Putting your best foot forward when interviewing is a must, yet too many people still make obvious mistakes that negatively affect the impressions they make on interviewers. Recent college grads aren’t the only guilty parties either; senior executives -- who should know better -- make interviewing mistakes too.
Even if you’re highly qualified for a job, behaving in a cringe-worthy manner during an interview can undermine your expertise and accomplishments, thus damaging your candidacy for the position. Remember, the personal brand you reflect during an interview is key because it not only shows how you represent yourself, but also how you would represent the company.
We hear stories regularly from recruiters, executive search professionals, hiring managers and HR leaders about interviewing mistakes that take seemingly good candidates out of the running for positions. Every anecdote leads to a similar exclamation, “Seriously?! They should know better!”
Here are some of the top missteps that drive interviewers crazy, plus tips on how to avoid them.
If you know that leaving your phone on the table or desk during an interview is a distraction, then why would you allow it to vibrate in your bag or pocket? Silencing the ringer, but allowing your phone to vibrate at every call, text or email, can disrupt the flow of conversation (and annoy your interviewer) as much as a ring tone. Completely silence or shut off your phone during an interview.
Phone and video interviewing is the norm these days, so in addition to making sure you have reliable cellular reception/WiFi, also find a quiet place that’s as distraction-free as possible.
Evaluate background noise. Are you sitting in a place (or -- worse yet -- walking) where there are sirens, honking horns, construction, chatter, barking, music etc.? Your phone can amplify the noise, interfering with the interviewer’s ability to understand you clearly (and hurt their ears). It can also throw you off in the middle of a response to a question.
Test the location at the same time of day the conversation will occur (noise levels change with crowd volume and traffic levels). Close windows/doors and avoid sitting near speakers, fans and vents too. (See also: Phone Interview Tips)
Besides background noise, look carefully at what the interviewer will see behind you. If connecting from home, is there a sink full of dirty dishes, an unmade bed, open closet door or messy bookcase in view? If so, make adjustments. Sloppy backgrounds don’t reflect well on your image or attention-to-detail.
Ideally, sit at a desk or table with a solid-colored wall behind you (and avoid windows, which cause glare). (See also: Video Interview Tips)
Logging on or arriving late to an interview is unacceptable and detrimental to the impression you make on a potential employer, regardless of your qualifications (and excuse). Running late also increases your stress level, which can throw you off your game.
If traveling, check routes, weather and estimated travel time for the time of day you're scheduled, and allow for considerable extra time to get there. Particularly if you’re in a major metropolitan area, traffic and public transportation delays can happen unexpectedly.
Don’t forget that even with smooth travels, you can still encounter lobby delays with office building security, so building in a larger time cushion can reduce unnecessary stress.
If meeting virtually, make sure you have the latest version of Zoom or whatever platform you're using installed and working ahead of time, so you're not scrambling to download and restart your machine while they're waiting for you.
If you arrive with plenty of time to spare, avoid logging on or checking in too early, as the notification may interrupt something else the interviewer planned for that time, like a meeting or even eating lunch. You wouldn’t show up 35 minutes early to a client meeting, so don’t do that here either.
Checking in 10 minutes before your interview is appropriate. If you're early, find a nearby cafe or wait in the building lobby or your car. (If you feel anxious, get up and stretch or walk a few blocks to calm your nerves.)
Maybe you didn’t sleep well last night, or perhaps the position you’re interviewing for isn’t ideal or its compensation is on the lower side. Regardless of what's negatively impacting your enthusiasm, look past it and express interest and engagement. Companies hire people who want to work there and are excited about the organization and its products, services, brand, people etc.
If you come across as aloof or lethargic, you effectively show that you don’t really care about the interview or want the job. This can harm subsequent prospects, like consideration for other positions at that company, or -- if you were referred for the job -- future referrals. A poor impression not only reflects negatively on you, but also on the person who referred you; they’ll think twice before extending the courtesy again.
What you say and how you say it matters, as does your body language. You may be a dynamic and engaging leader in your current role, but minimal eye contact, folding your arms across your chest, hunching over in a chair or speaking quietly, signals that you’re unapproachable and lack confidence or interest in the role. Convey enthusiasm through verbal and non-verbal cues -- facial expressions and posture are especially important during virtual meetings too due to the close-up view of your face..
“So, tell me about yourself,” the ubiquitous start to many interviews. Other common questions include why you’re the best fit for the role, what unique things you bring to the position, why you want to be a part of the company/team etc. Regardless of experience level, you know these questions are coming, so prepare answers and practice ahead of time!
It's expected that you’ll do in-depth research beforehand, yet so many candidates -- including at the executive level -- skip this important step. Interviewers can tell when you don’t know much about the organization beyond the surface, and they won’t be impressed. Even worse, you ask a question that’s easily answered by a visit to the company website.
Take considerable time to educate yourself about the company’s products & services, brand, recent news, history, leadership, culture, competitors, geography, financial performance (if publicly available), social media presence etc.
Don’t forget to tap into your most valuable resource too: your network. If you know people who are directly or indirectly affiliated with the company (current or former employees, vendors, clients, sponsors etc.), they can provide the “inside scoop.”
Develop questions that show you’ve been thinking critically about the opportunity. “You’ve answered everything,” isn’t an acceptable response to, “Do you have any questions for me?” If you’ve prepared thoroughly, there’s no way that’s possible!
Some of your questions may get answered through the course of conversation, so prepare a cross-section of questions about the job, company and interviewer from a variety of perspectives.
If you’re an internal candidate or have strong ties to the company, preparation is still important. Don’t ever assume you’re a shoo-in and cut corners during the interviewing process, like forgo research and wing it, or communicate too casually.
Nothing is guaranteed until you have a firm offer. Acting as though a position is already yours can come across as arrogant and disrespectful, turning off a hiring manager before an offer decision is made.
Most interviewers can look past a hiccup or two during the interviewing process, but easily avoidable mistakes -- overt distractions, lateness, disinterest and lack of preparation -- are harder to forget. Always present the best version of yourself. You’re not expected to be perfect, but you are expected to arrive on time, polished and prepared to speak about your experience (and relate it to the needs of the company) in a personable and positive manner.
“That candidate was really prepared and highly professional,” is a much better impression to leave an interviewer with than, “Seriously, what was that person thinking?!”