Beware the Professional Interviewee

Posted on June 19, 2018 by Robert Ringer Comments (22)


It’s amazing how so many incompetent people are adept at fooling interviewers.  I found out the hard way that it’s dangerous to assume someone is competent just because he talks a good game.  There’s many a slip between an interview and a person’s performance on the job.

My own experience in this area taught me to be especially wary when a job applicant pounds his chest too hard.  The objective in today’s entitlement society isn’t to develop marketable skills but to become skillful at being impressive in interviews.

Early in my career, I thought I was quite good at judging prospects during interviews, but without being consciously aware of it, I apparently lost pace with the rapid proliferation of the professional interviewee’s staggering array of gimmicks.

My memory takes me back to a frantic search for a high-level “executive secretary.”  (I use quote marks around the words executive secretary, because it seems as though anyone who knows how to type fifty words a minute, talks in an authoritative voice, and has managed to stay with one employer for at least six months fancies him or herself to be an executive secretary.)

After interviewing a number of prospects, one candidate in particular made a big impression on me with her air of self-confidence.  In fact, at one point she came right out and told me, in a matter-of-fact tone, that she was “the best.”

Of course, because she was the best, she also wanted a starting salary that was far in excess of anything I had previously paid to anyone whose skills were unproven.  Naively, I assumed that given the fact that she had declared herself to be the best, she must, at the very least, be very good.  Otherwise, how would she have the audacity to say she was the best?  (Yes, I blush as I write this.)

Since I was not able to contact her previous employer (naturally, he was out of business and had apparently moved to Mars), I based my hiring of her on assumptions.  (Tip:  Ex-employers who have disappeared are almost always a red flag.)

The result?  After a couple weeks I noticed a few things that Ms. Best was doing wrong, but I wasn’t too concerned about them, because I had the comfort of knowing that she was “the best.”  After all, she had told me so.

While complimenting her on her “progress,” I also tactfully suggested that there were a few areas where she might want to sharpen up a bit — such as trying not to make so many assumptions herself (which seemed to be leading her to make far too many mistakes), being more alert when listening to dictation (so as to make fewer of those mistakes), and cutting down on her social calls during business hours.

By the third month, I was ready to concede that Ms. Best was not “the best” after all.  To those in the office who were thinking more in terms of setting the back of her hair on fire, I said, “Look, maybe she isn’t the superstar I thought she was, but she is good.  She just seems to have mental lapses now and then.”

By the end of the fourth month, however, I was beginning to weaken.  “All right,” I confided to my staff, “I admit she makes a lot of mistakes.  I admit she sometimes forgets to write down phone messages.  I admit she has a habit of making costly assumptions.  I admit she often misplaces important documents.  But she is mechanically proficient,” I protested in defensive desperation.

Nevertheless, by the fifth month it was I who was considering putting a torch to Ms. Best’s hair.  The urge came when I called her into my office to point out yet another mistake she had made, one which had resulted in some costly repercussions.  My primary intent was to forestall a future repetition of the unhappy event, but she wasn’t about to let it go at that.

Her first reaction was to tell me that it was I who was mistaken, that my recollections of my instructions to her were incorrect.  After I strongly suggested that my instructions had been exactly as I had stated, Ms. Best broke into tears and ran out of my office.  It was a touching scene — extraordinarily appropriate business behavior for an executive secretary who claimed to be “the best.”

Subsequently, she reviewed her transcription notes and, to her credit, admitted she had been wrong after all.  Did that prompt her to offer a brief and immediate apology?  Of course not.  That’s not the way “the best” operate.

Instead, she typed up a two-page explanation of the situation — on company time — in which she admitted her mistake but emphasized that “(my) handling of the situation begged for defensive action on (her) part.”

At that point, I realized I had an important decision to make:  Either I would have to go into the professional baby-sitting business fulltime or admit to the rest of the office that I was guilty of making an embarrassing and incorrect assumption.  I decided on the latter.  Not only was Ms. Best guilty of all of the aforementioned mistakes, but, my previous assertions notwithstanding, she was not even marginally skilled.

Alas, it was time to come clean and acknowledge the truth.  If Ms. Best was “the best,” I was Donald Trump.  Sadly, she was not the best; she was not good; she was not average; she was not even bad.  She was, in fact, the worst secretary I had ever hired!

Job applicants with inflated self-perceptions are primarily guilty of self-delusion; i.e., they base their actions on who and what they would like to be, rather than who and what they really are.  That being the case, it’s a serious mistake to assume that an interviewee is even marginally competent, let alone great, just because he or she excels at puffery.

A better idea is to hire the person on a ninety-day trial basis and let him or her prove how good they are.  And if they’re not willing to prove themselves, it’s up to you to have the toughness to tell them simply, “Thank you so much coming in and talking to me, but I think I’ll take a pass for now.”  Next!

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

22 responses to “Beware the Professional Interviewee”

  1. RealitySeeker says:

    Good story, even though it's somewhat of a repeat. What I find in today's employment market is that the Millennials want to be a captain without ever learning how to be a sailor first. A friend of mine told me that his daughter was looking for a summer job. I asked, "what kind of a job"? He said, " she wants to be a part-time CEO"……

    Yeah, that about sums up that generation, i.e., too many cheifs and not enough Indians. The Millennials think that what they don't know isn't worth knowing; and if it is, then they'll just Google it.

    Of course, a bad work ethic and poor attitude goes back many generations and isn't just limited to the current crop of know-it-alls. I'm so glad I don't have to deal with employing anybody other than on a very small scale and mostly for minor jobs that are contract and not salaried or a wage.

    And as far as hiring the current immigrants who hang out in the Home Depot parking lot as day labor, good luck doing that. Talk about shite work. I'm currently down in Houston TX, and the quality of the work done by these south-of-the-border turds is appalling. I remember back during the 1970s when a building boom was taking place and the bulk of the work was done by white men. There's no comparison, really, to the shit work that's being done here now. It reminds me of something I read from Joe Sobran, National Review, April, 1997. It's somewhat of a repeat, too, but well worth repeating:

    "Western man towers over the rest of the world in ways so large as to be almost inexpressible. It's Western exploration, science, and conquest that have revealed the world to itself. Other races feel like subjects of Western power long after colonialism, imperialism, and slavery have disappeared.

    The charge of racism puzzles whites who feel not hostility, but only baffled good will, because they don't grasp what it really means: humiliation. The white man presents an image of superiority even when he isn't conscious of it. And, superiority excites envy. Destroying white civilization is the inmost desire of the league of designated victims we call minorities."

    • Stephan F says:

      Yes R.S., generation Y is truly amazing, and one for the record books. It’s only about 90% who are lazy, ignorant, self-centered, unreliable, humorless & moody. And to think they give a bad name to the whole lot.
      (sorry about that Robert).

      Of course the problem is not just that they have an aversion to a work ethic. The real problem with them, and Gen X too for that matter, is that they have a king-sized belief in the something-for-nothing mentality. They have eagerly bought into the notion that they can have it all for little or no work. That’s why the general public is seemingly drunk on the idea of higher education being an end-all, be-all solution to the problem of work.

      Get that degree and employers will beat a path to your doorstep with offers of insane compensation for just showing up for work. Yes, that’s right kiddies. Get that Masters, PhD or whatever degree and your problems are solved, just like your mind-numbed parents & teachers told you. You too can have the life of Riley without effort. Now get up and go get it!

      • RealitySeeker says:


        Don't get me started. And nobody is even discussing the generation I call, "Generation Turd-world Country". You just wait and watch how they blame the white man right on and on up until something really gives and the Marxist economy collapses. I'm glad the Second Amendment is still somewhat intact, because now is the time to stockpile. Don't wait until Trump is gone from office.

        For a taste of the racial and cultural fun ahead, just watch what happens to Germany (with over 12 million immigrants from Turd-world Countries) without a Second Amendment. Germany has millions upon millions of totally unemployable immigrants. And France is not much better off, either. These Turd-world People are being told that the White Western Man is the root of all evil. And so just watch how Euroland collapses when the " inmost desire of the league of designated victims" is unleashed against white people.

    • Jurgy says:

      the sad thing about racists is that they truly believe they are superior humans …

  2. Scott theczech says:

    Really good employees have a way of making their boss better and constantly improving; something like iron sharpening iron. I tend to look for three characteristics of an excellent subordinate: 1. does he take initiative with measured application, 2. does he treat my business as if it were his own, 3. does he treat the client/customer like "gold?"

    • Jim Hallett says:

      Those are excellent criteria to have, but good luck finding those who can fit the bill. It is really tough if you are looking for those in the lower tiers of employment (limited experience, not very high wages – though competitive with the market, et al.). Many of today's employees think just showing up is worth a prize (probably the result of giving every team in the youth league a trophy just for participating in whatever sport it was), and FULL benefits and a higher wage/salary than their limited background would deserve. Even when I worked in the party store as a teenager, the owner always complimented me that he thought I treated that store as my own, and never complained about any of the tasks I was assigned. When I graduated from college, that same party store owner offered me a chance to buy his business so he could retire to San Diego. I decided against it, as I had higher goals, but financially, it might have been a good move. Very few, if any, are willing to apprentice at a job, but just want to come in at "Management or CEO level!" It's pitiful, really!

    • Sheridan Sure says:

      No doubt number 3 is important. Been to many places that customer service is flat out non existent. Usually its the trillion and billion dollar companies that are the worst. Attendance and work ethic and treating the client like royalty. Cant do that, stay out of the business world.

  3. LLLL says:

    "Inflated self images are primarily guilty of self delusion; i.e., they base their actions on who and what they would like to be, rather than who and what they really are……….it's a serious mistake to assume an interviewee is even marginally competent, let alone great, just because he or she excels in puffery."
    Accurate description of Comey & Clinton!

  4. TheLookOut says:

    Obama is without a doubt the greatest example of puffery(BS)
    the modern world has ever seen.

  5. John Sturdevant says:

    See Dunning Kruger study: They found the most incompetent are the most confident and those competent project
    competence on to others.

  6. Rick G. says:

    The problem in this country is no one wants to work. And if they have to work, they will try to get away with doing as little as possible. I remember back in the early nineties when the Japanese made the statement that the quality of the American labor force is poor. This infuriated everybody, but it is the truth.

    The problem with hiring people nowadays is that employers cannot get a complete job performance reference on a prospective employee. The only thing they give out is the former employee's name, job title, reason for leaving, and if they are subject to rehire. That was the last time I can recall when I was a manager. And the manager cannot give out even that much, they had to be transferred to Human Resources. And employers try to use strong arm tactics to weasle more out of you. That was the late nineties. Things may or may not have changed by now.

    I've seen these books and videos about how interviewees can train and prepare themselves to knock them (the employer) dead in an interview. It's not about how well they can do the job. It is about how well you interview. Total nonsense.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      If it applied, I tried to get a referral from 2 jobs ago, since that boss was not as likely to be worried about violating some HR reg that the criminal govt. instituted. In the end, if you are negative about that employee, there are civil rights attorneys just looking to hit you with a lawsuit, so referrals that are not enthusiastic made me assume the employee was not very good, but they just could not come right out and say so. Lying is so rampant as well, so it really becomes a crap shoot. I always told folks they were hired on a 30-day trial basis, but not sure that statement would hold up in court, if pressed. Our non-productive economy is strongly supported by the lame govt. regs that make running a small business in particular VERY hard, and yet it is those small businesses that hire 70% of all employees. The ignorant govt. cannot figure that out, and then just lies to us about lower unemployment figures than the reality.

  7. Rock Roach says:

    Mrs.Wiggins(Carol Burnett) lol

  8. Jay says:

    Robert, this in some way contradicts the perceptions of "the expert from afar" theory that you wrote about years ago. The one with the shiny portfolio, brochures and embossed business cards etc… I think they paid that guy his full commission.

  9. Emily Brown says:

    Thank you so much for sharing here your own experience for how to develop marketable skills but to become skillful at being impressive in interviews.


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