5 Interview Mistakes to Avoid

Nancy Anderson
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Knowing how to avoid common pitfalls is one of the most essential interview skills to have in your arsenal. Although some interview mistakes may be obvious, such as dressing too casually or being unprepared for common interview questions, others may come as unexpected. Learn to avoid five of the most sabotaging interview mistakes to ensure you leave a positive impression on your potential employer.

1. Going in Without Researching the Employer

Early-stage interviews focus on what you can bring to the company, so take time to research the employer as well as studying the job description for the position to which you're applying. Research the company's history, values and goals using social media tools such as LinkedIn or the company website. Use the About Us page and other sources to learn about the company's products and services, and don't forget to look up information about your interviewer before you walk into the interview.

2. Talking Too Much

Job applicants who ramble on and on or share too much information about themselves are a pet peeve of many interviewers. Keep your answers straightforward, succinct and professional, and refrain from relaying too many details from your personal life, especially if they aren't requested. If the interviewer needs to know more, he can always ask you to elaborate. Resist the urge to talk just to fill an uncomfortable silence.

3. Forgetting to Build an Elevator Pitch

At some point, the interviewer is bound to ask you to tell about yourself. Not having an immediate answer is a fast way to lose the interviewer's attention. On the other hand, a polished and practiced elevator pitch is a powerful tool that lets you convey your expertise, experience and accomplishments while explaining any holes in your resume, all in less than 30 seconds.

4. Using Your Phone

Checking your smartphone for new messages or social media updates may be important to you, but doing this, even briefly, during an interview can disrupt the conversation while making you appear rude. Unless it’s a phone interview, silence or turn off your phone and stow it in your suitcase before entering the interview room to eliminate any temptation to glance at it during your conversation.

5. Not Having Your Own Questions for the Interviewer

When the time comes at the end of the interview to ask your own questions, make sure you do; saying that you don't have any questions may make you appear disinterested. According to U.S. News & World Report, applicants should prepare two or three thoughtful questions whose answers aren't obvious from the company's website; rather, the questions should invite the interviewer to expound his own take on the workplace culture and other aspects of the company.

Some other interview mistakes to avoid include not making eye contact, badmouthing previous employers and failing to follow up after the interview. Keep in mind that interview preparation takes work, focus and dedication, and mistakes are part of the process. If you think you made a big mistake during an interview, consider contacting the interviewer afterwards to apologize and let him know what happened. You may even get a second chance.

Photo Courtesy of ImageryMajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • David Ofori
    David Ofori

    Thank you for the insights and warnings against these pitfalls during interviews. Great article.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. It's funny how our world has changed to the point where we feel the need to fill in every possible second with something... some type of chatter even if it's just a TV on. It is hard to resist the urge to prattle when there is silence. One thing you could do is try practicing this prior to the interview. Have a mock interview with a friend. Have her sit and review your resume for say - 2 minutes - without speaking. See how you do. Are you trying to get her to speak or are you just sitting there patiently waiting. Remember you have your resume and other pertinent information before you so you could take the time to review some of that while waiting for the interviewer to continue on. Yes, the best interviews are where it's almost like talking to a friend but those don't happen all of the time. So try this little technique and see if it helps. Take the time to breathe, too, during those awkward pauses.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Even though I’ve gone to quite a few interviews, I still don’t know exactly when to stop talking. I feel very awkward when there’s a pause, in my earlier interviews I often rambled on and on. Nowadays, I try to keep my answers concise, but it’s an ongoing process and I still slip up sometimes.

  • CATHERINE S.
    CATHERINE S.

    It's so hard to resist the urge to fill those uncomfortable silences. One important thing to keep in mind is that the best interviews can feel like a friendly, engaging conversation that isn't awkward or strained . This involves questions on the part of both parties, effective non-verbal communication and active listening. Interviewees should answer the specific question they were asked and ask for additional clarification on the question if need be.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    While I agree that taking questions in shows interest, they need to be the "right" questions. Queries like: “What is your vacation and paid time off policy?” or “Does this position involve much overtime?” send the wrong signals. The first should be left until a post-hire meeting with HR, and the second could be reframed as: "Can you give me a quick overview of what I might do in a typical day employed here?"

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Shaday I agree. Many times the questions that I jotted down were answered during the interview. But did other questions come to mind during the interview? Jot them down - or at least a brief synopsis of the question so that you will be ready. Asking the interviewer what he likes about his job or the company is certainly fine but what benefit does it add? Even if it was a turnoff, if I didn't have any questions I would say - no I think you covered everything I need to know for now. But could I have your business card so that I can call you if I think of something else? @Lydia thanks for the caution that not everything you read about on the Internet is true. Kind of like when you go to the grocery store and see the rags like the Enquirer. The latest one that I saw - just yesterday - was that Justice Scalia was murdered. That is what we mean by use caution in your research and only use reputable sites to glean your information.

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    I definitely agree with the part about asking questions and making sure they aren't ones that are covered by the company website. Early on in my career, I used to always say, "You've covered everything so far," which is an instant turn-off for hiring managers. Even if you feel like they really have answered all your questions, you can still talk about what the interviewer likes about the company or how the managers evaluate employee performance.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I think the advice about research should include the caveat that depending on the position, this might only get you so far, and it might also work against you. Remember that the interviewer might be more interested in hearing your background and what you have to offer than about information that you find online. Also keep in mind that in the social media age, some of the information you find might not be accurate. So I'd say use judgement and discretion about bringing up research in an interview.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kellen remember the old adage - dress for the job you want, not the job you have. That comes into play here. Personally I never check out the dress code of a company prior to an interview. I go dressed for the interview in clean slacks, a nice shirt and a sweater or jacket. Clean, neat and very interview ready. Even if the interviewer is in jeans or cutoff shorts, I would still dress for the interview. Not dressed for a prom but at least business casual or greater. Comfort is not what you are searching for when it comes to an interview. What you want is to be neat, clean and professionally dressed.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    What about your appearance during an interview? Is it fair to gauge the dress code of the company and dress accordingly? Or should you always "dress up" for an interview? I ask because I have hired people who looked like they were going to the prom. A few months later, we joke about it, but it is strange at the time. I think the interview process would be more comfortable if the candidate dressed to match the corporate culture they want to be a part of. Wearing formal clothes in a casual work environment just makes you seem out-of-touch.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Shannon so very true that you need to watch the interviewer for body language signs. And I might mention here, that during the interview, you should try to maintain eye contact as much as possible. Now, if you notice that the interviewers eyes are wondering around the room - guess what? He has tuned you out so it's truly time to wrap it up as he has lost interest. It hurts to see that but it happens. @Abbey there is no firm rules about follow ups after an interview. From a personal perspective, I recommend that you send a thank you card after each interview. Not an email, although that is acceptable. But a handwritten note sent through the mail shows the hiring manager that you appreciate his time and that you are truly interested in the position. @Mike so very true - nerves get the best of all of us. It's not knowing what to expect that drives the nerves in the first place. Take a few deep breaths before you go in for the interview and then try to take a few more deep breaths while you are sitting down and getting situated. Maybe starting out by asking the interviewer a question or two might get the nerves to settle and then it's just like talking to a friend. And remember, that interviewer may be just as nervous as you. Maybe she has never been on that side of the table before. Speaking as one who has hired and fired employees, it can be difficult to even come up with the right interview questions and the nerves can be just as bad as the interviewee!

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Great points, but I would add that allowing your nerves to get the best of you during an interview is an absolute death-knell, especially when applying for a job that deals with customer service or with the public in general. In order to calm your nerves during the actual interview, have a friend help you do some practice interviews. Even the simple repetition of information gives you a more confident demeanor that really comes across well during an interview.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The end of the article talks about failing to follow up afterwards, but doesn't elaborate. Are there a set of rules to follow with this? For example, how much time to you wait before following up, and what method (phone, email, etc.) do you use? Does it depend on the industry or any other factors? I've been taught that it's essential to do, especially if you haven't heard anything, but does it really increase your chances of getting the job?

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I think the key to know when to stop talking is to pay close attention to the body language of the interviewer. If you are observant of any changes in facial expression or shifting around, it usually means it is time to wrap it up. I've had interviews where it was difficult to read the body language, though, so yes, this is always a challenge.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mia thanks for your comment. And it's so important to always have questions ready for them. People tend to forget that the interview goes both ways. You can ask the interviewer why they like the company. You can ask for clarification on any point from the interview. Oh and just as a note here, you can take notes during the interview, too. That will help you to formulate your post interview questions instead of saying - no questions, thank you for your time. You can ask more about the position and you can ask for the next steps. If they have not handed you a business card, you can ask for their contact information and for a good day and time to call. Remember - always - it's a two way street.

  • Mia Greenwood
    Mia Greenwood

    Yes, having a list of your own questions is so important. That's where researching the company comes into play. I can't imagine using my phone during an interview. I recommend turning it off completely so you don't get distracted. @Jay In addition to glassdoor.com, indeed.com also sometimes has information about a company. But I generally use the company's website and LinkedIn pages for most of my research.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jay you could try Glassdoor.com or simply type in the name of the company and do a Google search on them. It can be a great eye opener in many cases. Take some of the negative comments with a grain of salt. For instance on glassdoor you may find 95% positive comments and only 5% negative. But if you are finding 95% negative comments - move on. @Katharine there is no right or wrong. You can usually tell how much talking you need to do based upon their reactions. If they are leaning forward then they want to hear. But if they are sitting back in their chair or doing other things, they have tuned you out. Just answer the questions with straightforward short answers. If they want to know more, then you can elaborate but again, short and to the point. It's hard to believe that we spend all of this time preparing for an interview and then, 15 minutes later, it's over. Your goal is to make a great first impression and give them just enough that they will be left wanting to know more. That could be a second interview or even an offer.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    Where is the line between talking too much and talking too little? In some cases, the employer might think he/she should not need to ask me to elaborate- that I should have the confidence/initiative to respond expansively to questions. Is there a percentage breakdown that you should shoot for (such as, you talk 25% of the time and the interviewer talks 75% of the time)?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Can anyone tell me about other company research sources? I'd love to hear ideas about where to research companies: reliable, up-to-date resources I can use to get familiar with companies' policies, histories and so forth. Is Wikipedia reliable enough to use as a research tool? Any help with this would be much appreciated!

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