Loutish applicants find little favour

Imagine someone turning up for a job interview scruffy and unshaven after a night on the town and then falling asleep during the interview.

Imagine someone turning up for a job interview scruffy and unshaven after a night on the town and then falling asleep during the interview.

In New Zealand the applicant would have little chance of being hired, but in America the IT labour shortage means employers are increasingly having to put up with all kinds of uncouth behaviour during interviews.

One woman ate a brownie and told a shocked executive it was to maintain her blood sugar level.

One programmer, when asked how he could contribute to the company, threw his hiking-boot clad feet on the CTO's oak desk and demanded, "What can you do for me?"

Recruiters and human resource managers increasingly tell horror stories like these as low US unemployment creates a jobseekers market there. Now, the candidates call the tune and often turn the tables on potential employers.

New Zealand recruitment agencies have a few horror stories of their own, but say it still pays to be smart, respectful and professional.

While IT people like Web developers have market power, a suit and tie is still expected at interviews.

And despite casual dress becoming increasingly common, one recruiter says Kiwi behaviour is actually improving.

Even so, some recruitment agencies have a stash of ties, belts and even deodorant for their candidates, knowing poor candidates also reflect badly on them. Amanda Van Ryn, Auckland branch manager of Sapphire Technologies, says a few times she has even taken them shopping.

"We have [also] lent our own belts to people because it was clearly the first time they had worn one. One of our people lent a candidate a belt. He got the job but we did not get the belt back," she says. Personal hygiene can also be a problem, she says, but to candidates it is couched in words like "presentation" and it helps to remove nose studs.

"We have also had a candidate fall asleep. He had obviously had a rough night and went straight to the interview unshaven and scruffy and fell asleep. The large corporate was not impressed. He did not get the job," she says.

However, certain Web developers can often get away with more casual attire as they are in such demand.

And when visiting certain firms, Van Ryn says her placements often have to dress down to fit in.

"If they can spell Java, they can wear what they want."

Greg Thompson, general manager of Lacey Lee Recruitment in Auckland, also reports one of his candidates sleeping at an interview with an employer and says it has happened several times in the industry.

Candidates have also turned up drunk, forcing him to apologise to the firms concerned.

Younger people, unfamiliar with wearing suits, he says, often still leave the labels or tags on the cuffs thinking that is part of the look.

Thompson also says his office has two to three bottles of deodorant and he sometimes has to explain to certain people how to use them. He also reports candidates coming in with their hands behind their back and asking for jobs paying $100,000. Thompson says he tells them his firm is not in the market for interviewing people for $100,000 jobs, but simply getting them jobs.

Brian Powell, business unit manager of IT Manpower in Wellington, says raising the pay issue is the biggest mistake candidates can make - a problem also noted in the US where candidates are also keen to discuss stock options and other company benefits at interviews.

Powell says remuneration should always be left to the employer, even if the interviewer asks "Any questions?"

"It creates the wrong impression. Do you want to join the organisation, or is it just the money that drives you? The golden rule is always let the employer bring up the issue of revenue."

He also warns people not to be over ambitious. Saying you will stay in a role for six months and expect to move up is a mistake, one most often made by younger people.

"It tends to put the employer off as the employer is looking at long term resources, particularly if he invests in training and support," says Powell.

Poor English usually bars you from jobs, reports Van Ryn, but in the US an East European C++ developer got a job, despite never uttering a word during the interview. He just nodded his head when asked questions and the interviewer described it as "the most unsettling interview" he had ever sat on.

In the US, the situation has become so bad that a whole new industry training professionals in business etiquette. Back here though, some IT educational courses also include "people skills".

"These days you have to have interpersonal skills," says Van Ryn.

Recruiters say it is not just the tight labour market affecting behaviour, but declining politeness in society generally, and people not knowing how to dress properly anymore, particularly as dot.com entrepreneurs tend to be very young, sometimes teenagers. Some say even the employers are to blame, with their casual dress days causing confusion, and sometimes they themselves do not know how to give proper interviews, particularly if they are young.

Richard Manthel, general manager of Robert Walker Intellimark in Auckland, says employers often need training for interviews.

Recently his firm put 15 managers from a major corporate through an interview course.

"If a candidate goes to a client, and had a poor interview he might think 'do these people know what they are doing?'"

However, all agree New Zealand standards remain high.

Thompson says poorly turned out candidates "reflect on you in the end" so recruiters are keen on their candidates looking their best and dress standards are getting better.

Higher New Zealand unemployment still means the jobs market remains more competitive, even for IT jobs.

Kiwis are also naturally better dressed than Amercians, says one, and "more mature", says another.

"These days most candidates are pretty savvy," says Van Rhyn, "People are getting more market friendly."

Send email to Darren Greenwood.

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