10 Common Job Interview Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

As anyone who has been in a job search for a while knows, being invited to a job interview is not something easily achieved.

Becoming one of the few “job candidates” rather than being part of the usually gigantic crowd of “job applicants” is a major victory.

Unfortunately, too many job candidates blow their interview opportunities, wasting all that time and effort.

Don’t be one of those candidates. Never assume that the job offer is “in the bag” simply because you were invited for an interview!

Avoid These Common Job Interview Mistakes

What you do during a job interview is viewed as a “sample” of your work. Everything you do is being judged because they don’t know you (unless you are one of the lucky referred candidates).

Show them you would be a great hire. Use these job interview tips to avoid making common mistakes:

1. Appearing Uninterested  

This one drives employers crazy. Most employers have more applicants than they need or want. If you aren’t demonstrably interested in them and the job, they certainly aren’t interested in hiring you.

To Avoid:

Demonstrate your interest in the company and the job. Know the job you are interviewing for and why you want the job. Ace your elevator pitch. Be dressed appropriately. Turn off your cell phone and focus your attention on the interview and the interviewers.

Ask intelligent questions that indicate you have done some research, but do NOT ask a question that could be answered in 30 seconds with a Google search or a peek at their website’s homepage.

2. Being Unprepared  

Obvious lack of preparation is an opportunity crusher. And, lack of preparation usually becomes obvious quickly.

To Avoid:

Be prepared! Preparation will help you demonstrate your interest in them and the job. You will also perform better in the interview when you are prepared.

Successful preparation has several elements:

  • Analyze the job description and your match with it.

    Carefully analyze the job description. Write down each requirement, and how you meet that requirement.

    Then, determine your accomplishments that align with those requirements. Write down your accomplishments, quantified as much as possible, to help you remember them.

    Think of situations where you have demonstrated that you meet this job’s requirements, and make note of them. These are “stories” you can share, briefly, in the interview to show that you meet the requirements. They will be particularly useful if you are asked, “Tell me about a time when…”

  • Know your answers to the standard job interview questions.

    In particular, be ready for the “What do you know about us” and “Why do you want to work here” questions, related specifically to this employer and job opportunity. Read Smart Answers to Interview Questions for details on what employers will probably ask and how to answer appropriately.

    Use your stories, as appropriate, when you think about your answers to the usual interview questions.

  • Research the employer.

    Yes, check out the website, as thoroughly as you can. What do they do? Do they state a “mission”? How are they organized? Where are they located? Are they part of a larger organization? If they have subsidiaries, what do their subsidiaries do?

    Note the names of their products and/or services and get familiar with what each does (unless they have tens or more).

    Who are the officers named on the website? Where are they located? Do you share any common background with any of them (hometown, school, service, volunteer work, etc.)

  • Not Researching the interviewers.

    Hopefully you know the names of the interviewers, so check out their LinkedIn Profiles. Do you have anything in common with any of them (as above, hometown, school, etc.). Do you notice anything else about them, from the same college degrees or the same military service to similar smiling (or not) faces? [Read Interview Investigation: Know the Interviewer In Advance for more tips.]

  • Being late for the interview.

    If possible, do a test run at the approximate time you are supposed to be there, and plan your departure and arrival for the interview accordingly, getting comfortable with the drive or ride, tolls or fees, parking options, etc.

    Being late for an interview is DEADLY. If you arrive more than 15 minutes early, find an unobtrusive place to hang out until you can officially arrive 5 or 10 minutes before the scheduled interview. Observe what is happening while you wait to learn more about the employer and, perhaps, have additional questions to ask.

Read The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation for more tips.

3. Sharing TMI (too much information)

Sometimes, people have a whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth mindset in a job interview, so they “spill their guts” in answer to every question. Not smart or useful!

I’m not recommending telling any lies, but I am recommending that you avoid boring the interviewer and blowing an opportunity by sharing too much information. If they want more details, they’ll ask.

To Avoid:

Answer their question, and then stop talking. Or, ask a question of your own.

4. Having Negative Body Language  

If you never smile, have a limp handshake, and don’t make eye contact with the people you meet at the employer’s location, and especially with the interviewer, you’ll come across as too shy or too strange or simply not interested.

To Avoid:

Show your interest and enthusiasm. If you are naturally very shy or an introvert, express your enthusiasm as Wendy Gelberg, author of The Successful Introvert, suggests.

[If you’re a veteran, put yourself at “Attention!” (but skip the “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir”).]

Smile, say hello, look them in the eye, and shake hands as though you really are happy to meet that person, and soon you will be. To learn more, read How to Leverage Body Language in Job Interviews.

5. Not Asking Good Questions, or Asking the Wrong Questions at the Wrong Time

To an employer, no questions = no interest. Number one, above, indicates how deadly that is to your success with the opportunity.

As bad as having no questions is asking the wrong questions. During the first interview, asking questions only about raises, promotions, vacation, and benefits are not usually well-received. Those questions apparently indicate that you are just interested in specific personal benefits rather than the job.

To Avoid:

Ask the questions that occurred to you as you were doing your pre-interview research, as you talked with the people during the interview, or as you observed people in the location.

Ask for details about the job — what an average day is like, if the job is new or being filled because the previous employee was promoted, etc.

Read 50+ Good Questions to Ask in Interviews and 45 Questions You Should NOT Ask in a Job Interview for more help.

6. Being Angry 

If you were laidoff, fired, or ended your last job unpleasantly, you may feel very angry. You may be angry over a horrible commute to the interview, earlier fight with your kids or spouse, or anything else. Whatever the reason, dump the anger before the interview, at least temporarily.

Angry people are NOT people employers want to hire. Angry people are not fun to work with. They may frighten co-workers and/or customers or clients. They may also abuse both people and equipment (computers, cars, etc.). Not good contributors to a happy workplace or a prosperous business, even if they don’t “go postal.”

To Avoid:

Stop, before you enter the employer’s premises, take a few deep breaths, focus on the opportunity that awaits you at this potential employer, put a smile on your face, and do your best to switch gears mentally so you are not “in a bad place” in your mind.

7. Flirting or Other Inappropriate Behavior 

Unless you are interviewing for a job as a comedian or host/hostess in a social club, don’t try to be entertaining or amusing. And, don’t flirt with anyone, including the receptionist and the security guard.

To Avoid:

If making them laugh isn’t a requirement of the job, take the interview seriously. Save flirting for your second day of work.

Don’t chew gum or bring food or drink into the interview. Mind your manners, like your Mother taught you, and be polite to everyone you meet there. The interview is an “audition” for the job. Show them your best!

8. Not Collecting Contact Information or Asking the Next-Steps Questions

Many job seekers leave the interview(s) with no idea of what will happen next in this employer’s hiring process. They also often don’t know who is the best person to contact as well as when and how to contact that person.

To Avoid:

At the beginning of the interview “play (business) cards” with the interviewer(s). Hand them your business card (or networking card, if you are employed), and ask for their card. This is the best way to gather the name, job title, location, and contact information of each person who interviews you. If you don’t have this information, you won’t be able to proceed with appropriate job interview follow-up (Mistake #9).

Then, as the interview ends, ask what the next steps in their hiring process are if no one volunteers the information. Find out who your post-interview contact is and when and how to contact that person. Note the email address and/or phone number carefully, paticularly if you don’t have that person’s business card.

For more details, read The 5 Absolute MUST-ASK Questions in Your Next Job Interview.

9. Forgetting the Interview is a Two-Way Street  

Don’t go to the interview thinking that you are the only one trying to “make a sale.” You need to ask questions to help you discover if the job, the people you would be working with, and the employer are what you want. You also need to decide if you would be happy working there for at least one year.

To Avoid:

Have your own list of questions ready (not the ones in #6 above). Observe what is happening at the location. Are employees and customers smiling or not? Do people seem busy or bored? Does the environment look like a pleasant place to spend most of your day? Is the location is good or bad for you (commute, parking, personal safety, etc.)? Anything else catch your attention (noisy, very quiet, bad music playing constantly, crummy restrooms, scary elevators, etc.)?

Read 50+ Good Questions to Ask in Interviews for ideas.

10. Failing to Follow Up

Often, job seekers leave at the end of the interview(s) with a sigh of relief that the interview is over, and they can get on with their lives. They leave, and wait to receive a job offer.

To Avoid:

Remember this is a demonstration of the quality of your work as an employee.To stand out in the crowd of job candidates, which usually number four or five, immediately send your thank you notes to each person who interviewed you. Also send a thank you to the external recruiter, if one was involved, or the employee or networking contact who referred you for the opportunity, if you were referred.

To send an effective thank you, read Sending Your Thank You After the Job Interview including the Sample Job Interview Thank You to the External Recruiter who may have referred you.

Moving On When You Make a Mistake

Everyone makes mistakes, and, often, the mistakes are not “fatal” for your job search. But, do your best to avoid these errors, and you should have a short job search.

If the interview seemed to go smoothly, but led to a job rejection, asking the hiring manager for feedback can set you up for success next time. Here’s why it’s important to ask for feedback after a job rejection.

More About Successful Job Interviews

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
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