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Desperation Can Cost You a Job

2009 May 19
by Richard N. Landers
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This article and this  post at the Wall Street Journal led me to a peculiar conclusion: apparently, the best way to lose a chance at getting hired is to want a job really, really badly.  Apparently, recruiters can smell desperation, and desperation doesn’t smell pleasant.  That initially seemed counter-intuitive to me; wouldn’t the employees that want the job the most be most motivated to succeed?

Evidently, that’s not the feeling of most recruiters.  Instead, “alluding to financial hardship” and distributing bound copies of past projects are surefire ways not to get a job.  But why?

Well, when you “smell desperate,” it tells the recruiter that you’re going to handle extra-work pressures poorly – in other words, you’re likely to experience family-work conflict.  This kind of problem (not to be confused with work-family conflict) occurs when your home life spills over to and interferes with your work life.  After all, it’s not the company’s problem that you’re having financial strife; they’re just looking for the person that best fits the job.

My wife suggested what seems like the best explanation I can come up with: many other applicants aren’t desperate.  Imagine yourself in the recruiter’s shoes: Applicants A and B have credentials that are roughly the same, but Applicant A mentions that he really needs the job to pay the bills next month while Applicant B doesn’t.  Applicant B is thus an unknown in regards to his family life, but at least didn’t bring it up during a job interview.  Applicant A clearly has problems in his family life and is more than willing to share them with the recruiter – and from the recruiter’s perspective, is likely to share it with future coworkers as well.  If Applicant B is willing to waste the recruiter’s time with irrelevant information (as cold as that may seem), then he’s probably going to waste coworkers’ and his own time as well if he were hired.  So which applicant would you choose?

The final message here for applicants is the same old advice that so few seem to actually follow.  Be confident and research the organization and position that you are applying for thoroughly.  The interview is a window into who you will be as an employee.  Don’t muck up the view.

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  1. May 28, 2009

    I have thought about this a few times; I try not to act desperate in job interviews. I think this may have something to do with the recruiter’s schema of the person they want to hire. A successful person is NOT desperate. A successful person doesn’t need this job. This is the type of person recruiters are probably thinking about and this can lead to lack of fit.

    It would be interesting to see if the more needy candidate would be more grateful, more motivated, or remain in the organization longer.

    • May 29, 2009

      That would be interesting! But what a terribly complex thing to try to get data on… If only we could randomly assign recessions. (kidding!)

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