How to Fail Your Interview in the First Five Minutes

We’re barely 3 minutes beyond pleasantries and already the panic is setting in. The hopeful’s eyes dart back and forth, searching the bare wall behind me for any semblance of a clue or perhaps a phone-a-friend. You can invariably see the light bulb go off and the look of panic quickly fade underneath a confident smirk of “I got this.” Then – commence the spewing!

Utter nonsense! Syllables mix-and-matched as carelessly as a first grader’s string art. It probably sounds good at one point as it rattles around up there. But THAT answer should never be spoken. The question?

“So, tell me what you know about [Company Name]?”

Seems simple. Yet interview after interview, I’m astonished at the pitiful answers to this question. I am a Sales Development Manager at AppFolio, a SaaS solution for the property management industry. One candidate told me “you do IT for school districts and banks.” Uh-huh. Riiiiiight. Then there’s my favorite “AppFolio does software.” Absolutely brilliant!

I previously assumed that because the candidate has taken the time out of their life to apply, go through the screening process and travel to meet with me in person, they surely know about the company. How wrong I was…

If a candidate doesn’t know, AT MINIMUM, about the products/services we deliver and who our customers are, I cannot take the candidate seriously. In the digital age that we enjoy, there is no excuse for not doing your research. I could care less that Indeed or LinkedIn allows a candidate to click one button to apply. Or that in a binge of applying for jobs a candidate forgets where they applied. By the time an interviewee walks through the door, it’s reasonable to expect a basic understanding of the business.

It’s certainly not recruiting’s fault – over 95% of the candidates I interview have Bachelor’s degrees from accredited institutions (I’ll forgo the education system commentary – for now). It’s no secret that acquiring talent is often like the sales team getting a bluebird whale on December 29. Great people are hard to find.

By minute five of an interview, I can almost guarantee whether someone has a non-zero chance of being hired. I’ve found this question to be the quickest way to determine quality when hiring for an entry-level position. It quickly separates those competent enough to survive the most basic of questions.

Good answers indicate thorough research and an understanding of the company’s value proposition. Ideally, a candidate can describe both the product/service and how that impacts the customer. The best answers preemptively tie in the role being interviewed for and how that fits into the big picture for the company.

Bad answers lack specificity and are sometimes even plain wrong. If they are not wrong, it’s obvious nothing concrete is willing to be wagered on. The more vague the answer, the shorter I will cut the interview. A bad answer is also “I’m not too sure.” While I appreciate the honesty, now I question the candidates judgement in a.) not preparing properly and b.) being willing to admit it.

Though I have never hired someone who has tanked this question, I don’t rule them out completely. In each interview, I try and prove myself wrong. If the candidate is great right off the bat, I try to find the red flags. If they tank this question, I try to cess out that maybe it was nerves or maybe there are some other qualities that will absolutely blow me away and make their lack of preparation and/or judgement okay.

It hasn’t happened yet.