the most recent annual report, press releases, a link to the company’s website, and hints on the culture.
  2. The interviewer’s bio. How long have they been with the company? How long in their current position? What is their role in the company? What other areas in the company have they worked in? What other titles have they held? What is their personality like?
  3. The position. Describe the results the company is looking to accomplish by filling this position. What are the challenges this individual will need to overcome in order to be successful? What other internal departments will have an impact on the results that this person will be able to achieve?
  4. The interview. Explain the structure of the interview and whether it is formal or conversational. How many people will they meet? How many interviewers will there be at one time? How long would one expect the interview to last? What does the hiring process consist of?

It’s a good idea to try to give the same basic prep to each candidate. This way, the interviewer can evaluate the candidate for who they really are, not for who the recruiter may be cloning the candidate to be.

Jerry Land, CPC, owns an organization that is hired by a selective group companies who want to grow and prosper by having a sales force made up of highly motivated and career driven professionals. These companies only hire overachievers who separate themselves from their peers due to their performance. They are the type of people who have obtained President's Club status, putting them in the top 15% of their company. He only works with quota-reliable sales reps, managers, & VPs. He is the headhunter who connects these game changers to companies who are not willing to hire second best. He can be emailed at