Red Flags: How Career Counselors Can Improve Job Seeker Interviews

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Thomas is an interview pro. He says all the right things and gives the impression that he really knows his stuff. In fact, when Thomas gets job interviews, he gets the jobs.

The trouble is, Thomas usually quits or is fired after only a few weeks. His lack of skills and experience were masked in the interview by his confidence and smooth-talking nature.

Meanwhile, Beatrice has more than 10 years experience in her field. During that time, she’s collected various honors and awards for high achievement. Co-workers turn to her first to answer questions about complicated topics, or to gain helpful insight on a work problem.

However, Beatrice is not a good self-cheerleader. She gets nervous in interviews and often gives odd or incomplete answers to questions. Since trying to shift her career path, Beatrice just cannot seem to get a call back after interviews, despite having the skills and experience to excel in the roles.

Both Thomas and Beatrice could benefit from a bit of interview guidance, but for different reasons. As a career counselor, it’s crucial you know how to recognize job seeker strengths and weaknesses and steer them clear of sending up interview red flags or, arguably worse, pulling the wool over interviewers’ eyes.

Here is a look at how you can help job seekers present themselves in an appealing way, while still remaining true to the facts:

1. Be aware of job seeker warning signs

Interviewers form an impression of job seekers in seconds. Career counselors must help job seekers prevent against being disqualified based on untrue perceptions.  

Confidence is an admirable quality, but over-confidence is not. “Smooth talkers” like Thomas try to mask shortcomings or their inability to perform. They use their charm to hide the fact that they aren’t qualified for the job. These job seekers must be coached to eliminate arrogance and focus on refining their skills.

Job seekers who are negative or disruptive in career counselor meetings will project that attitude in the interview. Employers don’t have time for hijinks, and will immediately end an interview with a job seeker demonstrating this behavior. Make it clear that interviewing is not a game.

On the other hand, humble job seekers like Beatrice are secure in their abilities. They don’t have to brag because their work speaks for itself. The trouble is, the lack of self-promotion comes across to interviewers as inexperience or disinterest. Help these job seekers tout their accomplishments and also show enthusiasm for the job.

The goal is to coach job seekers to be confident but not arrogant, and humble but not meek to the point that they hide their abilities.

2. Prepare job seekers for “off script” interviews

Job seekers are used to the “standard” interview questions. They know how to answer their “greatest strengths and weaknesses,” what their core skills are, and so on. However, they have not likely spent time answering questions involving scenarios or problem-solving.

Create a list of non-standard questions and perform mock interviews with your job seekers. Later, discuss their answers and offer advice for improvement, so they won’t be caught off guard in the interview.

Prepare job seekers for these and other non-traditional questions:

  • What is the company doing wrong? Employers want constructive criticism, not a list of faults. Job seekers who can notice problems and offer solutions demonstrate leadership and problem-solving skills.


  • What have you done wrong in your life? This is not a counseling session. Instead, employers want to know that a job seeker is able to recognize areas for improvement. They want details on how the job seeker has “fixed” a problem.


Many companies will also take candidates on a facility tour. This is not always to show them the building, but rather to observe how the job seeker interacts with people and the environment. Candidates who seem disinterested will not move forward in the hiring process. Those who seem surprised at what they see indicate that they haven’t done sufficient research to understand what the company does. Make job seekers aware that they’re always “on,” even in the parking lot.

Another trend is to place executives “under cover.” They may pose as a receptionist or janitor. Job seekers must be respectful to everyone, regardless of position.

3. Job seekers should make time for interview extras

Anyone can do a simple web search to uncover basic facts about the company. Help job seekers bring unique details to the interview such as little-known facts, historical references, and more. This is a chance to impress the interviewer with their knowledge.

You should also prepare job seekers for “homework” tasks. Many companies will require proof of ability to perform work. Run mock tests with job seekers to ensure they’ll be able to prove their skills and experience.  Doing this will also help you determine if job seekers are interested enough to go “above and beyond” the standard interview process.

Homework tasks will vary depending on the position the job seeker is vying for. Use examples from past job seeker interviews, or create your own tasks. These could be writing samples, art work, budget sheets, or other materials related to the duties they would be performing on the job.

You have the power to help job seekers like Thomas and Beatrice succeed. Paying attention to and addressing warning signs will prevent red flags from coming up in the interview.

Being prepared for off-script or offbeat questions will help job seekers remain calm under pressure. Expecting “homework” tasks and being prepared to show proof of work ability will help job seekers demonstrate they have the skills necessary to excel at the job.

What are you doing to help job seekers wow employers in interviews? Let us know in the comments!


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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta is the co-owner and leader of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job hunting and career management solution for companies, outplacement firms, job seekers and university career centers. You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, LinkedIn.