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The top ten interview mistakes

The top ten interview mistakes

If you have recently come out of an important job interview thinking that you could have done better or if you are constantly failing to get through to the second round of interviews you may need to think again about your interview technique.

Here’s my list of the top ten interview mistakes and how to avoid them.

Turning up late!

Well it sounds obvious but it’s surprising how many people either arrive late or report to the wrong location for an interview. My advice would be to scout out the location at the same time of day well before the interview. Check out the travel time, either by car or public transport, and make sure that you know where to park or how long it takes to get the location from the nearest station or bus stop. Arriving late or just in time and out of breath is not going to create a great first impression. Aim to arrive at least 10 minutes before the appointed time.

Dressing inappropriately

Dressing either too smartly or not smartly enough can often be a problem at interviews. If you are working through a recruitment agency ask the them about the appropriate dress code. Turning up in scruffy jeans and t-shirt is probably never a good idea for any interview but equally turning up in a smart suit might not be right if you are going for an interview with a media business or one of the tech giants (i.e. Google or Facebook). If in doubt have a look at the company web site and see what people wearing there.

Making the wrong initial impression

Remember the interview really starts in reception and you are being assessed from the moment you enter the building. Of course, be polite to anyone you meet as you wait for the interview. Remember that first impressions really do count so having a firm handshake and making good eye contact are really important factors. If you have an interview with several people (i.e. a panel interview) don’t forget to make good eye contact with all the interviewers and don’t focus on just one person.

Having poor body language and non-verbal communication

Don’t slouch in your seat! I’ve often had feedback from interviewers that candidates seemed to lack energy. You need to demonstrate your motivation for the role by looking alert, sitting up straight and practicing ‘active listening’. You need to demonstrate with your body language that you have the interest, motivation and energy to excel in the role. Remember that good non-verbal communication is vital. Think of the old adage that it’s not what you say but how you say it that counts. Using your voice to change pitch and tone and using pauses all help you to communicate more effectively. Have a look at the great communicators on You Tube (e.g. Barrack Obama) who are masters at using non-verbal communication to engage with an audience. Practice and rehearse your answers to the questions you anticipate at the interview and if possible get constructive feedback from a family member or trusted colleague.

Speaking negatively about your current / last employer

I’ve frequently heard interviewees speaking negatively about their current (or last) employer or manager. While issues with your current employer may be the reason for you wishing to change jobs, the interview is not the place to air your frustrations. Much better to emphasise your ability to be flexible and to get on with colleagues. New employers don’t want to hear that you quit the job every time you encounter frustrations.

Lack of preparation

See my earlier post about preparing for an interview. A quick look at the employer’s web site is really not good enough and I’d suggest some much more in-depth homework which might include a review of recent news items about the employer (try the ‘news’ option on Google), the bios of the senior management team and at least some insights into the company’s services/products, key markets and competitors. I would suggest, this should be the absolute minimum preparation you should undertake prior to an important management level interview.

Not answering the question

You need to actively listen to the questions being asked and stick to the point when answering interview questions. Especially when nervous or under pressure, candidates often seem to ‘waffle’ during interviews. My advice is to use the STAR model (SITUATION, TASK, ACTION, RESULT) to help you keep on track. This works well for most competency type interview questions and helps you to structure your responses. Practice this technique and make sure you emphasise the RESULT when talking about your achievements. e.g. When I joined ABC Company I was asked to improve the performance of the retail team. I held a number of one-to-one and group meetings and provided mentoring and coaching to underperforming team members. Within six months sales had increased by 25% and I received the top performing manager award in two consecutive months.

Using we or ‘the team’ rather than I, me or my

Well of course you don’t want to show off but at the end of the day the interview is about you, the employer is hiring you not your team! Of course, you can give credit to your team (remembering that It was you that built and managed the team!) but you need to give examples of YOUR achievements and how YOU made a difference and added value when answering questions about your achievements.

Not asking your own questions

Interviews very often finish up with an invitation to ask your own questions. Not having any questions may indicate a lack of interest or motivation for the job. Equally asking questions about holidays or meal breaks is definitely going to send out the wrong message. My suggestion would be to have at least ten smart questions prepared prior to the interview. Asking smart questions will demonstrate your interest, motivation and your preparation for the interview. So you might ask about training opportunities, career progression or international roles. If you have used the Google ‘news’ feature you might have a question based on ‘breaking news’ (e.g. ‘I see you are opening an office in New York, how is that going to impact international sales?’)

Not following up

It’s a courtesy to follow up after an interview and to send a brief email thanking the interviewer(s) for their time. You might also take the opportunity to highlight the key factors that make you the ideal candidate for the job. For interviewers who may have seen several candidates over the course of a day this follow up communication can be an invaluable reminder of your interview and might just set you apart from the other candidates. It will only take a few minutes but could well pay dividends.


About Jeremy I'Anson

Jeremy I'Anson is the author of You're Hired! Total Job Search 2013 published by Trotman Education. Jeremy provides one-to-one career coaching to job hunters at every level from graduate to CEO. Jeremy writes career related articles for the national press including Computer Weekly and The Guardian. He is the official Career Coach at the Daily Telegraph. View all posts by Jeremy I'Anson

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