After working in the recruitment industry for over 8 years and having interviewed hundreds of candidates face to face, over the phone and via Skype, I’ve noticed many common mistakes that candidates often make when it comes to the job interview.
You can do all the right things in an interview – but it’s the wrong things, the slip of the tongue, that one little mistake or off comment, that can instantly ruin your chances of getting the job and throw all your good work and rapport out the window.
By paying attention to the following interview mistakes, you can learn from the mistakes of tens of thousands of other people, and avoid making them in your next job interview.
Here are 35 mistakes NOT to make in your next job interview:
1. Being Late
There is NO excuse to be late for an interview. It shows disrespect to the interviewer and is a sign that you’re disorganized and don’t care. (Not to mention having poor time management skills.)
Before going to the interview you should know where you’re going, how long it will take to get there, how far you need to go, what time you need to arrive, where you’re going to park and everything else.
I know sometimes you get stuck in a traffic or life throws you a curve ball and for whatever reason you can’t make it to the interview on time. I know. I get it.
If that happens here’s what you do: Worst case scenario – if you’re going to be late because you’re stuck in traffic/got lost/slept through your alarm, call the interviewer to let them know. Don’t just turn up late without warning and hope for the best.
2. Being too early
On the flip side of the coin, don’t be too early either.
Arriving too early for an interview makes you seem too desperate/needy.
You want to arrive about 10 minutes before the scheduled time, so if your interview is at 10am, aim to arrive at 9.50am. If you’ve arrived early, spend some time in your car or at a nearby coffee shop preparing and getting into the right mindset.
3. Being rude to the receptionist
DON’T be rude to the receptionist.
Believe me: The receptionist will tell the hiring manager/interviewer/HR person what they think of you – especially if you are rude – so be on your best behavior. Treat everyone you meet with equal respect.
4. Being unprepared
There is no excuse for being unprepared for an interview.
How much preparation should you do?
As a rule of thumb: If you’re not over prepared – you’re under prepared.
Here’s how you prepare for an interview ahead of time:
- Research the company. Find out everything you can about the company. Google the crap out of them. Know who you will be interviewing with. Look at the hiring managers profiles on LinkedIn. Know who their main competitors are. What are the companies values? What is their mission statement? What do they do?
- Research the role. What are the main requirements of the role? Why does it exist? What will you be doing on a day to day basis? Will you be working on a certain project? What does the company want the successful applicant to achieve?
- Anticipate questions ahead of time. What questions are you most likely to be asked by the interviewer/s? What would you ask you if you were the interviewer? A good place to anticipate questions ahead of time is by googling the most common interview questions associated with your role. So if you’re a .Net developer Google “Asp.net interview questions” or if you’re a Business Analyst Google “business analyst interview questions”.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the employer. Look at your CV as if you were someone else:
- What kind of questions would you ask you?
- What kinds of concerns might you have about your CV and experience?
- Would you hire you? What makes you a stand-out candidate over other applicants?
- Know what you’re going to wear. Your suit, shirt, tie, shoes etc. should be picked out and prepared the night before. You should wake up knowing what you are going to wear without having to think about it. Know what colors, shirts, shoes and ties look best on you and wear them.
- Ask the recruiter for feedback. If you meet with recruiters ask them for feedback as to what you could do to improve your interview and presentation skills. They probably notice a lot of things that you don’t that you could improve upon that would maximize your chances of success.
It’s not enough to be prepared for the first interview either.
I’ve had candidates ace the first round of interview with the hiring managers, only to be rejected in the second round by the team.
The candidates came thoroughly prepared for the first interview and were clear and specific in their answers, citing specific examples of what they had done and achieved, but when it came to the team, they came unprepared thinking they already had it all locked up and in the bag.
You need to be prepared for every single interview you have with the employer – even if you’ve been told by the recruiter that it’s nothing more than a “meet and greet”. Remember: Interviewers and interview plans can change at the last moment and you never know who might decide to join the interview at the last moment. Perhaps a general manager, or if you’re in a smaller organisation the CIO or CEO.
Every interview and interviewee should be treated seriously and with the utmost respect – no matter how good the previous interview was. Always assume you are starting from zero and earn it.
5. Not dressing for success
You should look GOOD at the interview. When you look good you will feel good and the more people will like you! (People like well dressed good looking people)
Even if you are interviewing somewhere with a casual dress code you should always go the extra mile and dress for success. Remember: first impressions count and like it or not people judge you by your appearance. Employers and recruiters definitely do. How you dress says a lot about how you carry yourself.
I recently met with a senior web designer who had a great CV, an amazing LinkedIn profile and sounded great over the phone, but when I met with him I couldn’t believe it. He honestly looked like a homeless person. He was dressed in shorts and an old t-shirt with holes in it and paid no attention at all to his personal hygiene. I was in shock. It felt like I’d been sold a fake candidate. I just couldn’t present him.
6. Ignoring grooming and body odor
Similar to the previous point. Pay attention to your grooming and body odor.
Make sure your nails are cut and your facial hair is neat and tidy.
Don’t just turn up smelling bad or sweaty or without shaving.
7. Leaving your mobile phone on
This one’s easy: Turn your mobile phone OFF before you walk into the interview.
8. Not knowing how you’re going to answer the tough questions
Don’t just hope for the best and pray that the interviewer won’t ask you any tough questions.
Every good interviewer is going to ask you a bunch of tough questions to pull you outside of your comfort zone and to get a feel for:
- How you think
- How you make decisions
- How you solve problems
- How you deal with conflict
- How you deal with difficult colleagues/clients/stakeholders
- How you deal with pressure and stress
- How easy you are to manage
- How well you work with others
- How quickly you adapt to change
- What motivates you
- Your weaknesses
It’s your best interests to anticipate as many of these questions ahead of time and to know which examples you’re going to use to best demonstrate your accomplishments and strengths:
- What are you looking to do? What is your ideal role?
- What are your career goals? Where do you want to be 12 months from now?
- What do you know about our company? What made you apply for this position? Why do you want to work here?
- What do you consider to be your greatest career accomplishments? What are you most proud of?
- Tell me about the most difficult and/or complex project that you’ve ever been a part of?
- What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your current/previous role?
- Where do you rank yourself in your current team compared to your colleagues? Why?
- What do you rate your skills from 1-10?
- How would your manager describe you?
- How would your colleagues describe you?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to solve a difficult problem? Take me through your thinking process and the steps you used to solve it.
- Tell me about a time when you’ve innovated?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve showed initiative and taken the lead?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with a difficult stakeholder?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with a difficult co-worker?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with a difficult client or customer?
- Tell me about a time you’ve gone above and beyond to help a client or customer?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had a client move the goalposts on you and how you handled it?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had a disagreement with your boss and how you handled it?
- Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of pressure and stress at work and how you dealt with it?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to sell an idea to your colleagues or manager?
- Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to changes over which you had no control?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had to adapt to a major change to your role and how you’ve handled it?
- What is your greatest weakness? What are your areas for improvement?
- Why should I hire you and not someone else?
Know how you’re going to answer the hard questions if/when they arise. Be prepared to speak about career breaks, why you quit your previous job (or wish to leave), and/or why you might have been fired or made redundant.
9. Not listening/Not answering the questions which have been asked of you
It’s a funny one, but there are a surprisingly high number of candidates who talk round and round in circles and do everything but answer the question asked of them.
Sometimes this happens because a candidate is totally in his/her own head. Maybe they’re nervous. Maybe they don’t understand the question. Maybe they’re just not listening or paying attention to what the interviewer is asking them.
If you don’t understand the question being asked of you, don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarification or ask the interviewer to rephrase the question. And if you don’t have a certain type of experience – just be honest. Don’t try to talk your way around it.
10. Being too scripted
I once had a candidate rejected for – and I kid you not – “Interviewing too well”. “Interviewing too perfectly”.
It sounds almost funny and to be honest it was probably the strangest bit of rejection feedback I’ve ever received for a candidate. I still don’t know what it means. The hiring manager who rejected my candidate couldn’t explain to me what he meant by that comment either – even when I pressed him for more information. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Here’s what I think he meant:
“Something seemed off. This candidate seemed a little TOO scripted and rehearsed”.
Of course you need to be prepared for an interview, but you don’t want to seem like you’re giving a prepared speech or reading from a script.
11. Surface level answers
The NUMBER ONE one reason I see candidates getting rejected after an interview is this: Giving surface level, one word, one sentence type of answers.
That’s not enough! NONE of your answers should be vague or unclear. There should be NO grey areas. You should be able to cite specific examples of what you have done, what you have achieved, the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
Each question should be answered in the STAR format:
- Situation – What was the situation?
- Task – What was the task?
- Action – What action did you take?
- Result – What was the result?
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager… they don’t know anything about your current/previous job apart from what’s written in your CV, so you need to be able to paint a picture for them describing what you have done in detail including:
- The project you worked on (if it’s not confidential)
- The environment you were working in
- The team you were working in
- The size of the team
- Your role within the team
- Your day to day responsibilities (take them through a typical day at work)
- The challenges you faced – and how you overcome them
- The mistakes you made – and what you learnt from them
- Your achievements: What were you hired to do? What did you deliver?
The more information you volunteer, the less likely the hiring manager is to give you a hard time and press you for information, because they don’t need to. So open up – and they won’t have to try to pry you open!
12. Failure to demonstrate problem solving
It’s not a big deal if you don’t have a certain type of experience or if you don’t know something. We can’t all know everything. Especially in IT with technologies constantly changing and evolving. It’s almost impossible to keep up.
That’s OK. The employer doesn’t expect you do know everything.
What the employer really wants to know is:
Are you a fast learner?
How quickly can you come up to speed?
How good are your problem solving skills?
It’s one thing to call yourself a problem solver and it’s another thing to actually demonstrate it and prove it with an example or two.
If you can talk the interviewer through a previous problem you’ve solved step by step, taking them through your thinking process and writing out examples on the whiteboard, you will inspire confidence in your abilities and it will really help to set you apart from other applicants.
13. Not reading the interviewer/s in real-time
Don’t just go off into your own world or allow yourself to get distracted during an interview.
Pay attention to how you’re being received and read the interviewer/s in real time.
Look at the interviewer/s body language and facial expressions and watch how they react and respond to your answers.
Do they seem to like the examples you’re providing?
Do they seem to be happy with the answers you’re giving?
Are they ready to move on? Do they want to hear more?
99% of the time if you really pay attention you can tell whether you’ve answered the question ‘correctly’ or not because most interviewers aren’t very good at hiding their approval/disapproval whenever they hear an answer they like/don’t like.
If I’m being interviewed for a job and I have even the slightest doubt that the interviewer isn’t happy with an answer I’ve given or if I sense the slightest break in rapport I will start asking questions immediately before letting the interview proceed:
“Did I answer your question?”
“Would you like me to clarify anything?”
“Can I provide any extra details?”
“Would you like another example?”
During the interview it’s important to kill any potential monsters whilst they’re small instead of letting them build up into something big in the interviewers mind. Remember: Any small leak can and will sink the ship, so plug those leaks immediately as soon as you sense a break in rapport and don’t turn a blind eye to them.
14. Not reading between the lines
Don’t take any questions at face value.
Every question the interviewer asks you is for a reason. They’re not just passing the time. There is something they want to know or understand in your background.
Learn to start reading between the lines and think about WHY the interviewer might be asking you that question.
Why is this question being asked?
What is the intent behind this question?
What are they trying to find out?
15. Not building rapport with the interviewer
Every interviewer asks themselves the following questions when interviewing a candidate:
- Do I like this person?
- Do I trust this person?
- Can I work with this person?
- Can I manage this person?
- Will they fit into the team?
- Can they do the job?
If the interviewer doesn’t like you, if they don’t trust you, if they don’t feel a connection with you, they’re not going to hire you.
Even if they know you are the best candidate and can easily do the job.
Always make an effort to connect with the interviewer/s without trying to force it.
16. Arguing with the interviewer
If the interviewer/s says something you disagree with I strongly advise not going out of your way to correct them.
You might be 100% right and they might be 100% wrong, but egos can be fragile and you can’t really win an argument with an interviewer.
Even if you prove your point and win the argument, you’ll lose the war and get eliminated from the interview process.
People like to work with people they like. There is nothing more off-putting for most people than to be corrected and told they’re wrong. (Even if they are).
When you correct someone you break rapport and get things started off on the wrong foot.
So if you disagree with the interviewer/s – I would advise keeping it to yourself.
17. Overselling yourself
It’s OK to sell yourself a little bit – the employer should definitely know your strengths and what you bring to the table should they hire you, but you don’t want to sell yourself so hard that you come across as desperate and needy and that leads us to the next point…
18. Appearing too desperate/needy
Like it or not: No one wants to hire someone who really NEEDS the job. You might need this job to pay your bills but the employer doesn’t care. That’s not their problem. The only thing they care about is what they want.
Employers want to hire people who are already working and don’t even need a job. Ideally they want to hire their competitors best staff – not the people no one else want to hire.
If you recall from my previous article 21 Paradoxes of life the MORE you want something the HARDER it is to get and the LESS people want to give it to you!
19. Appearing too nervous
It’s not always easy to be cool, calm and confident in an interview, especially if you really want or need the job!
But if you are too nervous in an interview, the employer might ask themselves:
- What will you be like in an important client meeting?
- How will you go giving a presentation to senior management?
- How will you cope with the pressure and stresses of the job – especially when deadlines are fast approaching?
How to R-E-L-A-X before your interview:
- Listen to relaxing music that makes you feel good
- Run/walk/exercise – get rid of that nervous energy
- Do Yoga the day of the interview
20. Appearing disinterested
Whilst employers don’t want to hire someone desperate and needy, they also don’t want to hire someone disinterested and unmotivated either.
21. Criticizing your previous employer
Some bosses suck. I get it. I’ve had my share of bad bosses and I’m sure you have too.
But don’t criticize your previous employer or manager no matter how bad they were. Even if you’re just being honest and telling it like it is, criticizing your previous employer will make you seem negative, and no one wants to hire someone bitter or angry with a chip on their shoulder.
You don’t have to lie/BS/say how much you loved it, but focus on the future and what you do want – not on your previous bad bosses/jobs and what you hated.
Another reason not to criticize your previous employers is because your potential new employer may wonder: “What would he/she say about us?”
Believe it or not: Employers and recruiters can often tell when you didn’t like your previous employer. You don’t need to spell it out for them.
If you are asked why you wish to leave your current company, don’t talk about the negatives of your current boss/job/company, instead talk about what you are looking for in a new role and why the role you are being interviewed for is a perfect match:
- Career progression
- Company/job is dream job – explain why
- Desire to work with latest technologies
- Greater responsibilities
- Projects you will be a part of
- People you will be working with
- Different industry
- Career change
If you do wish to mention some negatives these are acceptable:
- Changes in company
- Company restructure
- Excessive commute
- Lack of challenge
- No room for advancement in current company
- Role isn’t what it was advertised/promised to be by the interviewer
- Small company – you wish to be part of a larger company
- Didn’t get along with colleagues
- Didn’t get along with manager
- Hated the job
- Job was too difficult
- Job was too stressful
- Too much overtime
22. Talking more than you listen
As a rule of thumb: If the employer/interviewer/hiring manager is doing most of the talking (80% – 90%) and you are doing most of the listening (10% – 20%) the interview is probably going well.
Employers tend to talk when they want to sell you on the job. That’s when you need to listen!
When you answer a question: Say what you need to say and then shut up! Don’t go on and on and on. I’ve had candidates rejected for roles because they took 10 minutes to answer a question that could have been answered in less than a minute.
The more talking you do, the more likely you are to put your foot in your mouth and say something stupid you might regret.
Most people can tell when you’re lying, exaggerating or hiding something from them.
So if an interviewer asks you: “What are your weaknesses?”
And you reply:
“I’m a perfectionist”
“I work too hard”
“I always go the extra mile and sometimes get burnt out a bit”
No one is buying it. Yeah, even if those things are true, it makes you seem dishonest and fake.
If the interviewer asks you a question about a certain type of experience or skill set and you don’t have it – don’t lie about it, just be honest.
24. Volunteering too much information
It’s good to be honest, but you don’t need to tell the interviewer everything.
Volunteering unnecessary information that highlights problems, weaknesses and/or inexperience shows a lack of self-awareness and it makes you seem naive to an employer.
Things I would avoid mentioning:
- If you are a recovering alcohol or drug addict
- If you were fired (unless you are specifically asked)
- If you have a history of mental illness
- If you didn’t get along with your previous boss or workmates (the interviewer is probably imagining you in their team)
All of these things I would keep to yourself.
25. Being guarded
It’s normal to be nervous for a job interview, especially if you haven’t interviewed in a while. But you don’t want to appear too defensive, guarded or standoffish.
I recently asked an employer…
Me: “How did you rate the candidate interview out of 10?”
Employer: “If I had to give a number… 6 1/2”
Me: “What would have made it a 10?” “What was missing?”
Employer: “The candidate was good and has all the experience we need, but I would have liked to have seen a little more personality.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this.
The interviewer is probably imagining what it would be like to have you in their team. So do your best to open up a little and share something about yourself. Don’t be too standoffish or guarded. Smile and give eye contact when you answer questions and be friendly.
26. Being overly familiar
In saying that, it’s good to be friendly in an interview but you don’t want to be overly familiar or too buddy-buddy in an interview with people you don’t even know yet.
There is a line and you don’t want to cross it. You want to be friendly but professional.
Some people are overly familiar and will tell you their life story and all of their problems before you even know their name.
27. Not remembering everyone’s names in a group interview
If you’re going to be in a group interview I recommend you bring a pad and pen with you and write down everyone’s names so you don’t forget them.
Another good way to remember people’s names is to use them as soon as you hear them. “Thank you Michael”. “That’s right Vanessa”.
Remember: Everyone loves to hear the sound of their own name. It’s like music to their ears. So don’t forget!
28. Ignoring interviewers in a group interview
Even worse than forgetting the names of the interviewers is ignoring them completely!
I’ve had candidates rejected after interviews for focusing ONLY on the manager or SCRUM master and ignoring the other interviewers/staff members.
Don’t do that. Remember these are potentially your future workmates and they are wondering what it would be like to work with you. So include them and make them feel welcome. Look each person in the eye to make sure they feel included when you give your answers.
PS: I highly recommend you ask each person in the group at least one question during or after the interview so they feel included and respected.
29. Not asking questions about the role
This is a big one. You don’t want to leave the interview without asking questions about the organisation. Asking questions shows interest in the role and it allows you to gather even more information about the organisation.
Don’t just ask dumb or obvious questions that could be answered by a 30 second search on Google though.
“So what do you guys do exactly?”
Instead, ask intelligent and insightful questions about the role and the organisation.
Personally, I like to interview the interviewer a little. As far as I’m concerned the interview isn’t an interrogation, it’s a two-way conversation. Both parties can ask questions. They can ask me questions – and I can ask them questions.
11 questions to ask at your next job interview
- Have I answered all of your questions? Is there anything else you would like to know?
- Can you take me through a typical day in this job?
- What are the biggest challenges you and your team are currently facing? (When the interviewer is answering this question if you can give specific suggestions as to how you would deal with these challenges, or how you have overcome similar challenges in the past, you are likely to stand out from other applicants)
- What are the main challenges a new hire would face in this role?
- Tell me about your top performers: What is it that sets them apart from the rest? (If you listen carefully this is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your own skills and abilities in these areas. For example: If the interviewers favourite employees are proactive and constantly innovating, you can talk about those qualities in yourself – if they haven’t already been mentioned in the interview).
- How would you describe your ideal candidate? (Same as above)
- What advice would you give me if I was successful in this role? What would be the first things you would do in the role if you were me?
- How will you know if your new hire is successful in this role six months from now?
- What do you like the most about working in this organisation? (This gives the employer a chance to sell the organisation to you which is what you want)
- Do you think I’d be a good fit in your team? Do you have any concerns about me as a candidate? (This question is important because it allows you to kill any potential monsters whilst they’re still small and to remove any and all doubt from the interviewers mind)
- Can you take me for a quick tour of the office? (I love this question because it gives you a chance to see the office and potentially your new workmates as they are in reality. It also puts the interviewer on the back foot and it destroys the facade when you walk through the office and see people on Facebook etc.)
30. Asking high maintenance questions
Whilst you want to ask questions, you don’t want to ask questions which might make you seem high maintenance or problematic!
“When would I be eligible for a pay rise?”
“When would I be eligible for a promotion?”
“How much overtime would I need to do in this job?”
“How often can I work from home?”
“Do you have a paid parental leave policy?”
31. Asking about salary and benefits
You should know already what this job pays and what the benefits are.
If you don’t, the interview is NOT the time or the place to be asking these questions.
Salary negotiations can take place later.
32. Not treating a phone interview like a real interview
Phone and Skype interviews are just as important as face to face interviews and should be prepared for the same way:
- Do your research about the company, the role and the interviewer
- Dress for success (even if it’s a phone interview putting on a suit will get you into the right mindset and you will feel different)
- Know how you’re going to answer the tough questions
- Answer the questions asked of you citing specific examples
- Ask questions about the role
- Find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed
- Focus and cut out all distractions
- Have a glass of water in case you need it
- Have your CV in front of you
- Stand instead of sitting because it will make you feel more confident
- Take notes as you go
PS: The advantage of a phone interview is that you can bring cheat sheets and notes with you to the interview. So long as it doesn’t sound as if you are reading from a script no one will know!
33. Not doing practice interviews
In addition to applying for the roles you want, I recommend applying and interviewing for jobs you don’t want as much, and going for practice interviews.
Benefits of practice interviews
- Allows you to get more practice and brush up on your interviewing skills
- Gives you a chance to practice your answers and to get a feel for what kinds of questions you are likely to be asked in other interviews
- Gives you the freedom to make mistakes in an environment where it doesn’t matter as much (because you don’t really want the job)
It also gives you a chance to ask the interviewers for feedback after the interview as to what you could have done better and what you could improve on and you can use this information to your advantage in your next interview. (The one you want)
34. Not sending a thank you email
After every interview, send a thank you note to the interviewer/s thanking them for their time.
If you’re not yet connected with the hiring manager/interviewer/s on LinkedIn, I recommend you send them an invitation to connect too.
35. Not learning from your interview mistakes
In every interview you will probably make at least one mistake.
There is always a better way to answer a question, a better example you could have used, or something else you could/should have said to demonstrate your skills.
It’s OK to make mistakes, the key is to learn from them so you don’t make the same mistake again in your next interview.
Ask yourself the following questions after every interview:
- What questions were you asked that you weren’t prepared for?
- What didn’t you say that you should have?
- Why wasn’t the interview a 10/10? What would have made it a 10/10?
- What will you do differently the next time?
If you’re at the interview stage, you’re there for a reason.
The fact that the employer is sitting down with you means they’re interested. Your CV got you to the interview and now you’re in the final stages and it’s time for you to perform!
Think of each of the interview questions as little hurdles to be overcome on your way to the finish line (job offer). Every question and answer counts, and everything you say, can and WILL be used against you in the interviewing process.
Let’s do a quick recap of the 35 interview mistakes to avoid:
- Being late
- Being too early
- Being rude to the receptionist
- Being unprepared
- Not dressing for success
- Ignoring grooming and body odor
- Leaving your mobile phone on
- Not knowing how you’re going to answer the tough questions
- Not listening/not answering the questions which have been asked of you
- Being too scripted
- Surface level answers
- Not reading the interviewer/s in real-time
- Failure to demonstrate problem solving
- Not reading between the lines
- Not building rapport with the interviewer
- Arguing with the interviewer
- Overselling yourself
- Appearing too desperate/needy
- Appearing too nervous
- Appearing disinterested
- Criticizing your previous employer
- Talking more than you listen
- Volunteering too much information
- Being guarded
- Being overly familiar
- Not remembering everyone’s names in a group interview
- Ignoring interviewers in a group interview
- Not asking questions about the role
- Asking high maintenance questions
- Asking about salary and benefits
- Not treating a phone interview like a real interview
- Not doing practice interviews
- Not sending a thank you email
- Not learning from your interview mistakes
I wish you GOOD LUCK in your next interview!
If you’re in the job hunt, I also highly recommend you check out my other articles:
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