The Top Ways to Mess Up an Interview

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It’s sort of unfair. A 45 minute interview is all you get to show a potential employer who you are and why you are amazing. In fact, interviewers form their opinions so quickly that you likely don’t even have the full 45 minutes before the decision is made in the interviewer’s mind. That’s how interviewing works and it’s not going to change any time soon. You have to be 100% on your game the whole time.

Many candidates mistakenly think that they need to simply “get through” the interview to get the job. That would be true if they were the only person interviewing. But to get highly competitive jobs, you have to nail the interview so you are, without question, the top candidate of the bunch.

Here’s the first rule of success: don’t screw it up. Interviewers use the process of elimination, and some candidates make it way too easy for interviewers to cross them off the list. Here are some interview blunders that could kill your chances of getting the job:

Rambling: Most interviewers won’t tell you you’re talking too much during an interview. They’ll just think it. It’s up to you to recognize when you are rambling and to stop. Even if you feel like you haven’t given a good answer to a question, just cut your losses and zip it. The only thing worse than giving a bad answer is to keep rambling after giving it.

Not taking enough credit for your work: Interviewing is an opportunity to portray confidence in the work you have done in the past. This is no time for modesty. You only get one chance to really showcase what you have done and what you are capable of, so take credit for your work.

Vagueness: When someone asks you, “tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership,” they are asking for a specific story, not your general opinion, about leadership. Many candidates, when asked these types of questions, stick to platitudes like “I really think being a servant leader is important and I always try to serve my team.” Yawn! Instead, you need to tell them a specific story about, let’s say, a time when an underperforming team member was struggling and, because you stepped in to help with some projects, that employee saw you as a servant leader and thus worked harder for you afterward.

Underdressing: You will rarely go wrong by overdressing for an interview. Even at most companies that dress casually, business professional dress is generally the standard for those interviewing. The only exception to this may be some tech/hippie companies located mostly along the west coast and in parts of Colorado. In these cases, do your research and talk to people at the company first. If you are going to lose the job to another candidate, don’t let it be because you wore jeans in the interview.

Not doing easy homework: So there’s this crazy thing called the internet. On it you can get a wealth of information on almost any company. If it’s a public company, you can get annual reports, which will generally lay out the company’s vision, strategy and financial statements. Plus, in the LinkedIn world we live in today, you should be able to find someone inside the company that would be willing to chat with you for 30 minutes.

Not expressing genuine interest in the job: The last thing an interviewer wants to do is pass up other good candidates to extend you an offer, only to have you decline it. I have personally chosen not to extend offers to great candidates because they left me feeling like they wouldn’t accept. If you genuinely want the job, you need to express it in the interview. Spell it out for them. “I just want you to know that I am extremely interested in working for this company and believe that my experience and skills are would be a great fit.”

Not asking for feedback: You need a method to draw out concerns that the interviewer might have about you. Even if your interview is successful, it is likely that the interviewer has some reservations, and you will never know what they are unless you ask. Try the following: “Thanks so much for your time. Based on this interview, do you feel like I would be a strong candidate for this position?” Or, “would you feel comfortable recommending me for employment?” This gives the interviewer the opportunity to voice any concerns he or she might have. Many people don’t ask these questions because they think they are too forward, but I’ve never been penalized—or penalized anyone else—for asking them. In fact, most interviewers are impressed with candidates who are bold enough to ask this question.

So I guess I should take my own advice: Now that you’ve read this article, would you feel comfortable recommending it to a job-seeking friend. Why or why not?

Happy interviewing!

3 comments

  • James R. Allred

    A good article and a timely reminder for those going into interviews. Basic things but those are what trip up most applicants.

    Asking for feedback is brilliant, something I am going to start doing.

  • thanks, James. Asking for feedback has always helped me know what interviewers really think of me!

  • I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates and this post speaks really well to the ways folks go awry. Will share!

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