The 5 Biggest Job Interview Mistakes You’re Making

There are a lot of potential pitfalls when interviewing, as anyone who has gone on a few interviews has found out (hey, nobody’s perfect!!)

But some job interview mistakes are worse than others. You can recover from most mistakes, but the five mistakes below can be total show-stoppers.

These are the common mistakes that are extremely hard to recover from. The ones that a company just can’t ignore or overlook. The ones they talk about after you leave.

Avoid these at all costs and use this article as a quick checklist before any job interview to make sure you have the basics covered!

The 5 Biggest Job Interview Mistakes:

1. Not Knowing Who You’re Speaking With In The Interview

Take 2 minutes before the interview and get the names of the people you’re talking to and look them up on LinkedIn! Or at least know their job title. I’ve seen somebody go on interviews, meet with the CEO without realizing it and ask, ‘so, what do you do in the company?’

Not good.

If you don’t know what department someone works in, or what they’re responsible for, you’re setting yourself up to say something embarrassing.

I knew another guy who went in to interview for a sales position and met with a Marketing Director as a part of the interview process. He didn’t realize who he was talking to and started bad-mouthing Marketing. He didn’t get hired obviously.

I’m not perfect either. I went on an interview a couple of years ago and was brought around the office space to meet a number of key people. The person showing me around mentioned I’d be talking to the SVP of Marketing, just as a formality. Somehow this slipped past me, and all I remembered was ‘marketing.’

I met with the woman in her office and the first thing I said was, ‘so… you’re in Marketing?’  Not a great first impression. I don’t think an SVP in Marketing wants to be asked if they’re IN Marketing! Lesson learned.

This didn’t kill my interview chances actually, but it definitely didn’t help and it made me seem like an idiot.

I couldn’t have prepared for this ahead of time, she wasn’t a part of the main interview schedule. But I could have listened better and been careful about what I say.

If you’re meeting somebody unexpected in an interview, stop the person who is bringing you to meet them and say, ‘hey, can you remind me exactly how this person fits into the organization so I can have a better conversation with them?’

2. Not Having A Clear Story About Your Situation

Okay… so this is a pretty broad topic but here’s the general idea: You don’t want to sound scattered or disorganized. No company is going to hire somebody that’s flaky and hasn’t even put time into thinking about their career. So you want to be able to explain why you’re interviewing right now.

You also want to be able to explain what you did in your most recent job!! When they ask about your experience it’s a chance to impress them, but only if you took a few minutes to prepare on the key points you want to mention. There’s no such thing as sounding ‘okay’ when you describe your recent work. It’s either going to sound great or sound like you don’t have a clue what you’re trying to say.

3. Badmouthing Your Current Boss or Employer

I’m not saying your current boss ISN’T a horrible leader that’s ruining your career. They could be, and you’re smart for looking to make a career change and get out of there ASAP! But it doesn’t sound good to an interviewer, so pick a different reason for explaining your motivation to job hunt.

Here’s why it looks bad: When somebody only hears one side of a story, it’s human nature to wonder about the other perspective. So even if you’re 100% right, and your boss is a complete jerk that nobody could work for, or your company is a total mess that’s dragging your career down with it, don’t tell the interviewer.

They’ll immediately wonder what your coworkers or boss would say. Are YOU the actual problem? Do you have difficulty following what the team is doing, or working with your boss? Is it an attitude problem that’ll happen with ANY boss, and will repeat itself in your next job?

These are the things racing through the interviewer’s mind when you badmouth your previous company or colleagues because they can never get that other half of the story to be sure.

So try to focus on the positive things that you’ll be gaining if they hire you, instead of talking bad about your current situation.

4. Seeming Fake

This one is a little bit harder to explain but bear with me…

If a company gets the sense you’re not being authentic, or that you’re giving the answers you think they want to hear, it doesn’t matter how good your answers are. That’s the trick to interviewing well. Sure, there are plenty of strategies and proven job interview tips that you can memorize, but you have to blend it with your own style and seem genuine.

Think of an interview like a scientific test that’s being conducted. If they decide you’re just giving answers based on some strategies you’ve memorized, they’ll decide the whole test is compromised.

Essentially they’ll have to throw out the results. It’s not that you gave wrong answers or they think you’d be a bad employee, they’re just not sure. They don’t know! So they’re not going to feel comfortable hiring you.

I’ve interviewed a number of people that didn’t get hired because of this. I was interviewing an entry level candidate in my first Recruiting company, because we were growing and needed to hire more staff. So I went in and interviewed a young man, and a few other people on my team met with him after.

This was my general impression, and everyone agreed: He gave the right answers to everything but it didn’t seem like he was excited about what he was saying. He just seemed like he was repeating things he had learned to say. I couldn’t get a read on what he really thought, or who he really was as a person because each answer was so scripted and sounded like it was out of a book.

We didn’t end up hiring him. You wouldn’t buy a product without knowing anything about it, right? Hiring is the same. We didn’t dislike him, we just didn’t know enough to make a decision and didn’t want to risk it!

5. Showing Up Late

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. It’s pretty common and it can definitely kill your chances at getting through the interview. Even in the best case scenario you’ll have a pretty big hill to climb just to get back to being on level playing field! So show up a bit early and wait around the corner for your job interview, don’t risk being late.

RECENTLY ADDED: Two More Important Tips Suggested By Readers…

So, I received some great emails and feedback after posting this and readers suggested a few others! Everyone who made a suggestion is right, there are WAY more than 5 common mistakes. Here are 2 other big interview mistakes to keep in mind and watch out for…

  • Failing to make a connection with the interviewer (suggested by Tylor in a comment below). This is spot-on. If they’re friendly and ask about your personal life, don’t rush through the conversation. Take the time to give thoughtful answers, find out something about them, and try to enjoy the process. They are your future coworker potentially and they want to see if you’ll fit in and get along.
  • Appearance/presentation (suggested to me via email). Again, spot-on! Go in looking clean, professional, etc. Maintain eye contact, don’t fidget, don’t glance around nervously. Practice beforehand with a video recorder if you have to… see how you look when answering practice questions.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other mistakes out there but when I sit down to think about the most common and most costly, these are the ones that come to mind. Make sure you have these areas taken care of before your next interview!

UPDATE: If you’re job hunting, this might interest you: I recently finished a step-by-step job interview “cheat sheet” based on the exact methods I’ve used as a Recruiter for 5 years. It’s designed to save you time and get you MUCH better prepared than the competition. You can find out more here.

Have you made any of the mistakes in this article? What was the outcome? Leave a comment below and let me know…

Leave a Comment:

5 comments
Tylor Tourville says February 9, 2016

Great article, Biron. I guess another thing I would add to the list (although I think it fits somewhere in #4) is not making a personal connection with the interviewer. I agree that appearing genuine is very important, so you have to go about this carefully, but it shouldn’t take much for you to get to know the person a little bit during the course of the interview, whether it is completely personal, or tied to the job/company.

As an extension of this point, I think “not asking questions” should probably be on the list as well. In addition to showing an interest/passion in the position for the company, the questions you ask are also a great opportunity to show the interviewer how you think, and also how well you listened throughout the interview. Smart questions that go beyond one-sentence answers and continue the dialogue also open more opportunities to establish connections, as mentioned above.

Reply
    Biron says February 10, 2016

    Awesome response, couldn’t agree more Tylor.

    The interview goes much better if it’s a dialogue, not an interrogation. And you have partial control of that. You have most of the control over that actually… how you respond, whether you mix in questions of your own, whether you build a connection in the interview! (exactly like you said).

    I hope a lot of people read your comment because it’s spot-on. Maybe I’ll edit the article in the future.

    Reply
Kenneth says March 13, 2016

Good tips! Although it is easy to say “Dont Show Up Late”, but sometimes unavoidable things happen so what WOULD you do if you’re going to be late and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. I have a couple of job interviews coming up that will require a pretty complicated commute (multiple trains/subways) and I just want to at least know what I’m going to do if things go wrong. In terms of my message to the company, how I handle it. I want a backup plan, that’d make me feel safer. Do you have any advice on this before my interviews?

Reply
    Biron says March 13, 2016

    This probably isn’t what you want to hear since it requires multiple trains to get to your interview but the safest thing to do if these interviews matter a lot to you is do a trial run. Practice the commute once before. Are the trains the same schedule on weekends? Take a Sunday, grab a good book or a laptop, and get some work done while practicing the commute. Or just aim to arrive so early that it’d take something ridiculous to stop you from making it. Obviously you can’t control everything but if you aim to be 2 hours early and grab food and coffee before the interview, it’s going to take a LOT to make you late. That’s exactly what I’d do- get close, find a spot to relax, do a bit of last minute preparation and then walk in on time. The only scenario where this will be tough is if you don’t have a full day off from work. Ie if your interview is at noon and you told your work you could come in from 9-11 AM. But if it’s not too late I’d recommend getting the full day off. Good luck!

    Reply
Arjun says February 1, 2017

Good suggestion, what about the people if we don’t find in linkedin. don’t know about them and suddenly met after the presumption we will be meeting one. thought of A but meet B.I have faced this many time and so as other.

Reply
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