It’s a real achievement to be asked to attend a job interview - it shows you have an excellent resume and that you've written a first-rate application or an attention-grabbing cover letter. But all too often people then go on to blow their chance of securing the job by making basic - and usually avoidable - errors at the interview.
So what can trip you up and spoil your chances of clinching that longed-for job offer? Here are ten of the most common interview blunders – and how to avoid them.
1. Not Researching the Company
It’s vital to prepare as thoroughly as you can before the actual interview. Having as much information as possible about the company at your fingertips will build your confidence and help with pre-interview nerves.
Don't just memorize snippets straight from the company website - chances are your competitors for the job will have all done this too. You’ll need to delve much deeper than just a brief overview of the organization.
So click ‘About Us’ on their website or go on Wikipedia to read up on their history and background, how they have grown and developed; what their products and services are, their place in the market and even their current financial position. Who are the company's business rivals? If you want to be super thorough, find out the biographical details of key personnel such as the CEO, CFO and any VPs; look them up on LinkedIn, and check out any relevant Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
One very important thing that is often overlooked by interviewees is company culture. This is an easy thing to check in this day and age of social media. Before attending the interview, be sure to stop by the company blog or social media photo albums, and look for informal pictures of employees at the office or on campus. How do employees dress in their day-to-day lives? Wearing a full suit and tie to an interview at an IT company where everyone wears jeans and a T-shirt might not end so badly, but wearing an old fashioned collared shirt with no tie and loose slacks could be a disaster for a marketing position at a cutting-edge PR company.
The more thorough your research, the better. Think how bad it would look if you were asked your opinion of, say, the company's high street stores and you confessed you'd never been in one. So if they have premises which are open to the public - drop by! If you don't know much about the organization beyond the basics, it gives the impression that you are not really interested in the company, so why would they want to hire you?
2. Not Paying Attention to Detail
First impressions matter. We all know that. So of course you’re going to dress smartly in your best business suit, wear a clean shirt, and so on. But inattention to the smaller details can give the instant impression that you're not really that interested in the job.
You know the sort of thing. Chipped nail polish. A food stain on your shirt or mud on your shoes. A run in your stockings. The smell of your last cigarette, or your last meal. Bad as these things are, over-attention to detail is just as much of a turn off, so avoid an excess of jewelry, too much after-shave or make-up or clashing bright colors. Give a poor first impression by under or over-doing it, and your interviewer may well decide you're not the right candidate before you've even said a word.
The detail of your body language is vital here, too. Poor posture, lack of eye contact, a limp or clammy handshake, a tense or worried expression – all of these details will give a bad first impression. Overall personal presentation - in other words, how you come across physically as well as verbally - can make all the difference between failure and success.
3. Not Reading the Full Job Description
One of the worst sins you can commit at an interview is not being fully aware of the actual details of the job you have applied for. You are almost certain to be asked how you meet the job's requirements and why you are the right person to fill the role.
So before you are interviewed, ask yourself two things. Number one: what does the job you have applied for involve? In other words, what will be your day-to-day duties and responsibilities? The key to this is, of course, the job specification, so make sure you read this carefully so you can expand on what previous experience you have in performing similar tasks.
The second question you should ask yourself is this: how do your skills, qualities and personal experience make you the best candidate to fulfil these duties? Check how the skills on your resume compare with the employer's description of the role, and identify all the key areas in which you are a perfect match.
Even if you're not experienced in every specific requirement - for example, you may not be fully up to speed with a particular piece of required software - all you need do is show that you will get to grips with it quickly by providing examples of how you learned to operate other similar systems ‘on the job’ or in your own time. Enthusiasm and a willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to learn can be as good a selling point as prior knowledge.
4. Not Being Truthful
Surveys indicate that around 30 percent of job applicants either lie or bend the truth at interviews. Often this is because at the time, it seemed like a good idea, when writing your resume or composing the cover letter, to exaggerate (or fib!) in order to increase your chances of being offered the job, conveniently ignoring the fact that between application and job offer there is a major hurdle to overcome - the interview.
Often, employers don't have time to double check the information which prospective employees give on their resumes. Rather, they rely on the time-tested method of ‘match up’, by asking interview questions based on your resume to check that the two responses agree. So if you said that you were responsible for leading a team of 35, when in fact you led a team of 5; or if you said you personally generated sales worth $50k in the last year, whereas the reality is that your entire department between them only generated $20k - well, I'll say no more.
Even exaggerated or dishonest claims about your spare time activities may come to light - you may be asked by a savvy interviewer what the weather was like in Italy when you last went slalom water skiing, or which of Dostoevsky's novels is your favorite, or if an interviewer who (unfortunately for you) speaks Spanish decides to test your claims of full fluency. Most interviewers may not be an expert in everything, but most are skilled at recognizing when someone just isn't being wholly honest with them. Avoid the risk of humiliation and just don't do it.
5. Not Selling Yourself
Humility is all very well, but at interviews, it should really be put on the back burner. No matter how uncomfortable you may feel about telling someone that you are the best, this is precisely what your interviewer wants to know. And don't just reel off a list of your skills and achievements when you finally meet your prospective boss in person - you will have done that already in your letter of application (especially as it's far easier to write about yourself in glowing terms than it is to tell someone face-to-face).
What you need to do in the interview is to focus on a small number of your specific strengths, and make sure these relate not just to your past achievements but to the role for which you are applying. You’ll need to be ready with a list of examples of when you used them successfully, so try to ensure the skills you emphasize are not too broad.
For example, it's all very well to say you are meticulous, but it's quite hard to find an interesting way to demonstrate this. If, however, you are skilled at managing several projects simultaneously, you should be able to give a good account of the last time you did this - what each project consisted of, how you prioritized your workload, and how you succeeded in meeting each deadline on time. If you received praise for your work from your manager or from a client, don't be afraid to mention this too (or better still, bring a printed list of recent client endorsements).
6. Over-Selling Yourself
On the other hand, it can be all too easy to make yourself sound arrogant or over-confident, especially if selling yourself doesn't come naturally. So if you are talking about a skill you have successfully developed, or an achievement you are proud of, don't give in to the temptation to simply boast about it without being first asked, even if you feel that boast is justified.
Instead, try to counter-balance the success of your achievement by mentioning an initial setback which occurred but which you managed to overcome, or even an error you made which you quickly rectified. The ability to recognize, fix and then admit to your own mistakes is a skill in itself. And if you have a specific strength or skill you want your interviewer to know about, explain how you came to learn it and develop it, as well as providing examples of when the skill helped the company grow or increase profits.
7. Criticizing Others
One of the main reasons for people changing jobs is that they don't get on with their boss, or with their colleagues, or both. Or they might have an issue with the way their current organization is managed, or had a fallout with a key manager who then pulled strings to unethically end the employee’s contract.
However, no matter how justifiable your grievance, it gives a very bad impression to a prospective employer if you criticize or are negative about your last employer at the very first interview. It might even give the impression that you are still angry at your last company and may not have ‘cooled down’ enough to fully concentrate on your new job. An employer also won't want to take on someone who they think may end up criticizing them and their organization to others.
8. Not Fully Listening
It's all too easy in the stress of the moment to fail to pay full attention to what your interviewer is saying, with the result that you misinterpret a question. Rather than risk embarrassment by asking for the question to be repeated, most people bluster on by answering what they thought they were being asked. This is a real and all too common mistake. If you find yourself feeling unsure of what the last question was, or if you’re not sure exactly what the interviewer meant, it's far better to ask for the question to be repeated or rephrased. You could approach this by saying: "So what you are asking me is this...." and repeating what you thought you heard, thus giving yourself the opportunity to pay closer attention to the question the second time around.
One potential hazard that comes with being well-prepared for an interview is that the opportunity to give an answer which you may have rehearsed till you are word-perfect just doesn't arise. The temptation is then to try and find a way of getting the information in, even if it hasn't been asked for. It’s very unwise to try to do this. The interviewer is in charge of the interview, not you. If the information you'd prepared was as important as you'd thought, they would have asked for it. Trying to throw it in at the last minute usually means holding up the interview, and if you make the hiring manager run late for his next meeting, he will not have a good last impression of you.
9. Money Talk
It is never a good idea to ask questions at interview about such things as salary, benefits or vacation time. Although the only reason most people work is to obtain a salary, such topics are best avoided until you are actually offered the job - raising them during your interview can be seen as you focusing on what you hope to gain from the employer, rather than what you can offer them.
Once you have secured a job offer, you can then ask those sort of questions. But until you are in the happy position of deciding whether or not to accept the job, leave the whole subject of how you will be rewarded well alone. If the offered salary is too low, you can always decline the offer or use it to get a better counter-offer elsewhere.
10. Not Following Up
Most candidates are so relieved that the interview is over that they just want to go home, relax and wait for the phone call or email announcing their success. But no job applicant should ever be prepared to just sit back and rest on their laurels. There is still something that you can do towards landing that new job, even when the interview is over.
As soon as you get home, or the following day at the very latest, send a brief email thanking the interviewer for their time and for the opportunity to attend the interview. You should say how much you enjoyed meeting them and say how enthusiastic you are about their company. Don't gush or write a novel; just an appreciative couple of sentences will be fine. Conclude your message by saying that you look forward to hearing from them, and include your phone number.
Few candidates take the trouble to do this, so you are ensuring that you will be to the forefront of the interviewer's mind at the very time when they will be making a decision which could affect your whole future. It may not guarantee you the job, but it may just swing the balance in your favor.
I would wish you good luck at this point, but actually luck has nothing to do with it - the credit for any success will be yours, and yours alone!
Tune in next Tuesday for more great resume, cover letter and interview tips! Same time, same place!