Shorthand Notes: What Your Job Interview Says About You

As a retained search consultant, I spend a lot of my time interviewing executives. Sometimes I am speaking with general managers; other times it’s with HR executives, sales leaders or financial executives. They may be in my office, sitting with me in an airport, in a restaurant or on my computer screen. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure I have interviewed well over a thousand people in the past 15 years.

Interviews are funny things. I believe that putting people at ease allows me to have the best chance of seeing someone’s true personality – but I also have to ask challenging and, at times, sensitive questions. Sometimes I am very direct in my questioning and other times I ask much more open ended, almost vague questions. It all depends on the search, the candidate, the company culture and the situation. People being people, executives bring their own agendas, expectations and hopes to the interview. Sometimes they are anxious, sometimes too relaxed. Some are over-the-top enthusiastic and others are sleepy. I’ve come to learn that I should expect pretty much anything to come out in an interview.

But despite the wide variations I find in interviews, there are a few things I see so often that I have developed shorthand notes for myself to document them. Unfortunately, they describe interview styles or executive characteristics that are not very positive. In the spirit of sharing my observations for the benefit of all, here are my top three:

  1. TTM: This stands for “talks too much” and is the shorthand note I use most often. People earn a TTM in my notes if they speak for more than five minutes straight about one topic during the interview. I know a TTM is likely when I ask a candidate about a specific mid-career assignment on their resume and they begin their answer by saying something like “To understand that assignment I really need to go to the beginning of my career. I graduated from college in…” You get the picture. I don’t know if it is anxiety or a belief that word volume will convince me they are qualified, but executives who spend way too much time speaking and not enough time asking questions and listening in the interview almost never make it past me to a client interview.
  2. BWB: Let’s play Buzz Word Bingo! Strategy. Integrate. Alignment. Best practice. “Good to great.” When candidates over-use these kinds of terms, it leads me to suspect they lack depth and a true understanding of business dynamics. Their attempts to impress me with their knowledge and sophistication actually do the opposite.
  3. LIOM: One of my least favorite – “legends in their own minds.” I use this when candidates describe near catastrophic circumstances and impossible odds with the end of the story being the heroic, ingenious actions they took to produce amazing results. Apparently with help from no one else. Most of our clients avoid people who are legends in their own minds. They generally don’t wear well in the long term.


In my next post, I will share some observations about interview questions I have stopped asking – and why.

John Salveson
John brings more than 30 years of experience consulting with a broad range of organizations, including life sciences and pharmaceutical companies, banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, professional service firms, healthcare providers, retailers, service organizations and non-profit institutions. John helps companies define their talent needs and execute creative strategies to recruit and retain that talent.

One Response to 'Shorthand Notes: What Your Job Interview Says About You'

  1. Bob Ferrara says:

    Very interesting post. All very true. The insights are helpful as a guide as to what not to do during an interview. However, all suggest that to preform well in an interview a canidate should prepare very thoroughly, listen more that speak and speak in plain language to demonstrate a true understanding of the company, the position and challenges.

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