Job interviews are arguably the most stressful part of finding a new job.
The biggest problem is not knowing how well you performed after you’re done.
Did they like you? Or did you unwittingly jeopardize your candidacy by making one of the worst interview mistakes?
But you can minimize the chances of making a mistake in an interview, and missing out on a great job opportunity, by avoiding the following pitfalls:
#1. “Winging” your interview
You might think, “I’ve sat for enough interviews. I know how to sell myself. I don’t need to do any prep!” But in my years of coaching candidates for interviews, I have seen that lack of preparation usually results in the worst interview mistakes.
This is because every company is different. Their needs for hiring are different. The problems they need you to come in and solve are different. Therefore, not preparing for every interview is one of the worst mistakes that you should avoid.
By prepping adequately, you can explain to the hiring manager why you’ll be an asset to them, specifically.
Additionally, experienced interviewers can always tell the difference between spontaneous answers and well-thought-out ones.
Spontaneous answers tend to be too long and confusing to follow. People who go into interviews without any prep struggle to share specific stories that show off employer-required skills. They often fail to answer technical questions because of a lack of preparation.
In comparison, well thought out answers are tight and to the point; they answer the question quickly and precisely. Candidates who have done their prep easily and confidently connect their strengths and accomplishments to employer needs and all without losing the interviewer’s interest.
Before any interview, do the following:
Prepare a sample answer.
You can find interview questions and some great sample answers here. Your answer should be 60 seconds long to hold the interviewer’s attention. This roughly spans about five sentences, which you can discreetly count on your hand during the interview. Prepare answers that link your skills and the company requirements with specific examples from your history.
Analyze the target company.
Their website is a great place to start. Understand the target company’s product, operations, culture, and priorities. When you know the target company’s preferred values and practices, you can better align yourself with their needs. “You want to reduce your turnover rate and training costs. As an HR Manager, I instill loyalty and job longevity by providing personalized support to each employee to align their career goals with our business objectives.” In other words, doing this study will help you express your expertise with concrete examples that are relevant to the company’s needs and targets.
Research the target industry.
You can do this by signing up with professional organizations that serve people in your industry. Employers want people who are up-to-date with the latest industry news. Incorporating this information into your answers shows you off as a candidate that’s eager to learn, and possibly a cut above the rest. And if you can use your expertise to provide insightful suggestions that will bring value to the company, you’ll show that you’re a rock star.
Look up your interviewer on LinkedIn.
Explore their career background and read up on their affiliation with the company. How long have they been working here? What changes, if any, have they introduced? What are their values and best practices? These can be fantastic talking points during an interview.
Know your resume inside out.
Make sure you remember important dates, skills, prior tasks, and projects. Make sure your achievements and accomplishments are shared in a reader-friendly manner. (Download my resume template here if this is something you need help with.) Be ready to answer any possible queries the interviewer may have.
#2. Cramming as much information as possible into your response
Some job seekers make the mistake of thinking, “I need to give the interviewer every detail about this project.” It is one of the worst interview mistakes as it will make your answers long and incoherent. As a result, the interviewer will quickly lose interest and zone out.
“This person is not a good communicator,” the interview will probably think. “They can’t summarize their thoughts or present information appropriate for different management levels.”
What can you do to stop yourself from making one of the worst interview mistakes? Make a script of your answer and limit it to five sentences or under 60 seconds. It’s okay to pause for a few seconds before you answer so that you can be sure you’re giving the best answer. You want to keep things short to prevent giving away what the interviewer may perceive as “liabilities.” (And we know interviewers can be finicky about what they like and dislike.)
Check your answer for keywords; make sure you’re using the employer’s terminology and language. Make sure you’re hitting the main points of the story (provide context – why were you tasked with solving that problem, explain what you did briefly to resolve that issue, and share any results you were able to achieve). And then practice, ideally with a friend!
I’m going to give you two scenarios. Which answer seems more powerful for a marketing position?
Interviewer: So, Fatemah, tell me about yourself.
Me: Well, my name is Fatemah, as you mentioned. I live in Corona. Before that, I used to live in Torrance. On the weekends, I like crocheting and sewing. I studied environmental engineering at UCLA. Then I worked at a journal called the Physics of Fluids… (*goes on and on*)
Do you see how the answer has nothing to do with marketing? That’s a very fundamental error.
Let’s try again…
Interviewer: So, Fatemah, tell me about yourself.
*Three-second gap while I think quickly: this role has to do with marketing; I should only talk about marketing.
Me: Thanks, Bob. I first became interested in marketing when I was running CareerTuners. I dabbled quite a bit in digital marketing, and each campaign I ran eventually brought in 800% ROI. The thing I love most about marketing is analyzing our metrics to see what sorts of gaps I can turn into opportunities. A couple of years ago, I realized that most of our audience had been given conflicting advice about their resumes, so I launched a cheat sheet campaign to educate them on the fundamentals of resume writing. Your role caught my eye because it focuses so much on digital marketing, and I believe my background and recent accomplishments really equip me with the tools I need to succeed here.
Every single thought has to support your answer.
And every single answer has to support a key skill that you need to have for the job you’re interviewing for.
During an interview, if you feel like you’re short-selling yourself, close your answer with “I can tell you more if you want?” This makes the interview more conversational and will improve your likability. If asked to elaborate, again, keep your follow up response to five sentences or shorter.
#3. Using self-descriptors in your responses
Describing oneself could come across as vague and even boastful. Remember every candidate is going to claim that they’re amazing at the job.
One of the worst interview mistakes is not being able to back up your claims. Instead of telling your interviewer what you’re good at, you need to show them that. This is best done by sharing examples and success stories.
Consider the following question: ‘What is your biggest strength?’
A common answer is: I have found that I’m a very engaging team leader. I’m passionate, dedicated, and a problem-solver.
Your response is just as good as the next guy; it sounds like a broken record to the interviewer. More importantly, since you don’t have a relationship of trust with the interviewer, they will not take your word for it.
On the other hand, a good, accomplishment-based response would look like this: I would say my biggest strength is my ability to engage my team. After being promoted, when I began delegating tasks, I started to feel that my teammates were becoming less engaged with their work. Although our team communicated mostly virtually, I hosted the first-ever offline meeting for our entire department. This meeting led to several important changes being discussed and implemented, such as new training initiatives. As a result, team engagement improved dramatically.
Sharing an example of your success is always better because you’re showing more than one skill.
Additionally, you’re providing proof. “I have been there, done that, and succeeded.” Using the second answer, you are showing off that you:
- Were promoted
- Identified and solved a problem
- Are skilled at delegation
- Have experience in remote-team management
- Brought about company-wide change
- Improved team engagement
In short, you create a stronger impression on the interviewer by sharing success stories instead of fluffy self-descriptors.
#4. Arriving too early or too late
Appearing too early could make the interviewing firm feel obligated to entertain you. Moreover, you might come across as a desperate candidate rather than an eager one. And arriving late for an interview shows a lack of interest, commitment, and professionalism.
The simple rule of the thumb is to arrive 20 minutes before your interview. This will give you enough time to park and find the room where you’re supposed to go.
Make sure you know where the interview is scheduled beforehand. This will help you plan your day ahead of time. A quick look at Google Maps will tell you the time required to get there. Remember to plan for the time it will take you to sign in and walk to the right office too!
#5. Trash talking your previous company or its employees
Some job seekers badmouth previous employer or coworkers. It is one of the worst interview mistakes that a candidate could make.
Nobody wants to hire a job seeker who comes across as petty or toxic. These negative traits can have a devastating impact on a company’s culture and performance.
For example, when a client I was coaching kept talking about how her previous employer was rude and insensitive to their employees’ needs, she got nowhere. She was being turned down despite being the perfect fit for the job. She then rephrased her response to how the company’s values and goals did not align with hers. This way she was able to highlight the problems without trash-talking her previous company.
Take great care in selecting descriptors for your past employers. The words you choose will reflect on you as a person and as a professional. Make a genuine effort to take the high road. Focus on the lessons learned. Be tactful and show how you are not someone who is going to shine a light on someone else’s mistake. Rather, you help inculcate a culture of trust and growth.
Let’s consider the following example. There was a time where senior management showed resistance against introducing new technology. But you convinced them to invest by demonstrating the firm-wide benefits. You should not focus on the management being resistant. Rather say you introduced an advanced technology by creating and presenting a business case to generate buy-in from senior stakeholders.
If this is an area you struggle with, consider availing my interview coaching services.
#6. Dressing improperly for the interview
First impressions have a significant impact on how others perceive you.
The way you dress and present yourself at the interview will show your willingness and commitment to the job. More importantly, it will show that you made an effort in being here.
Pick out an outfit that conforms to the dress code of the company. This is something you can easily learn by doing a little bit of online research.
In general, the creative industry tends to lean towards a more casual look while most companies follow a semi-formal attire. Nonetheless, make sure that you check where your company stands on the formality scale.
Wear what you are comfortable in. Don’t experiment with different looks, in hopes of rebranding yourself, as it could be one of the worst interview mistakes.
#7. Not asking questions at the end of the interview
Usually, towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks if you have any questions.
A lot of candidates think it’s enough to ask “when can I hear back from you” and that’s not enough. It doesn’t fully show your eagerness for the job. Other candidates believe in thinking up a question on the spot. More often than not, they fail in thinking up a good question. Their lack of preparation comes back to hurt them.
Asking good questions shows your interest in their company. There are three main areas you can ask questions on:
- How your performance will be measured on the job? (Is it output based? Or quality based?)
- What kind of professional development will be available to them? (What topics will the initial training be on for the job?)
- Do they have any expectations from you? (What will I need to have achieved within my first six months here for you to say I was a successful hire?)
#8. Not following up with your interviewer
Another worst interview mistake is viewing follow up as an unimportant practice. “I went in for the interview. The ball is in the interviewer’s court. My job is done.”
But that’s not true! Candidates need to follow up appropriately after the interview.
You should always send a thank-you note after the interview. This should be done within 24 hours of exiting the interview. The note should be short, friendly, and error-free. Here are a few templates that will help you in writing a thank you note.
Candidates should periodically follow up with the interviewer, via email or message. The goal is to make a connection with the interviewer. But don’t be overly aggressive approach by sending numerous emails within the space of a few days! It could come across as unprofessional and desperate which is one of the worst interview mistakes.
Remember you are following up as a common courtesy. I recommend following up after seven, 14, and 30 days.
#9. Bringing up salary and benefits first
Although the interview is a two-way street, bringing up salary could signify how your personal interests take precedence over the company’s goals. Giving such an impression during the interview is one of the worst mistakes.
Do your due diligence beforehand by looking at the market’s competitive salary for your targeted position. To ensure that you don’t undersell or oversell yourself, give an expected salary bracket rather than a fixed figure.
When you are not offered your ideal salary, take into account other fringe benefits that the company is offering, and then make a decision based on their combined value. Always leave room for negotiation. Here is my guide to salary negotiation.
#10. Poor body language during the interview
It is okay to be a little anxious and nervous for a job interview. But you don’t want your nerves taking over.
Excessive fidgeting and breaking eye contact can make you look tense and edgy. At best, you’ll come across as a Nervous Nelly. At worst, the interviewer might think that you’re not confident in your abilities.
To prevent such a situation, record yourself to note any tells and nervous ticks. You can ask a friend to conduct a mock interview and give a candid response.
What can you do before an interview to calm yourself? Do breathing exercises before you step in for the interview. Take your time while answering. Think about what you want to say and then articulate that clearly. If you need time to organize your answer, ask for 10-30 seconds. Write down what you say to say before you say it. Maintain eye contact but don’t stare.
Job search expert at TheLadders, Amanda Augustine, says, “It’s important to be confident and look the interviewer in the eye, but then break away. Locking eyes with someone for an extended period of time can be interpreted as aggressive, not to mention creepy.”
Act natural, smile, and relax. It is just a conversation.
Most importantly, remember that you possess a skill set and expertise that the interviewer and their company need. So have faith in yourself and be confident.
#11. Checking your phone during the interview
It is a clear indication of your lack of interest and respect towards the interviewer and their company and it is most certainly one of the worst interview mistakes that you can make.
Turn off your phone when going in for an interview. If you can’t turn it off due to personal reasons, a sick parent, or a baby with a sitter, put your cell phone on silent.
#12. Oversharing personal details with the interviewer
Never forget that an interview is a professional meeting. Even if the interviewer is very friendly and the questions become conversational, your responses should remain courteous and professional.
Any inquiries regarding your personal life should be turned down politely, especially if they don’t have any connection with the employment opportunity. For instance, if you are asked about your marital status, you can politely ask about the question’s relevance to the job opening. Keep your answer limited in scope.
However, this warning extends to all answers.
If you’re a career changer asked about why you’re changing fields, do not overshare personal details. The interview does not need to know your whole backstory. That may sound harsh but it’s true. Oversharing highly personal details is one of the worst interview mistakes you can make. You should summarize what led to your perspective shift, what is drawing you to this new field, and what skills you bring to the table.
To make a connection with the employer, talk about how you can bring value to the company.
Are there any specific interview questions that you struggle with? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help you brainstorm an answer.