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Job Interview Fails – Six Ways to Derail Your Interview

Although we all make blunders as we stumble through life, making one during your job interview is probably one of the scenarios you’d most like to avoid.

Although I cover all of these areas in detail in other posts, I wanted to provide a quick and easy-to-read recap of six of the worst blunders I’ve seen people make in their job interviews.

These are some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in my over 30 years as a Hiring Manager. In many conversations I’ve had with other Hiring Managers, these also come up in one form or another.

Any single one of these blunders can seriously damage your interview. As a group, they can kill your chances of further consideration and cost you the job, so please review them carefully and take care to avoid them in your interview.

Talking Too Much

don't talk too much in your interview

This almost looks like a contradiction. After all, isn’t the interview the chance to sell yourself, and don’t you do that by talking?

Well, yes, but there is admittedly a somewhat fine line between talking enough to sell yourself effectively and being seen as a blabbermouth. Too often, I’ve seen candidates talk themselves into a job and then continue to talk themselves right back out of the job!

Some time ago, I was on an interview panel for an IT support position. We allocated 45 minutes for the interview and even told the candidate that upfront. He must not have listened because with every answer he gave he talked for several minutes, soaring off into side topics and meaningless detail. We finally stopped the interview after 90 minutes because we were simply worn out. As you can imagine, this candidate received no further consideration.

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Be sure you don’t mimic his technique!

So just where is this fine line to which I refer? 

Generally speaking, you should aim to talk no more than half the time in the interview. I know this seems like not very much, but take your cues from the people on the interview panel and listen as much as you can. This will help you better tailor your answers to what they want to hear.

One way to get the Hiring Manager or interview panel to talk more is to have some open-ended questions prepared in advance. Here are some examples to help you:

  • “If I asked one of your employees to tell me the best thing about working here, what would they likely say?”
  • “What can you tell me about the team I’d be working with? How long have you worked with them?”
  • “How will success be measured?”
  • “What are some specific projects I’ll be assigned?”
  • “What things do you most look for in new employees?”
  • “What are some things you like best about your job and the company? Why?”
  • “What are the qualifications you see as most important for this position?”

Based on their answers to these questions, you can work in examples of your work that support what you’re being told.

Inadequate Company Research

inadequate company research

This is probably the most unforgivable blunder that you can make with any job interview. With all the information that is now easily available online, there is simply no excuse for being unfamiliar with any company with which you interview.

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Even though the job market today is very good, the best jobs and salaries will go to the candidates that do their research well and use that information to better customize their answers to interview questions. One of the things that most impresses me with applicants is when they can speak knowledgeably about my company. So few do.

Badmouthing Previous Employers

I’m going to make this one short and sweet. If you bad-mouth any of your prior employers, I’ll assume you’ll also eventually bad-mouth my company if I hire you. Don’t do it. Even if your prior employer was an absolute hell hole to work at…

Displaying “Attitude’

displaying bad attitude

You’d be surprised at how many applicants come across as either negative or, worse yet, arrogant. What shouldn’t be surprising is how much this will turn off a Hiring Manager.

I’m always puzzled at applicants that display attitude. Perhaps they are simply trying to come across as being competent and knowledgeable. One tip here is to avoid crossing your arms, as this can be seen as arrogant or defensive, both of which are bad things in an interview.

Remember, Hiring Managers are as human as anyone else (mostly!), and given two equally qualified candidates they will usually offer the job to the candidate they like best.  If you display the wrong attitude, how well do you think they will like you?  Right!

Wearing the Wrong Clothes

wearing the wrong clothes

Detailed advice about proper dress for interviews is beyond the scope of this post and many good articles on the Internet explain this topic very well. You should take some time and read a few, looking for advice that is common in multiple articles.

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Much of it is simply common sense, such as avoid loud colors, don’t wear jeans, no flip flops, dress up one level from the position you are interviewing for, etc.

I once interviewed a candidate for a marketing position who looked great on paper. Unfortunately, he showed up dressed completely in black: black shirt, black tie, black jacket, black pants, black shoes. He would have been perfect for a Mortician’s job. But I couldn’t picture him in front of our customers and thus passed on an otherwise qualified applicant.

Asking the Wrong Questions Upfront

While you should always prepare questions in advance to ask during your interview, they should be about the job duties and corporate culture.

The wrong questions to ask during a first interview are things such as salary, vacation, benefits, etc. It demonstrates bad taste to ask these types of questions during your interview. Save them for when you’re offered the job.

Plus, if you’ve done a thorough job of researching the company before your interview, you’ll already know much of this type of information. Asking these questions during your first interview simply highlights the fact that you didn’t do your homework.

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