Put away the Armani suit, and 5 other interview tips from a Marine vet CEO

SHARE Put away the Armani suit, and 5 other interview tips from a Marine vet CEO
SHARE Put away the Armani suit, and 5 other interview tips from a Marine vet CEO

Lou Ennuso is the CEO at software company Adeptia. A David among Goliaths, the 100-person firm joined Oracle, SAP and Microsoft as the only firms to be ranked in two of IT research firm Gartner’s magic quadrant. For the laypeople, that’s the coder’s version of getting nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.

Ennuso is a former Marine who took up marathoning at 61. He’s worked at five Fortune 500 companies and openly disdains what he calls the “me” generation. When people “bitch and moan” to him without trying to solve problems themselves, it makes him mad. Fancy suits strike him as “foppish.”

But Ennuso also teaches at UIC’s business school, and he understands that interviews aren’t many people’s idea of fun. That informs the way he goes about the interview. “We start off the process with mutual respect. Thank them, offer them coffee, make them relaxed, feel positive about what’s about to happen,” he says. “To us, this is the start of a conversation and not an interview. Interviews are so stoic, it’s hard to gain information or data. Conversation or dialogue is where true exchange happens.”

Ennuso’s mix of bracing honesty and calculated compassion make his approach to the hiring process an unusual one. Here are Ennuso’s five ways to ace an interview.

Dress somewhere in the middle.

My mom always used to say, you always want to dress up and not down. But in an interview, there’s a fine balance. A $3,000 Armani with gold cuff links doesn’t send the signal that you’re a worker. In a 100-person software company, everyone does everything.

Get there early. Like early early.

The first thing I look for, is the person on time? Some people think five or six minutes late is OK. “I missed the bus, I couldn’t find a cab.”

You’re talking to an old Marine Corps a guy. If you though there was a chance you’d be a little late, that means you leave early. Punctuality to us is really, really important. We’re all a product of our experiences and [my time in the Marines] is one.

Run far distances.

I may ask them what they do for fun. And what I’m looking for there is, how broad are they? “I read the newspaper.” Hmmmm, I don’t know. I’d like to hear someone say, I’m a runner, biker, like to fish, like to go camping. Looking for someone who’s a little more well-rounded, make for good corporate citizen. There are some people I talk to who are engineers who don’t do anything. Read books, write code, sit behind a screen all day. That’s all they do. That’s a little too controlling for me, because biz is not controlling.

If [someone] runs marathons, I’m probably gonna hire you right there because that’s the most focused, disciplined thing you can do. Run 10 marathons in the last seven years, took it up when I was 61 out of the clear blue sky.

List an actual weakness.

Everyone says that, I’m too proactive. You’ll get those classic mundane answers. I’ll let ’em talk and then I’ll look at them again and I’ll say, “I’ve worked for five fortune 500 companies, and I really screwed things up sometimes. I’m going to ask you again, and I want you to tell me the real answer.

Don’t ask about comp. (Especially if you’re young.)

When’s my first raise gonna be? Am I gonna get reviewed in six months? Will there be a salary upgrade at that point? Oh my god, you haven’t even started working here yet. 401(k) plan, weeks of vacation, personal days.

That smacks of the “me” generation. I don’t think that young people get that. I know that sounds terribly biased. I don’t know where there bridge got lost, but it got lost some place.

I hate to say it, but to be perfectly frank, I probably probe a little bit more with a younger person than with a midlevel or an older person. I’m looking for that. Engineers here are younger and we’ve hired right. Everyone’s capable of working 24/7 when we’re on deadline. Nobody says, it’s 5 o’clock. Can’t afford that because the marketplace is just too damn cruel. It doesn’t care that you need to watch the Bears game.

Want more candid career advice? Look here.

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