During a recent job interview, I made it clear that I was somehow desperate to get a job (I did not say I am desperate, but my answers made it clear I am).

How/why is it bad to have such an attitude when interviewing?

From my personal point of view, I have just been honest (I did NOT beg for the job, honesty is not begging IMHO)

14 Answers 14

up vote 85 down vote accepted

It's not always bad to appear desperate. It's just a good rule of thumb to avoid it, without much detailed knowledge of the situation.

Being desperate has some advantages:

  • The hirer may sympathize or respect you for being in a very unfair position.
  • If you are actually desperate, frankness may be easier than pretending you're not.
  • The company may be looking for very committed employees.

However these don't apply in many cases. Meanwhile, the negatives:

  • Maybe there's a good reason no one else would hire you.
  • Maybe you'll stop being desperate in a few months and move on to a better job.
  • Maybe you won't be a good worker, if you're only taking the job because you're desperate.
  • People generally don't want to hire the guy nobody else wants. They want to feel like they're getting the best of the best.
  • The hirer is likely to just have a personal bias against desperate applicants, because they've heard the "don't look desperate" advice and taken it at face value.

These don't apply to every case, and possibly none of them apply to some case. But without any prior knowledge, any sensible person will conclude that they may very likely apply, and the advantages above are unlikely to apply so often as to justify taking the risk. So the advice given is almost always to avoid looking desperate. This isn't such a bad policy, but it's also not the best strategy you can possibly adopt. Keep in mind that advice givers online are also not that concerned with helping you, their main goal is often just to establish their own status as a giver of good advice.

This does not mean you will never encounter a situation where it so happens that the negatives of admitting to your desperation are limited and advantages are strong. In such a situation, and assuming you have arrived at such a conclusion rationally rather than by wishful thinking, it is equally sensible to go ahead and admit that you are desperate. But again, you can only make this decision after understanding the situation: Specifically your own qualities and abilities, and the hirer's attitudes and expectations.

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    Your answer is not narrowed to one side, and almost every single phrase you wrote is a study from a different perspective. That is why I am more convinced with this answer and I decided to accept it. I thank everybody for the insightful feedback. I upvoted all the answers. – virtualbox Aug 11 at 19:16
  • "respect you for being in a very unfair position." Doubt. Everybody has their own burdens, and it's unlikely they'll care for yours, particularly if comes at expense to their own motivations. – Alexander Aug 12 at 2:30
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    Another con you didn't mention here is that if they know you are desperate they will likely attempt to undercut your wage. By being desperate you lose a lot of negotiation power. – Shadow Aug 13 at 2:57
  • Wouldn't people who are concerned with helping the OP be most likely perceived as givers of good advice? – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 13 at 8:42
  • Being desperate doesn't mean you'll be committed. I do think that desperate people are actually more desperate for a salaray than a job, cause there are plenty of good causes you could volunteer for if it was not for the money... – Laurent S. Aug 13 at 12:43

Desperation doesn't make you employable.

Interviews are there for you to demonstrate that you're a good match for the company and you have the ability and skill to work and help generate profit for the company.

Admitting to desperation just sends the message that you're bouncing from interview to interview in the blind hope that someone will give you a job.

You need to sell yourself, you need to appear confident and professional.

There are pages and pages of websites dedicated to interview techniques and advice, I'm sure that none of them have begging or desperation as a valid tactic.

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    I'd probably add to this that showing desperation shows that (for whatever reason) other companies didn't want you. Which begs the question of "why?" Making employers wonder what's wrong with [you, job history, etc] isn't a good first step. Also showing you're desperate gives salary-setters a leg up since they know you'll take worse deals more often than not, since you're desperate. – Delioth Aug 10 at 13:50
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    It might worth considering the fact that this depends quite a bit on the market. I doubt interviewers during the great depression got the feeling that someone who seemed desperate for the job was likely a bad worker. If unemployment is 3%, then desperation is pretty much a sign of problems. If unemployment is 25% it's quite different. Being too confident might even be seen as a problem since you obviously don't need the job as much as the other people and might decide to leave. I don't want to take someone who has family money and will quit on a whim if I can have someone who will be loyal. – DRF Aug 10 at 14:56
  • @Delioth no it doesn't show that. The person may not have applied anywhere else for what we know. Maybe he is secretly super rich and just testing the employers behaviour. – mathreadler Aug 12 at 9:29
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    +1 for "Admitting to desperation just sends the message that you're bouncing from interview to interview in the blind hope that someone will give you a job." - I think that's what everything else boils down to. – berry120 Aug 13 at 14:30
up vote 54 down vote
+200

(I agree with Snows point on bouncing from interview to interview) This brings in loyalties as well, if you are appointed are you going to take the job if you got offered one from another employer? Depends... an employer needs to think of these things.

Showing you are desperate can reveal many things about your situation.

Not actually wanting this job

Showing you are desperate can tend to give employers a doubt on whether you want this job or you need this job. Two very different things. If you want a job then it could be a role you particularly enjoy or something you're passionate about. If you need a job, or any job, you are in it for financial reasons and financial reasons only as you need the money.

Other priorities

If you are desperate for a job there has to be a reason eg; financial stability, children, bills when you are working you may focus on these issues rather than the tasks at hand.

Suitability

If you are desperate for the job it is likely that you have adjusted your CV and potentially even lied a bit just to make yourself sound suitable for the job as you are in desperate need of being appointed.

Time in Job

If you come across as desperate you could potentially get the job and then look for a job that you feel you are more suited to. As an employer they will want to retain their staff for as long as possible to avoid training and other costs of hiring someone new.

  • good points. But does not that show I am motivated to work? – virtualbox Aug 10 at 10:44
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    Possibly yes, but as I've mentioned you may work for a short amount of time in terms of the future and you may just not be suitable and unfocused, whether you want to work or not – Twyxz Aug 10 at 10:47
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    No, it doesn't show you are motivated to "work". It shows you are motivated to "want money". The two things are very different! Also, by appearing "desperate" you are reminding the interviewer that you are currently unemployed, and even if that is totally not your fault, the interviewer has only heard one side of that story - i.e. yours - and he/she has probably "heard it all before" so you won't be getting any sympathy. On average, hiring someone who is already employed is a better bet than hiring someone who isn't. – alephzero Aug 10 at 12:02
  • Other point you might add is that showing you're desperate might also hurt you in salary negotiations. It gives the signal that you're willing to accept any low offer, potentially lower than they might initially give. – JAD Aug 10 at 12:57
  • @virtualbox and desperate people might rather lie or take a job they know not to be a good fit. It's simply statistics, between to equal candidates, one desperate, one not, the desperate one will be a failed hire more often. Hiring people is all about hiring a good match as often as possible. In other words, it's about not hiring anyone with an increased likelihood of not being a good fit. – DonQuiKong Aug 11 at 17:52

Yes it is bad, very bad.

Showing desperation puts you in a weak negotiating position. Should the company decide to offer you a job, they know you really need it as you have told them, and you are likely to get a lower offer. Remember your either qualified for the job or you are not.

Furthermore, these people who are interviewing you do not know you. There is no personal connection of any kind at this point, therefore desperation is very unbecoming. It may in fact turn off an employer towards you.

Short answer: Don't do this, ever.

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    Also it may raise the question "why does no one else want to hire this person, are they lacking something?" – Captain Man Aug 10 at 13:49
  • Wouldn't the potential employee being in a weak negotiating position be a good thing for a business? An employee doing the same work for less pay means more profit for the business. – nick012000 Aug 11 at 9:23
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    @nick012000: Well, yes - but this is bad for the employee if the company chooses to take advantage of this. So it is not smart for the employee to show this. – awe Aug 14 at 9:25

To be perfectly honest it really comes down to the possible worst case scenario.

Someone interviewing you doesn't know you personally. When I am interviewing people who seem desperate for a job the first thought that comes to mind is why are they desperate. Here are a few reasons that typically come to mind:

  • Maybe the person cannot hold down a job and tends to bounce around
  • Maybe the person is terrible with money and has put them in a position where they need this job. (this doesn't sound terrible, but sometimes people who are bad with money tend to ask for a lot of pay advances to ask their co-workers for money)
  • Why aren't the confident enough to assume they will get the job? (if you go into an interview basically saying look I really need this job, it almost seems like you are doubting your ability to get the job and begging for it. If you aren't confident you can do the job, why should I be confident that you can)

That last point is super important. When you look desperate for a job and answer questions desperately, you will not look confident in your ability to do the job. It comes off more as "Please do me a favour and hire me". Even if you are really good at your job, going into a job interview and looking desperate makes it hard for someone hiring to pick you if they have candidates that interviewed well and are confident.

From the point of view of the company:

  • If you are desperate you will take any job, even one you might not like.

  • If you are willing to take a job that you might not like, you might be applying for this job even if you don't like it

  • If you end up working here despite you not liking it, you might end up leaving the company as soon as something better appears.

Being desperate does not mean you are more motivated for this job, it means you need this job.

If you want to show motivation you need to explain where that motivation comes from. For example:

  • I really like this job offer since it is about X and Y and I love those things.
  • I think I am a great fit for this offer since the responsibilities are X and Y and I have strong skills in those areas.
  • I am looking forward to this job because it is a step forward in my career

I am going to offer a different point of view. Yes, the answer by most that usually it is not good, for all the reasons offered, is right on target.

However ...

Many times there is a personal connection between interviewer and potential employer, and yes, this connection is often created in the first few seconds. If that is positive, the interviewer may develop a positive affinity towards you and, depending on what you say, "justify" your desperation. If the interviewer's feeling is that, thanks to how you present yourself, you will be doing a better job because your desperation will actually develop in putting a stronger effort, it may be actually playing in your favour.

There is a lot going on in an interviewer's mind that even he/she is not aware of. As you said you were just honest, and the perception of honesty may push the interviewer to trust you.

Interviews are tricky, and there is a lot of psychology involved we are not even aware of.

But be aware, there is a difference between appearing that you need the job and begging for the job, do not cross that line.

This can work.

In interviewing managers, one thing that popped up was that managers dislike the personal aspects of the job - that is, how their decisions impact a persons personal life. It is at this stage that the business/personal divide falls apart.

For example, not many people enjoy making other people redundant or outright firing them. This is because there is an impact on the person's life - can they afford their rent? their health?

In the same manner, if you tell a manager that you need a job this will weigh on the manager. They might not like it, and they might not like to admit it, but it is hard to deny someone a job they need. It is easy from the comfort of a cafe to jot down "the business of business is business", but when it comes down to it, most people are nice and they'd rather not hurt someone else.

As other answerers have noted, however, there are downsides - the first is that if you cannot sell that you also really want this particular job then it's very difficult to sell yourself. If you give off signals that you'll be away in a week, or that you don't care about the mission so you won't work hard, then it would be a foolish manager to hire you.

However, if you can sell that you want the job and the manager is aware that you need the job, then this can help you out - everyone likes to be a hero, and most managers thinking they're helping a good worker out would prefer to hire that worker over another similarly qualified one.

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    You're saying here that guilt-tripping is a valid interview technique? – Snow Aug 10 at 10:47
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    @Snow I'm simply saying that, from interviewing 50+ managers, it can work. I'm not sure i'm saying it should be part of every interviewee's toolbox, and I'm definitely not saying that an ability to guilt-trip is necessarily a skillset that should be considered by hiring managers. Nor would I argue that a need for a job is a qualifying characteristic. But if you would define "valid" as "often effective" then yes, that would be the case. Is it as effective as other things? No. It is the least effective interviewing tactic - unlikely. – bharal Aug 10 at 11:31
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    It seems to me this is a strategy for "getting a job working for a bad manager." Sure, managers don't like carrying out some of their duties as much as others, but that shouldn't make them choose not to carry out those duties properly, or not to do them at all. – alephzero Aug 10 at 12:08
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    @aleph you're confusing things. managers are human, and so react in a human manner. moreover, management is more art than science. you could only judge a manager with emotional conflicts as bad if you believed that a manager is a blind executor of "management concepts", and that, "management concepts" is a defined science. – bharal Aug 10 at 12:33
  • @Snow: any legal and honest interviewing technique that is successful is a valid technique. Now, how succesful this would be... – jmoreno Aug 12 at 0:24

"Desperation" means that you managed yourself into a corner and that you are not really employable at other locations in a timely fashion. That's a distraction at best and a disqualification at worst.

It's like someone selling fruit with the argument "buy this today, tomorrow it will be rotten".

It's not "just being honest" to volunteer information you have not been asked for.

Being desperate for a job is a detail of your personal finances and that's not what you should be discussing with an employer apart from the amount of difference you expect him to provide to them in commensurate recompensation and recognition for your work.

Some of us have experienced being desperate to find a job. Sometimes, employers are themselves desperate to find employees.

So yes, "ability to start immediately with necessary skills and capabilities" is reasonable and attractive. In my view honesty is the best policy but certainly begging for a job is a choice, try not to do that, it usually doesn't work out even if you get the job.

Remember to be honest about your own estimates on how fast and how much you can produce for said employer, as: keep in mind that employers can be desperate, for sometimes unfortunate reasons (lack of staff, desperate need for customers, funding, harsh work environment, poor management, etc).

I think like most things it depends on how you said it and who is the audience. What works for one person might not with someone else. I also think industry is important. Being a desperate person and applying to a retail job might land you a position. Being desperate in a IT field, where a company has millions of customers depending on your code to work might be a little hesitant.

One hand they might take it that you're not qualified to do the job. That you are simply interested in getting something, anything at all and you don't care what so long as you get in and get paid.

On the other hand, they might see it that you're looking to get a job asap and start working right now.

I think it depends on how you say it. For example,

I am looking for a immediate position. I saw your job post and see that it matches what I want to do. I am hoping to start immediately and really need this job.

vs

Please give me this job! I need it! I have bills to pay and I'm about to cash out on my retirement to pay for food if I don't get this job.

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    As a hiring manager, both of those are bad, since "I really need this job" sounds quite desperate. "I saw your job post, see that it matches what I want to do, and am available to start immediately" is all you need. – jpatokal Aug 11 at 12:53

In addition to the other answers, desperate people are tempted to be dishonest at times (or do other underhanded things).

This can lead your prospective employer to suspect that your resume contents or the answers you give during your interview are not truthful. The easiest way to deal with this possibility is: "We have decided not to proceed with your application."

To answer the core question...

Desperation is very much a reactive state-of-mind. It displays a lack of control, of hopelessness. That's why it is almost universally repulsive.

From the employer point of view, it looks like your circumstances have taken over your life and you are just trying to stay afloat. By extension, they will think that you're going act with desperation when faced with hard problems at work.

Just a tangential observation: if you are getting to actual face-to-face interviews it means, probably, that you have surpassed numerous other candidates. There is no reason for you to display desperation.

The employer thinks you're a viable candidate and it is coming down to choosing from a short list. Focus on positioning yourself as a distinctive choice and practice your interview skills.

There is a simple way of expressing your "desperation" without having to invoke emotions. But first let's have a brief definition of it in context: Desperation is the situation, in which one is in strong, timely need for a job in order to maintain his/her life style.

So just to clarify, there is both, an emotional and rational component to it. It is your situation which renders you desperate, and it is your emotions which recognize and express that.

It is true that expressing desperation indicates to employers that they can "exploit" you by paying a lower wage. However, if you are desperate, you would want to work for a lower wage. You can get that job by demanding less money, which makes you more powerful in the negotiation process. If you perform well enough, you should get a raise based on your actual qualifications minus the desperation after the probation time expires. Obviously you have to negotiate again for it - but if you feel that they helped you, you should at least mention that you are thankful for having employed you. Employers are humans after all, and value positive character attributes and honesty (not all obviously). It's obviously preferable to toxic personalities, as having conflicts within a business can result in terrible outcomes, up to having to fire people and demoralizing employees (and possibly the employer as well).

So: Simply show your "desperation" by demanding a lower wage upon application than what is common, without begging for the job in any shape or form. Give them time to prove your worth and renegotiate over time once you are in. Understanding this is a mark of the ability to plan in the long-term and therefore intelligence (or wisdom). That is likely to be positively recognized in an application.

Employers usually can see through applicants, so you shouldn't try to cover up what is obvious (if it is), but instead gracefully recognize it and show it in your wage negotiation. It is important that you acknowledge your situation and mention it at least, so that the employer doesn't get other ideas to why you negotiate less than what you (your work) may be actually worth. Find a good phrasing for it of course.

Having a fresh employee for a lower wage for the probation time, who in turn shows potential to be good in the mid or long-term, is a valuable opportunity for businesses. It is much better than paying someone the "full" wage, who in turn turns out to be a bad and expensive employee within the probation time.

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