Today was a fun day.  As opposed to my usual routine of camping out in the office — meeting with clients and weeding my overgrown e-mail garden — I decided to get out and grab coffee with several former clients of mine just to catch up, see how they were doing in their new assignments, and compare notes on the current state of the market.

Along this whistlestop tour, I connected with an alumnus (and now good friend) of mine who now runs a successful management consulting company in downtown Seattle.  To his credit, he’s been able to maintain a stable workforce and revenue stream, despite the economic turbulence out there, and I always enjoy hearing his thoughts on the state of the marketplace and the challenges that he has to tackle as an organizational leader.

This morning’s rendezvous was no exception.  This time around, among the many topics we discussed, he was kind enough to share some advice for me to pass along to my clients with regard to the interviewing process.  Having interviewed hundreds of employment candidates over the past few years, he said that he’d developed a mental list of “red flags” that almost always tend to signal trouble in terms of a potential hire:

•  Candidates who express difficulty/reluctance to travel to downtown Seattle for a potential interview, via comments such as “Shucks, I hate battling the bridge” or “I never know where to park down there.”

•  Candidates who ask for special accommodations, up front, in terms of work schedule; e.g. “Would it be possible for me to only work four 10-hour days?” or “Would I be able to work from home on Tuesdays, since I have to pick up my kids at school that day?”

•  Candidates who turn out to be “serial negotiators” and keep adding more and more demands, once the job offer negotiation process begins, even when the company makes the concessions requested

•  Candidates who imply that working for my friend’s company and /or in a consulting role are clear second choices to some other desired goal such as working full-time for Microsoft; e.g. “I’m hoping to hear back from this other company I talked with, but would certainly consider becoming a consultant, if my other option falls through.”

You may laugh at some of these items, thinking they’re pretty obvious behaviors candidates shouldn’t display, but they happen much more often than you’d think!  And to his credit, my friend doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the issues themselves that are expressed above, such as a person wanting a little scheduling flexibility, but has found that the types of people who would raise these issues up front, during the courtship phase, usually turn out to be highly needy employees — and rarely end up succeeding in the company’s fast-paced, constantly-changing environment.

On the flip side, he said that there are two ways that candidates can quickly win his heart and get a healthy dose of extra credit:

•  He loves candidates who can answer the question “What is your special magic?” or “What are you extremely good at?” without missing a beat; the people who possess this level of self-awareness and have great clarity about their capabilities, he says, always stand out and make a strong positive impression; as the CEO, too, he says this information is immensely helpful in figuring out the best place to plug a person into his organization, even if it isn’t in the role the candidate is interviewing for

•  He also loves candidates who make proactive statements along the lines of “I’d love working for your company because of X, Y, or Z” and then fill in these blanks with something interesting, relevant, and that shows an above-average level of preparedness on their part

Granted, these are all techniques that are mentioned in the various interviewing prep materials that Career Horizons shares with our clients, and we’ve also talked about them in prior articles of this blog, but I still thought it would be valuable to list them all in one place — and tie them to the actual day-to-day experiences and suggestions of a local hiring authority.

And one bonus tip?  My contact also said that those folks who HAVE jobs should be highly aware of the intense pressure that business owners are facing to reduce overhead — and should therefore make a point to go the extra mile and continually find ways to build value with the people who employ them.  As a case in point, he relayed a story of a recruiter on his team who didn’t seem to be working very hard and who justified this behavior by saying “But I don’t have all that much to do, since we don’t seem to be hiring many new people right now!”

Not a very smart career management move, I can assure you…