Today, more than ever, it is critical for job seekers to rigorously plan and practice before showing up to an interview.
Couple the stress and pressure that typically come with a job interview with the intense competition for many openings today and the potential for unnecessary interview errors has rarely been higher.
For many job candidates, avoiding huge, horrific mistakes — like placing a hand on the interviewer’s knee — isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s little, more mundane mistakes — like forgetting the interviewer’s name — that often cause the applicant’s downfall.
Showing up at the interview prepared and presenting oneself professionally can help the candidate overcome anxiety and avoid common interview mistakes. Yet the following five kinds of blunders are so simple, so basic, that job applicants very often don’t even consider them in preparation for an interview.
Mistake: Not Knowing How to Describe Yourself
“Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” That’s the question an interviewer almost always asks at the start of the interview. It’s a seemingly innocuous question to which a response seems simple enough, but its difficulty is in its broad simplicity. Depending on the person, the natural instinct might be to: 1) recite the résumé or 2) over-tell a personal life story.
This is an opportunity to present a clear, engaging elevator pitch that is essentially a rundown of your qualifications and experience — who you are professionally and why you are at the interview.
“The stronger the connection you can make between your background, knowledge, and interests and the job, the more compelling you will be as a candidate,” Monster.com advises. “If there is something notable about your personal life that adds to your candidacy or helps explain your career trajectory, add it. Otherwise, leave personal details out at this stage unless invited to do so.”
Mistake: Forgetting Important Names
Addressing someone by name is a base element of good communication skills and a fundamental element of any interview. Forgetting someone’s name is basically telling that person that he or she is not important enough to remember. Of course, it is easy for the interviewer to know the candidate’s name, as it is written on a piece of paper in front of him or her; it may not be so easy for the candidate.
This is why it is important to repeat the name of the interviewer back to him or her when introduced: “Pleasure to meet you, David.” Repeat tactfully throughout the interview.
Also, a job candidate should never forget the name of the company he or she is interviewing at, even if the particular interview is the second or third different one of the week. Forgetting the potential employer’s name shows more disinterest than not knowing what the company does or the customers and clients it serves. This should go without saying, but it’s a mistake that’s more common than it should be.
Mistake: Fumbling Over the Interview Format
One-on-one, by panel, by phone, or even via increasingly popular videoconference, job interviews can take on a number of forms. And each of these formats requires a relatively different strategy for success.
For instance, videoconferencing may well be the employer’s interview tool of the future, but are job seekers comfortable with it? Because a videoconference (or phone) interview doesn’t provide the opportunity for a firm handshake, the candidate must rely on other means of providing a positive first impression, such as a professional username and what the webcam reveals in the background. Moreover, body language and dressing the part are still as important in an online interview as in person.
The trick is to be prepared for whichever type of format the interview will be, which means job seekers should practice their interview skills with mock interviews in all possible formats and find out the expected interview format from the hiring manager in advance.
Mistake: Being the Last to Interview
Just as a job candidate should avoid scheduling back-to-back interviews, so too should the interviewer. This is not always what transpires, though, in which case candidates should try to avoid being the last interview or expect their results to be less promising than the candidate(s) who interviewed earlier in the day.
A recent study showed that college admissions interviewers who saw many applicants in one day are less likely to approve another that day, despite the arbitrary distinction. Researchers hypothesize a similar dynamic playing out during the job-interview process. A separate study found that people simply tend to prefer options that come first, even when completely unwarranted and irrational: first in line, first college to offer acceptance, first salad on the menu, first résumé submitted.
The preferred tactic in this case is a bit tricky, as job candidates have only so much control over the time of day the interview is scheduled. Yet if there is the option to interview earlier in the day, preferably in the morning, the candidate should choose that option.
Mistake: Neglecting Manners – Outside of the Interview
Common courtesy should be common sense, yet consider this real-life anecdote: A candidate races to an interview, flips off another driver who’s blocking her car in the garage, starts honking and shouting obscenities, finally gets her car parked, and runs upstairs to the interview — to find the other driver is the owner of the company who’s interviewing her.
The point is everything a candidate does or says immediately before and after the interview can be part of the evaluation. “You never know who is walking in right behind you on your way to the interview,” AOL Jobs recently explained. “It won’t make a very good impression if you let the door slam on your interviewer.”
Moreover, most job interviews begin in the lobby or reception area, where receptionists often serve as the employer’s eyes and ears. That’s why many interviewers ask receptionists before or after interviews for opinions about candidates. So make a point of minding your manners — be courteous, not loud, rude, or obnoxious — in the waiting area.
During the hiring process, the job interview is the best — and perhaps only — opportunity for a prospective employee to make a good first impression, which is why preparation to get it right the first time is critical. Ultimately, successful interviewees are those who express intelligence, confidence, and friendliness immediately.