In my last Leading Thoughts, I told the story of helping with a hiring process that was repeatedly determined by personal habits. People’s applications were rejected, in some cases, because they had body odor, poor manners, a habit of scratching their crotch—or picking their nose or under-dressing or using foul language. I made the comment that what bothered me was how likely it was that no one had ever talked to these young candidates about any of these matters. Fathers used to train their children in such things. They don’t seem to anymore.
Well, my comments and list of suggestions hit a positive nerve. Many of you wrote in asking for more. I’m happy to help. This week I’ll mention a new list of behavioral issues, every one of which I’ve heard senior execs mention as a negative and perhaps as a disqualifier for a new hire.
• When in meetings, do not use your cell phone to take notes. Take notes on something with a plainly visible keyboard, like an iPad with a keyboard case or your notebook computer. Older execs believe that someone taking notes with one thumb on a wallet-sized device just isn’t taking the occasion seriously.
• Don’t carry on “side conversations” when someone in charge is speaking. Millennials in particular, being highly social, tend to turn to the person beside them to process what has just been said. They are taking the moment seriously, but senior execs not only feel irritation at the audio competition but also assume that you are talking about something other than business.
• Watch sarcasm. I had a conversation with a young man who would make declarative statements that I took seriously but which he meant sarcastically. For example, he said, “Yeah, I could be an author.” Now, he meant exactly the opposite, but I couldn’t tell. This happened a dozen times. Frankly, I wouldn’t hire the guy just because I don’t have time to rethink everything a man says when he is reporting to me. Execs often say the same to me.
• If you want to be taken seriously for a leadership position, don’t expose chest hair or cleavage. Don’t wear tight clothing. Don’t wear shoes that expose toes. Men, wear underwear that keeps your groin parts managed and don’t wear pants that are too tight in that area. Women, do what you have to in order to keep nipples from showing through your clothes. Sorry, gang. All of this is noticed, and then senior execs ask, “What will our clients think?” The answer is often a deciding factor in hiring.
•Feel free to have coffee or a bit of whatever food is made available in meetings or on the job. Do not, though, bring munchies like you are hiking the Appalachian Trail. It makes a mess, pulls you away from more important business, and when execs notice it they assume your comfort, not the customer or the team, is primary for you.
• Don’t interrupt. Just don’t. Discipline yourself. Make yourself wait until the other person is clearly done. You wouldn’t believe how many times interrupting is mentioned negatively in executive suits.
• “Doctor” yourself in private. Make up, lotion, medications, hand sanitizers, finger nail filing—whatever other plucking, rubbing, or applying you need to do. Do it out of sight, preferably in private.
• Finally, one of the most often mentioned issues is table manners. Frequently, senior execs take potential hires out to eat just to check out their manners. Know what silverware to use for what food. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t jam too much in your mouth. Ask for things to be passed to you rather than reach across people. Put the napkin in your lap. You know the drill. If you don’t, check out a website or two on table manners. It might all sound small, but I know some young talents without jobs this week because they ate like guerrillas with the CEO when he took them to Morton’s. Sorry. This is just the way the world works.
Okay. Enough. You know what to do. Learn, get better, move up.