Avoid These Interviewing Mistakes

Even in this very tight labor market, candidates must do well in the interview process to be considered. And yes, that dreaded First Impression really does matter.

The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology spoke with 166 interviewers after they’d seen 691 students at a career fair. They asked how quickly the interviewers made decisions about whether a student was a valid candidate for hire.

The majority reported making their hiring decisions between 5 and 15 minutes into the interview. (We’ll call those students Grade A candidates.) Twenty-two percent said they hadn’t made a decision even at the end of the interview. We’ll call those the Grade C candidates – their final grade probably depends on how the rest of the field did, (grading on a curve.)  But five percent said they made their decision within the first minute of starting the interview. We strongly suspect that those decisions were decisions NOT to hire due to interviewing mistakes.

Looking at The Surface

Those candidates blew it within a minute of sitting down in the meeting. Here’s how to avoid that fate:

There are two kinds of interviewing mistakes: verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal mistakes include fidgeting, which makes you look nervous and, frankly, less competent, since we equate confidence with your ability to perform. Playing with your hair or jewelry, jiggling your leg, and other nervous tics will draw attention away from your answers, no matter how good they are.

Eye contact matters. Both nervous tics and lack of good eye contact will also make you seem less honest, a trait employers are screening carefully for in an interview. If the job requires customer contact, your social skills will be critical to your success. Posture sends a strong message: relaxed shoulders, raised chin, self-assured eye contact, and a genuine smile signal social confidence and the ability to interact well with others.

Your outfit can speak as loudly as you do. In all but a handful of creative professions, you’ll be taken more seriously in a conservative interview outfit. Ditch the neon colors, unicorn hair, visible piercings, and try to cover your body art. You can show a little more personality when you’ve sold the hiring manager on your creds. The interview is the meeting where you want the focus to be on your substance, not your style.

Going Beyond The Surface

Speaking of substance, the whole purpose of the interview is to get to know you and your skills. It never hurts to prepare your answers in advance so you sound confident and articulate when you relay your experience. The biggest interviewing mistakes recruiters tell us about relate to lack of research on the company before the interview. One of the first questions you’ll get is “What do you know about our company?” If the answer is “not much,” you’ve probably eliminated yourself from the running within the first minute.

Another deadly error is speaking ill of former employers or companies. Recruiters know that if you’re trashing your last boss, you’ll be likely to trash your next boss. There are plenty of ways to talk about why you left your last job without resorting to name calling. “I realized the company / job / change of role wasn’t a good fit” covers most scenarios. Confessing that you had constant conflict with your manager or coworkers raises red flags for recruiters. The best indicator of future performance is previous behavior, after all.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy interviews are alike, but every unhappy interview is unhappy in its own way. There are a hundred ways to mess up, but luckily for you, a good interview is very possible if you avoid these simple missteps.

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