“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

While that response is certainly better than a fabricated answer contrived from whole cloth, if it is repeatedly used in a job interview there will be consequences, mostly negative.

I am in the middle of screening candidates for several senior level positions and the number of times I have heard that answer to questions about previous jobs is surprising, and not in a good way either.  So I am revisiting a familiar theme of this career management blog:  the importance of being prepared for every interview, evenrp_JOBSEARCH.shutterstock_241745419-300x197-1-300x197.jpg that pesky initial candidate screening interview that is usually conducted on the telephone. 

Here is the truly amazing part: so many candidates “show up” for the interview ready to wing it.  A lot of preparation and research seems to be too much work — they are willing to settle for being mediocre in hopes, I guess, of being the best mediocre candidate in the panel. They seem content to pass on the opportunity to solidly distinguish themselves from the other candidates competing for the position.

Here is a short check list of things you should know about your past employment.  If I can remember, then certainly you can:

  1. Specific dates from prior employment, primarily those jobs you have held within the last seven years or so, 10 if you have held fewer positions. 
  2. The names of the people you worked for.  For the life of me I cannot understand how people (conveniently) forget the names of prior supervisors.
  3. Salary information.  Providing evidence of a career with progressive advancement — which would include information about your salary — is pretty routine but you would be surprised at how many candidates simply don’t remember.
  4. Details of your biggest/best accomplishments with each position.
  5. Explanation of your biggest failures.  I guess candidates believe that if they cannot remember this particular information recruiters will conclude they are perfect in every way, or least someone who has never made a mistake.  Baloney.  We all know better. 

So now you know why I am such a big proponent of keeping a career journal.  It will come in handy preparing for interviews, or when your PC crashes and you lose the only copy of your resume.   If you haven’t started, what are you waiting for?

Finally, keeping a journal will allow you to record the questions you get in interviews.  Presumably the career journal is not something you will casually toss when a spring cleaning urge hits you. If you do keep track of those questions you will come to know what recruiters have always known:  at least 70 percent of all the questions you are asked in an interview are ones you have heard before, perhaps several times, which leads me to this question:

Why do so many candidates consistently fail to come to the interview with great answers to these questions, the ones they have heard over and over? 

Poor preparation.  Poor preparation for a job interview enables otherwise capable, qualified candidates to fade into the sameness of their competitors.