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


5 Comments on “Interview Prep: Trying To Put Lipstick on A Pig?

  1. Derek Johnson, author of ‘Home of The Fake Resume Guide’ offers ?The ultimate free guide to helping you get the great high paying job you want by helping you lie on your great resume.’

    And he asks, ‘Everyone else is doing it, shouldn’t you??

    Link to ERE Ethics Group post for links to Derek’s guide and a article on the topic:{AD89AB80-8E8C-4C8A-A86E-075B5BC64C97}&M=1

  2. Excellent information ! Follow this advice and you will earn a great deal of credibility and develop strong longterm relationships with your clients.

  3. Responding to Jerry Land?s Friday, February 09, 2007 article, ?Interview Prep: Trying To Put Lipstick on A Pig? Coaching candidates might ultimately hurt their careers?, I agree it?s a good idea to give the same Basic Prep to each candidate. In addition to the four points mentioned, however,

    1. Company background
    2. Interviewer?s bio
    3. The position
    4. The interview structure

    I include:

    5. Key personality traits essential for this position. Key Personality Traits will come up in the context of interview questions (?This unit has to work efficiently with evolving processes and the ideal candidate will have experience with program change without getting frustrated. Please describe a situation at a previous job where your flexibility was important.?). I discuss key words with candidates, such as ?stability?, ?flexibility?, and ?adaptability? within the context of the specific job vacancy. I ask the candidate to give the key personality traits some thought, self-assess that evening, and be prepared to weave his perception of his traits? strengths and weaknesses into the interview. I believe being prepared to give an example of personality trait weakness is important, not as self-deprecation, but as evidence of a realistic self-perception, especially when coupled with an example of how the candidate has taken steps to change (pronounced improve) in a specific area, and how the candidate expects to handle himself within the context of the new job.

    While some position descriptions include Key Personality Traits after Abilities, Skills, Knowledge, not all position descriptions do, so it?s not a given they?ll be included in the Basic Prep. However, it is a given that interviewers rank interviewees on personality traits, sometimes objectively, sometimes subjectively, during the interview process. Let?s work towards a level playing field by including Key Personality Traits in the Basic Prep.

    I chuckled at the image of trying to put lipstick on a pig, Jerry. Go figure, me adding the mascara. What I disagreed with was the bi-line that coaching candidates might ultimately hurt their careers. Recruiters don?t apply the make-up on the candidate on interview day. We?re responsible for showing the make-up bag to the candidate and explaining the contents, in detail. Application is left to the candidate.

    Rosie Stephenson, MBA, is a national recruiter with JSA Healthcare Corp. She has over 20 years recruiting experience with third-party, in-house, government, physician, nursing, dental, pharmaceutical, and allied health. She can be emailed at

  4. I would have an alternate view on this.

    I believe the universal principle that if you are generally a good canddiate that itself means that on an average that you are better than other candidates in all activities in the same sphere.
    And interviewing skills would number as one of them.

    So when it comes to even coaching a candidate for interviewing, the chances of a weaker candidate turning out to be more brilliant versus the better canddiate is pretty rare. If it does happen then i would say that it is because of the poor hiring capability of the hiring company.

    The concern you raised is relevant in a situation where the difference in talent between 2 candidates is very small. Then an edge like better interview coaching can make all the difference.

    However from the hiring company’s point of view there is not much of a loss – since the difference in capability was anyway so small.

  5. The folks to concentrate on are the hiring managers – who ask ridiculous questions like ‘How can you get exactly four gallons of water using only a five-gallon jug and a three-gallon jug to measure?’ – unless this job relates to engineering, or requires some spatial skills this question is out of line. Silver Bullets never work. Lou Holtz said something like if he has clubs in his car or a trailer in his yard, I won?t hire him.

    Even worse is the tendency of hiring managers to hire people based on an interview because they consciously or not gravitate toward candidates who share common interests and personality style.

    So, coaching is important ? just coach the right audience. Teach clients/hiring managers to use behavioral based interview questions, focus on the skills required for the job and questions that relate to the culture of the company. An objective interview will make it clear who is the best or the job.

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