Some of these cringe-worthy job interview mistakes have been made by yours truly. To save the embarrassment, I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say that personal experience helped inform this list of the top 10 interview mistakes to avoid.
Every job interview is important of course. The way you conduct yourself and the impression you make in answering questions has a huge impact on whether or not you land the job. Keeping that in mind, here are ten mistakes commonly made during the interview process, and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Turning Up Without Knowing About the Job
Most interview panels expect you to do significant research about your potential new employer before the interview. Showing up with having done basic research is a big mistake.
You could easily be asked questions such as “Why do you want to work for us?” and “What are the biggest challenges you are likely to face in this role?” Not having a good answer to reel off can be embarrassing.
And, remember, you could easily be competing against internal candidates for the job. They know their company extremely well. Detailed, better-informed answers from current employees could easily put to shame the glib answers that you make up on the spot.
So, do your preparatory research
Before you arrive at the interview, be sure you are knowledgeable about the organisation’s history, market position, products and services, the industry in which they operate, and their main competitors.
In particular, you should have a thoughtful response about why you want to work there specifically and not just at any similar organisation. You should also know all about the current industry conditions that will impact your new job. Be abreast of any recent events relating to your prospective role.
“Nothing sets you back during an interview more than not being knowledgeable about a potential employer. Do more than a quick Google search on the company. Look your interviewer up on LinkedIn, read the latest news stories featuring the company, check the recent stock activity (if it is a public company), etc. Set yourself up to exceed expectations and have an informed conversation.” — Ed Hooper, Consultant at Robert Walters.
Mistake 2: Showing an Abnormal Level of Confidence
Most people entering a job interview try to avoid the problem of being excessively nervous. A lack of confidence can make for a painful interview, a poor impression and weak answers to questions.
But you can also overcompensate. Extreme confidence can make you appear arrogant and disinterested in feedback. By the end of the interview, your interviewers probably can’t wait to get together and critique your performance. They will judge you harshly to compensate for your apparent narcissism.
Balance confidence with humility
The key to a successful interview is to find the appropriate balance; the middle ground between boasting of your accomplishments and appearing modest enough to be a good learner who is willing to tackle any task that might come your way. Be prepared to show humility — but not in an area that makes you appear incompetent.
No matter how prepared you are, chances are that the interviewer will throw you an unexpected question. So go in confident but be ready to handle anything that comes up. Along those lines, your prospective employer doesn’t want to know how great this job would be for you; they want to know how you can help the company.
Mistake 3: Playing Everything Ultra Safe and Conservative
Making a mistake in an interview can cause you to cringe afterwards but so can coming across as a wet blanket.
Being safe, conservative and non-responsive throughout an interview could have the panel questioning why you are so afraid to show warmth and personality. Are you a highly judgmental person, or maybe just a bore? Either way, you won’t seem like a person co-workers would want to have around.
Look alive! Chances are your interviewers are talking to a lot of potential candidates during this process. They’re going to remember the one with a spark in their eye and something interesting and enthusiastic to say.
Think of things to include in your backstory that will make you stand out. When the interviewer says “Do you have any questions?” that’s your cue to demonstrate that you’ve been listening and that you have a bright and inquisitive mind. Shrugging “Nope!” can make you come across as complacent or disinterested.
You can prepare a few questions ahead of time to have in your back pocket, but it’s always better to come up with contextual questions during the actual interview.
Mistake 4: Focusing on Job Benefits for You
A job interview is a two-way process where both the recruiter and the applicant want to know what’s on offer for them. But cringeworthy moments arise when the applicant gets carried out with what they can get from the deal.
A first interview is not the place to ask about holiday arrangements, superannuation benefits, salary sacrifice options and whether it’s acceptable to knock off early every Thursday to get the kids from school.
You are perhaps one of several candidates being interviewed for the job. You may not be top of the list. That means discussing how the job will benefit you can quickly become presumptuous. It’s even more embarrassing looking back after you been overlooked for the position (perhaps for coming across as a jerk in the interview).
The initial priority is to find out if the job is the right fit in terms of skills and knowledge. You can iron out other details later. In fact, avoid bringing up salary talk at all during the interview process. Wait for a cue from your potential employer to discuss it.
Mistake 5: Being Easily Distracted or Flustered
The ideal candidate arrives on time and is calm and focused. Be that person, not the applicant who arrives out of breath, with messed up hair and complicated excuses for being five minutes late. Looking unprofessional and disorganised is a sure way to push your name down the shortlist or off it altogether.
And ignore potential distractions, including your mobile. Answering your phone, responding to a text, or even looking at your phone during a job interview is a no-no. Put the device away. If your phone happens to ring during an interview (not great, but not necessarily a deal breaker) quickly apologise and turn it off.
Mistake 6: Knocking Your Former Job or Co-Workers
Never be critical of your last job, boss, or coworkers if you can help it. If asked why you left (or are leaving), put a positive spin on it. You can always express your move as a step forward rather than as a step away from something.
Why avoid being critical? Because, apart from making you look like a negatively minded person, critiquing places you in a position of being the judge. The interviewers may wonder whether their workplace will measure up to your standards and if you might be criticising them similarly in the future.
Mistake 7: Getting Stuck for Words
A little thinking time is fine in an interview as you formulate a response to each question. But too many pauses and excessive hesitation can become painful. And everyone starts to cringe if you draw a mental blank and leave everyone hanging in silence.
Strategies to be fluent
Fluency is a skill you can learn to keep your interviews smooth and entertaining for the panel — who are relieved when applicants manage the process well.
A foundation for giving fluent responses is preparation and rehearsal. You should have a set of great examples where you overcame a challenge, showed initiative, learned something useful or formed part of a well functioning team. Having practiced talking about these cases, they are ready to be referenced when the right kind of question comes along.
Some simple strategies can get you out of a situation when you are genuinely struggling to come up with a good answer.
- You could ask the interviewer to reframe the question, which buys a little time and could help trigger something in your mind.
- If you are struggling because of a lack of knowledge on the topic, you could own up but also outline how you would get up to speed — such as through research or consulting with others.
- You could even say something like “Would it be OK if I came back to this question later? I might do better with a little bit of thinking time on this one.”
Mistake 8: Introspecting Too Much
When asked a whole bunch of questions about yourself, it’s easy to get a bit too engrossed in the topic. The interview process can raise issues that are sensitive to you and / or which you haven’t fully resolved. As a result, you may find yourself giving away too much personal information or providing answers that are difficult for the interviewers to interpret.
A possible solution, and this can be applied to writing your resume as well, is to detach — imagine your are talking about someone else. Depersonalise and just give them a palatable response each time. Instead of saying something like “I left that job because I felt I was being disrespected and underutilised”, you could say “I generally enjoyed the work but felt I was ready to take on bigger and different challenges.”
Mistake 9: Disregarding Your Online Persona
Even while waiting to be interviewed, any member of the panel could be checking you out online. Possible issues that could come up are unflattering or embarrassing photos, stupid online comments and weak social profiles. What may be worse than the actual information gleaned is that presenting a poor image publicly makes you look naive.
Before you step into an interview, make sure all of your social media profiles (your “private” ones, like Facebook, and your business ones, like LinkedIn) present you in the most professional light possible. Do any of the searches someone who doesn’t know might do. See what comes up and improve your online persona if you can.
Mistake 10: Losing Confidence During the Interview
Sometimes you can be halfway through an interview when negative thoughts start to enter your head. You might be thinking “Gee, that last answer I gave sucked” or “I don’t think she really likes me and I’m not sure this place is a good fit anyway.”
Losing confidence about how the interview is going can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The panel might pick up on your anxiety or loss of enthusiasm. If they believe you think things are going badly, they are far less likely to rate your performance highly.
Avoiding a loss of confidence is really a test of your emotional intelligence and preparation. Hard as this may seem, you need to go into every interview in a positive, enthusiastic and resilient state of mind. Picture things going well in the lead up to each interview, and be prepared to quickly adapt as you go.
Final Thoughts on How to Interview Well
Perhaps the key to a successful interview performance is to keep things simple. Your aim is just to do the best you can. You are a decent person with good things to offer any prospective employer.
Hopefully, you can communicate your good points effectively in your next interview and they will see your value. Whatever happens, you will certainly learn from it — and every interview you do. With time, you will only get better at presenting yourself.
Experience will teach you to how to avoid cringe-worthy mistakes in the future. And any uncomfortable moments you’ve already been through will fade eventually .