Beware the Professional Interviewee

Posted on June 19, 2018 by Robert Ringer


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.

23 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.


  10. Tony says:

    There are two basic ideas or situations presented in this post.

    One is the idea presented in RR’s article regarding people who project themselves as great employees during interviews and then turn out to be “less than competent” when it comes time for execution. I have no problem with this observation. Having been in a position to hire people and having interviewed college graduates who had a hard time writing a coherent paragraph, I have no quarrel with the argument that many (not all, but many) in the current generation think, as someone wrote, that they can “captain a ship” without ever having served in a position of cabin boy or above.

    The second is the idea that “Western Man”, or more specifically, “White Western Man” is superior to all those “other” races. This idea is submitted by RS in his/her responses. Let us explore a bit how valid (or invalid) this second idea might be.

    RS makes reference to the “current crop of know-it-alls” (referring to Millennials) as characterized by a bad work ethic and poor attitudes. He then makes reference to the work done by “south of the border turds” as “appalling “, and not comparable to the work done by “white men”. He then provides a quote from Joe Sobran (National Rview, 1997), the first paragraph of which I reproduce below:

    “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.”

    What is interesting about this quote is how it starts talking about “Western man” – a clear geographic reference – and then, in the third sentence, changes the term into a racial reference (“Other races”). So, since “Western man” isn’t defined as to its meaning (at least within the context of the quote), a geographic designation becomes a racial designation. This is obviously nonsensical, but that is the original author’s flaw.

    The author’s meaning becomes clear in the second paragraph of the quote. Here is a partial extract (you can see the full quote above): ”The white man presents an image of superiority even when he isn’t conscious of it.” The author then goes on to attribute “anti-white” feeling to an “envy” of that “superiority”.

    Although both the idea (and the supporting quote) are laughable, and would normally not be worth the dignity of a response, it is important to point out the fundamental mistake in the convoluted “reasoning” that leads to a premise of “white superiority”. It appears that RS ignores the fact that, in the Middle Ages, the ruling “white men” of Europe (the “kings” and “nobles”) were living in conditions that would not be considered fit for a pigsty in China. But moving towards more recent times, it was not the “race” of particular western men that led to progress but the way SOME men changed their thinking to gain a new perspective that allowed greater progress.

    And even then, it was touch-and-go for a while. Had the colonists not been successful in their revolt against the “white Western men” that considered them their subjects, it is quite possible that the “jump in progress” that Sobran ignorantly attributes to “Western man” might never have happened.

    Because (RS and those who might think like that)… it was not “race” that determined progress. The “Caucasian race”, just like every other race, was stuck at a particular level of development for hundreds – even thousands – of years. It was not until the IDEA OF FREEDOM was brought to fruition and turned into a governing concept that progress “jumped”. When pilgrims arrived in the Mayflower, their agricultural implements were not much different than the ones used by Egyptians 3,000 years before Christ. So we can say that civilization was more or less “stuck” at the same level of development, regardless of race, for close to 5,000 years.

    In 1776, the concept of “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” was introduced, and the idea of a Constitutional Republic was initiated, to culminate in 1789. The fundamental idea introduced was the idea of freedom… and the idea that as a free man, you were the owner of what your effort and energy produced. This was different from the ideas maintained by other men, of ALL races, throughout history. The previous idea was that rights belonged to the state… and consequently, to the honcho running the state, be they called “Chief”, “King”, “Pharaoh”, “Emperor” or whatever.

    Now… did this new Constitutional Republic have defects? Of course it did! But it had the SEEDS of freedom for everyone. That’s why slavery was eventually abolished. But you can’t abolish small minds. And you can’t abolish ignorance. And you can’t abolish stupidity.

    So you had the ignorant, the small of mind, cling to the idea that somehow, the amount of melanin in a person’s skin was THE factor that determined the degree of progress that could be achieved by a people. I realize that that idea is incredibly stupid, but… hey! There are people out there who buy into that. Probably makes them delusional about their “superiority”. :-)

    This is why you have confirmed racists, like the German Nazis or the Soviet Communists, who proclaimed their “racial superiority” ideas but abhorred individual freedom, and the idea that you are the owner of what you produce through your efforts. How far did those “white westerners” get with their “superiority”? So much for that!

    If you want to know why America is collapsing, why our progress is winding down, why our finances are imploding, look no farther than our straying from the concepts that the Founding Fathers based the country on. It’s the “little white minds” that brought us to where we are now. It was “the white man” who put the disastrous ©bama in power. And he was disastrous NOT because he was a mulatto, but because he is a communist/socialist/fascist (essentially synonyms). And it is our “progressive” (read “communist”) white leaders that are leading us down the road to implosion, and it is the anonymous white members of Antifa and similar groups that are leading the charge towards the destruction of America. This is not to say that there are no idiots in all races. There are… and plenty of them. But this simply demonstrates the point that any claim to “white” superiority is fundamentally stupid.

    This country was built by people who believed in freedom and the concept of “you work/you reap”. Those are the people we need today to move this country forward. You give me people like that TODAY and I don’t really give a damn what the color of their skin is or where they or their parents came from or what language they speak at home. If they believe in freedom and the concept of “work/reward”, they will push this country forward. And you can keep your lily-white liberals, communists, socialists, fascists and dump them all into the same garbage heap – because there will be no philosophical differences among them.

  11. bearcat22 says:

    Well, this sounds very much like an anecdote from one of your first two books, Mr. Ringer.

    It's a bit of a stretch to think that decades ago you could write about you having been
    ripped off by a con man, then fall for this now.

    It is pretty easy to blame liberals for this. A sense of entitlement, right?
    What you leave out is that CONSERVATIVES have for generations also fostered
    this type of delusion.

    Have confidence, be proud, work hard, go to church, conform, obey, salute that flag!
    Pull yourself up by your boot straps!

    Yeah….the Horatio Alger formula just MIGHT possibly be just be a tiny bit phony.
    Especially in an era of corporate welfare.

    How much did Vice President Cheeny earn from Halliburton?
    Did the phony war earn him $40 BILLION?
    Did that cost more than four thousand American lives?
    Look it up for yourself.

    The only defense / excuse they offer is to whine like kindergarten
    children: "Well THEY do it TOO!"

    uh, yeah.

    Mr. Ringer, you used to stand up for INDIVIDUAL independence.

    Why have you betrayed honesty? Why are you sucking the penis of criminal trump?

    Come back to your roots Mr. Ringer.