Reversion to Mediocrity?

James Caan wrote an article in LinkedIn, What Not To Say In A Job Interview?:
Setting yourself apart from the crowd is vital when you are looking for that new job. This applies for all stages of the recruitment process - you want to ensure that your CV is at the top of a recruiter or hiring manager’s pile, and that your interview shows you in the best possible light.

People looking to fill a role will be looking for that something special which sets the very best candidates apart. To give yourself the best opportunity, here are some very common mistakes and phrases which you should try to avoid in those all-important interviews

I don’t know

Interviewers will be looking to stretch and challenge candidates during the course of the recruitment process. The best way of dealing with the tough questions is to do your homework. The importance of research cannot be understated – you should know about the company, and be prepared for anything you will be asked about your own CV. Of course if there is a question which you are not expected to know the answer to, or if you are genuinely stuck, don't make things up or try to bluff your way through. Move back into your comfort zone, relate the question back to something you do know and take on board any new information you are given. But as I said, proper planning and preparation is essential.

What’s the salary?

The salary is always a tough point to discuss with a new employer, especially at the interview stage. There is a time and place to bring it up, and the first interview isn't always the right one. At the same time, you don’t want to get too far down the process and not know what the salary is. Initially you should have a good indication of the remuneration from the job description. The chances are that the interviewer themselves will ask you what sort of salary you are looking for - this gives you the opportunity to talk about it and negotiate the best deal for you.

How many holidays do I get?

Companies are on the look-out for people that are motivated and willing to put in the necessary effort. They want staff to be ambitious, driven self-starters, not people who are just looking for an easy life. If you want a fulfilling career and the rewards that tend to come with that, then you have to be prepared to go that extra mile. Of course you are perfectly entitled to perks, but try to avoid talking about things like holiday entitlement straight away, because it can give off the wrong impression.

I dislike my current company

You never want to turn the tone of the interview negative, even if you may be having a bad experience at your current job. All this does is make you seem like somebody who is difficult to manage. If asked why you are leaving, focus more on your ambitions for the future and what excites you about the job you are applying for.

I don’t have any questions

I have written before about candidates needing to ask questions themselves in interviews. You want to show prospective employers how keen you are to get the role. The research you have done may have thrown up some interesting facts that you can ask about, or you may want to know about the scope for personal development. You may also wish to get some more information about your role or the working culture – either way it is important that the interview process is not one sided.
After reading that article last week, I posted this comment which received 127 likes thus far on LinkedIn and some good replies too (I added the emphasis here):
This is another cookie cutter article written from a typical corporate HR perspective. First, in terms of salary, always get a range at the end of the first interview. If a company can't answer you or refuses to, walk away.
Second, I have a problem with this statement: "You never want to turn the tone of the interview negative, even if you may be having a bad experience at your current job. All this does is make you seem like somebody who is difficult to manage." In my experience, the very best people to work with are those that have had extremely negative experiences elsewhere and are tired of working with arrogant assholes.
HR departments screening candidates out because they referred to a negative experience are complete and utter fools. In fact, most HR departments and the new euphemism, "talent acquisition" departments, need to be sent back to school. They all adopt the same cookie cutter approach which is why they keep hiring the same idiots over and over again. I will have to broach this subject in my blog, Pension Pulse, in much greater detail to explain why Mr. Caan's old rules of what not to say at a job interview aren't as wise as he and other corporate HR types think they are.
Last week, I covered the Caisse's 2013 results and ripped into Frédérick Charette, the EVP of "Talent Management" at the Caisse, and for good reason. In my last meeting with him, which was suppose to focus on my jobs prospects at the Caisse, he warned me "not to email Michael Sabia" and asked me dumb questions about what happened at PSP (if Michael Sabia has a problem with my emails, I didn't notice since he was responding to me at 11:30 at night! And if PSP doesn't want a lawsuit, they should keep their big mouths shut!).

The Caisse and PSP have been jerking me around forever. I couldn't care less now but these guys have completely violated my rights and they know it. Their board of directors should also know they are not complying with labor laws and that there is a serious problem in terms of diversity at the workplace at both organizations.

But beyond the diversity problem, there is a culture problem at these and other organizations. Let me explain it to you in simple terms, if you keep hiring arrogant, slimy weasels at the top, and they in turn hire arrogant, slimy weasels to carry out their duties, then your organization is fucked! I can't be more blunt than this.

One of my friends calls it "reversion to mediocrity." He has been through many job interviews with some of Canada's top ten pension funds and he's shocked at how incompetent some managers are. Now, my friend could come off as arrogant sometimes but he's a great guy and he really knows his stuff. He's right when he says: "In Canada and especially in Quebec, managers don't want to hire someone who's smarter than them because they feel threatened. In the States, it's the opposite, they want the best and brightest and relish in hiring smarter people."

I think most HR departments are obsolete. They're completely useless and not only that, they now yield way too much power in terms of screening and hiring decisions. They check off stupid boxes, rely on silly psychological assessments, ask stupid questions and the results are they filter out good candidates and keep hiring insecure, arrogant, slimy weasels who undermine the culture of an organization (reminds me of Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.")

I don't want to shit on all HR departments. I liked the HR team at the Business Development Bank of Canada, headed by Mary Karamanos. My favorite lady in her department is Stéphanie Charbonneau. Great gal, hard working, really knows her stuff and she cares about employees. BDC's HR department is far from perfect but they're leagues above the Caisse, PSP and many other organizations I worked at and cover here.

My friend was telling me about a recent interview he had with a US company. "The HR lady asked good questions but the process quickly moved to the managers in charge of hiring. They are really smart,  asked tough questions and we enjoyed a great exchange. That's the type of place you want to work at as you'll thrive and learn from smart people."

When I covered HOOPP's 2013 results, I ended it on this note:
All the employees at HOOPP should be proud of these results and they're lucky to have Jim as their leader. He understands how important it is to have engagement from all of HOOPP's employees and agrees with me that money alone isn't enough to attract and retain great talent. You need the right culture and HOOPP has it. 
My challenge to the Caisse, PSP, and everyone else reading this comment is to get the culture right at your organization.  Ask yourselves some serious questions and take an internal poll on the level of engagement of all your employees.

Importantly, stop eavesdropping and spying on your employees, ruling by fear, and worry about making them happy and feeling engaged. And send your HR departments back to school, they really need a refresher course on why it's alright to hire outliers, they are typically the individuals that offer your organization the edge it needs to thrive in a competitive environment.

Finally, I challenge everyone, including HOOPP, to publicly release diversity statistics and turnover rates in their annual reports. Stating you respect diversity laws and are a great place to work at doesn't cut it for me. I want to see proof of how great you really are at hiring a diverse workforce at all levels and attracting and retaining great employees that think outside the box and aren't afraid to challenge senior management.

Below, a fascinating 60 Minutes interview with Malcolm Gladwell, on the power of the underdog. Gladwell's books, Outliers and David and Goliath, are must reads for anyone who wants to understand the story of success and what type of individuals you should be hiring (they don't teach you this in MBA and HR courses). As always, I welcome your feedback, so if you have anything intelligent to add, email me at