“Don’t make a mistake.” Professionals have a lot of self-talk in their minds before an interview and much of it is about saying and doing the right things in order to land the job. “Make a great impression,” “Put your best foot forward,” “Don’t mess this up.”
15 minutes is all it takes to make a first impression during an interview, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Some statistics show that bosses know if they are going to hire you within the first 90 seconds of the interview. According to a study by Frank Bernieri, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, getting the job is decided within the first 10 seconds of meeting your interviewer.
Time is tight, and everything you do or say is under a microscope; from your resume, to the way you dress, shake hands and answer the interview questions. There seems to be no room for mistakes in the relatively few minutes spent with the interviewer. How can you demonstrate you are exactly the person they have been searching for? How can you put your best foot forward? And how can you avoid mistakes – some you may not even perceive as missteps, so you can stand out as the right person for the job?
Some interview mistakes seem obvious, and yet are very common at all levels of interviews so don’t be a victim of false confidence – scrutinize each one. Others are not-so-obvious but can set off red flags to HR professionals and experienced interviewers because they indicate future poor performance.
In my experience interviewing 1000s of professionals, I have seen many great candidates, but many, many mistakes too. I’ve listed the top 10 most common interview mistakes to avoid, so you can land your dream job with less stress and more poise than you thought possible:
10. Not Looking Like You Fit In
You need to dress the part. Your appearance is one of the things an interviewer will notice as soon as s/he sets eyes on you. Do your research so you can show up looking like you already fit into the corporate culture. You can ask your recruiter what you will be expected to wear. You can also look at the company website, or do a drive by to watch people walk in and out during lunch, for example. Form a mental “corporate dress norm” for the company, which will give you an idea of what’s acceptable. For your interview, take that corporate norm up one notch. This will show the interviewer that you care about the details, you are perceptive, and won’t have to work hard to fit in at the office. If you dress the part, they will be able to see you belong as soon as you walk in the door. Dressing like you already work there is a big part of the important first impression and it is something that is completely within your control. Don’t obsess, but do look at every detail to get it right.
9. Over-explaining why you lost your job.
Many people talk too much during interviews due to stress and anxiety. While it’s hard to avoid, talking too much shows insecurity and an inability to communicate clearly. Over-explaining demonstrates you are still feeling the pain and/or grieving the loss of your prior job. It shows your interviewers that you aren’t ready to move on.
It’s important that you have your “elevator pitch” and “exit statement” (your explanation for why you are no longer with a company or are planning to leave) well-rehearsed before the interview to avoid blabbering on and on. People tend ramble when asked about their past job and specifically, why they got fired or let go. Here’s some advice that applies to that situation, and possibly others:
- Be really clear. “I lost my last job because I didn’t meet my sales quota.”
- Own it. “I knew the quota was higher than I could achieve, but I never discussed it with my boss until it was too late.”
- If needed, share what you’ve learned (“I now realize the importance of open, honest communication.”) and how you’ve moved on (“Since then, I have set up performance spreadsheets so I am ready to perform at my best in my next job.”).
- If you can, compliment your former company. “It was such a great place to work, and I learned a lot, but I’m ready to start my next adventure”.
8. Inadequate research about the company and interviewer
Here are the top 5 things to research about a company before an interview:
Know a few facts about each of these and understand them as well as you can. People often say to job hunters, “Your job is to find a job,” meaning, take your responsibility of finding a job so seriously that you act as if you are getting paid. Before an interview, I would say, “Your job is to learn as much as you can about the company.” Get deep information.
Know the impact of their products and services. All this research will help you ask questions that will impress and give answers that make you a shoo-in. If you are asked what you know about the company, don’t simply quote or reference that you looked at the website. Go beyond the obvious. Show that you understand their customers and have a keen eye on what competitors are doing. Peel back the layers of who they are and understand their “big why”.
You should also research the person you’ll be meeting and others in the department, too. This is a great way to see where their career path has taken them and what they do in the company. It’s even possible to find some common interests or experiences (maybe you went to the same college) to help you make a connection with them during the interview. Use this information to ask good questions such as what they learned in their career that’s helped them be successful in their current role.
7. Not showing enough interest or enthusiasm
You may want to hold your cards close to the vest, but every hiring manager wants to hire someone who is truly enthusiastic about working for their company. Show that you understand the position and what the company does by asking good questions about their plans, needs and goals. Make it clear that you’re already thinking like you work there. Let them see your eagerness and excitement about the organization and your future work with the company.
Two of the most common questions asked in an interview are, “Why do you want to join this company?” and “Why should we hire you?” These may sound like easy questions to answer, but a lot of people fumble through them. Answer with your “big why”. Don’t know your big why? Watch this Ted Talk Simon Sinek – Start With Why.
6. Lacking humor, warmth or personality
You interviewer wants to know you have all the right requirements and that your personality will be a good fit for the department. You need to show you are relatable and interesting to make a connection with the interviewer. You both want to feel comfortable in the interview so you can see yourself working together in the future.
No jokes, no sarcasm, but you can mildly poke fun at yourself. Feel free to tell a good story (remember to keep it short), which brings a lightness to your character. Smile and be relaxed, yet professional.
When prompted, “Tell me about yourself,” first answer from a professional standpoint; why you do what you do and how you got there. Then speak a little about what you enjoy, and talk about your hobbies. Your hobbies may show your drive and commitment and how it feeds your energy.
Giving a glimpse into the “whole you” may make the team look at you differently – they may find you more interesting than if you strictly keep to professional topics.
5. Arriving Late or Too Early
Your interview is scheduled for a specific time and the person you’re meeting with has you squeezed in between other meetings and deadlines. Honor their time. Don’t be late.
It’s smart to arrive at the office parking lot early enough to guarantee you have plenty of time to find a parking space, but don’t enter the lobby any sooner than 5 minutes before your scheduled interview time. This five minutes will give the receptionist time to track down the interviewer and still be on time, but arriving any earlier sends the message that you aren’t honoring the time.
Arriving late – that’s a flat out no-no. Even one minute late is not good. It shows poor planning and sends the message you don’t really want this job. If it’s thirty minutes before your interview and you’re still sitting in traffic, then call the office immediately to give the interviewer a heads-up but be prepared for a cool reception.
4. Looking for what’s in it for you
Companies hire someone to fix their problem. The person who gets hired will be the one who convincingly conveys they are best equipped for this position and how they can help make the company or team more successful. Your potential work for the company is a partnership in success.
It’s important to understand this before you start barraging the interviewer with too many questions about where you will be in a year, when you may be promoted, what perks you can expect, etc. Too much focus on what’s in it for you, can kill the interview.
I hear a lot of hiring managers complain about interviewees who talk excessively about their future in the firm. These managers see the importance for helping to manage the candidate’s career, titles and compensation, but before the candidate has even started s/he should be focusing on the work and being a great employee. Interviewers look for someone who is in the present and interested in furthering the success of the team, department and firm. Ego-driven professionals are not a hiring manager’s first pick.
3. Sounding too rehearsed
Being prepared for your interview is very important. All of your research, planning, preparation, and practice will help put your best foot forward. But remember, the purpose of practicing is so you can sound natural and comfortable, not like you are reading from a checklist. Practice just enough so you sound sincere and authentic. And if you begin to sound like you are reading from a checklist, practice sounding more relaxed.
Be rehearsed enough that you can answer most questions with good detail. Make sure to have some stories about your career accomplishments and lessons learned. Don’t try to get every point across in your answers because it will sound too formulaic. Feel confident in your preparation and know you are ready for anything.
2. Poor eye contact, weak handshake, bad posture or body language
On an interview, you want to come off as engaged, sincere and confident. How do these traits translate best? Through your body language. Your handshake is the first thing to be aware of; you don’t want it to be overly aggressive or weak.
Also, respect the other person’s personal space throughout the interview. Don’t invade their space by leaning in with elbows on the desk. That sends a message of dominance and is very off-putting.
Lastly, show you are confident and sincere by looking people in the eye.
If it’s going to be a phone interview, record a conversation ahead of time and listen to it. How do you sound? What was your pace? Your tone? What was the impression you think you made? In a phone interview your voice has to make up for the facial expressions and body language the interviewer is missing, here are some tips:
You voice and pace are controlled by your posture. If you are looking down your chin is collapsed and your voice won’t project. Slouching forward and back can change your presentation. Try speaking in these different postures to notice the difference. Does it give you energy to walk and talk? Pick the position that makes you feel confident and comfortable, and allows you to speak in a clear, friendly and approachable manner.
1.Failure to ask for the job
Many experts agree that even the best candidates don’t ask for the job, which is a big mistake. Asking for the job shows enthusiasm for position and company and your willingness to take the next step. Some great ways to ask:
“I would really love to work here as part of this team. When should I follow up?”
“When should I expect a follow-up?”
Never ask “Is there a reason why you wouldn’t hire me?” This question is uncomfortable for the interviewer and changes the tone of the interview. An interviewer is not able to tell you that they are not going to hire you. Putting your interviewer on the spot like this is a deal killer. Instead, ask, “ Is there anything else about my background I haven’t covered or would be useful to you?”
Once you have asked about following up, be sure to restate your potential contribution to the company.
Interviews make everyone nervous and skittish. Use that extra energy boost before your interview to carefully prepare and plan on making the best impression possible. Practice your answers, diminish any distracting mannerisms and make sure you can hold up your part of the conversation with poise and confidence. Take a deep breath and relax before you begin. Know that your preparation will carry you through with flying colors.
Julia is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach, and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.com, www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian, https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian(@JuliaHolian) and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian