SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Opinion

Interview is like courtship, full of possibility if compatibility exists



I spent a weekend last month with Dick Irwin, my co-founder in Sport Sales Combine, conducting one of our ticket sales combines in Atlanta with the NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers. During the course of the combine, we interviewed 56 young men and women searching for their first jobs in ticket sales. While it was a great experience, I came away perplexed regarding what I had heard in my interviews and what I had seen on the résumés I reviewed.

As this publication is required in many sports business programs, I offer this column for students and faculty to prevent these same mistakes from occurring as the students embark on their respective job searches.

Relax and be honest

The response to most of the questions I asked began with the preamble, “Can I be honest with you?” or “Let me tell you the truth.”

My response? Jokingly, I would say, “No, lie to me,” and the interviewee was so intent in responding, that their next response was, “OK,” followed by their answer. While it might seem like an innocent response, the interpretation is “I have not been telling the truth up to now, but this is something I really want you to know is my honest feeling.” Another popular preamble to a response was “Seriously,” as if we had been joking up to this point.

This also drives home the need for the interviewee to listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying or asking before commenting or responding. Many interviews are unsuccessful because the interviewee is not listening, because they have something they want to say and are only waiting for the moment when they can respond.

I also have a “like” meter: I count the number of times an interviewee uses the word “like” in his or her conversation. It would appear that this word has taken on the role of filler much like “um” does. The winner (who unfortunately turned out to be a loser in terms of the job interview) managed to use the word “like” 27 times in a five-minute conversation. I try to point this out to my students and other young people. I often ask them to buy a small recorder, record casual conversations and replay them to hear what their conversation sounds like. Overuse of “like” or a similar word can position the candidate as less intelligent or talented than he or she really is.

What are you wearing?

The appropriateness of the dress shirt/tie combination was brought to my attention by a number of the participating team personnel who were attending the combine to help coach and scout for talent. The issue was the color dress shirt worn with the suit. We saw a number of black shirts (nice for “The Sopranos” but not sales), dark purple and dark blue as well as red and one very electric teal. When going to an interview, wear a dark suit, a white or light blue shirt, and a complementary tie. You can change before you go to the club or whatever the final destination might be. The tie should offer some contrast to the shirt while bringing out the color in the suit.

While the last few decades have become more and more casual in terms of workplace dress, remember that you can always ask to remove your suit jacket or your tie in a very casual situation — but if you don’t have them, you will be at a loss in a more formal business situation.

What’s on your résumé?

Read your résumé and understand what it says about you. While it may be impossible for a young graduate to know exactly what they want to pursue in a career upon graduation, it should be very clear what types of experiences and skills they need for the job they are applying for. Applying for a job in marketing without a marketing internship or experience is going to result in an unsuccessful interview. Similarly, having a great deal of experience in a particular area might put you in a box that is difficult to escape unless you have taken the time to prepare an explanation about how those skills apply and translate to the position you are seeking.

Is the one-page résumé a myth or reality? Unfortunately it is a little of both. As résumé preferences are subjective, you may need to have two versions of it. In any case, the résumé needs to have the level of detail and explanation so that the reader can really comprehend the experiences contained therein. Take time to review and eliminate high school experiences, irrelevant part-time jobs and honors that people probably do not understand. (I once saw a résumé where a student had been selected All Middle Georgia in high school football). Don’t list the courses that you completed, and why list a grade point average unless it positions you as an elite student?

Make references available

Given that many people searching for employees are very busy and have significant responsibilities in addition to the search, make it easy on them and yourself and include a sheet of references. From my personal viewpoint, I often look at the references to see if I know anyone who could speak to the abilities and talents of the applicants. If I find a résumé that has references including people I know, I put it aside and always follow up. Why risk being in the other pile of résumés without references? It is up to the reviewer to decide if they want to see them.

Finally, thank the interviewer for his or her time and the opportunity. And if you want the job, ask for it. Hiring is like courting: a step before marriage, and each party needs to know how the other feels about the possibilities, the compatibility and the opportunity.

Bill Sutton ( is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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