12 ways to bomb a job interview

From showing up too casually attired to giving a weak handshake, committing these mistakes will make sure you don’t get a callback (much less a new job).

We’ve all gone to job interviews and felt we nailed it. Yet we didn’t get the job.

Sometimes, we never hear from the recruiter again.

Here’s a look at the ways your peers and competitors have bombed their interviews. Have you made some of these mistakes? Sure, some of these may seem like common sense, but job-seekers make the following missteps every day:

1. Go too casual.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” – Mark Twain

Ask the recruiter ahead of time, on the phone or email, about the company’s dress code. If asking is uncomfortable, play it safe with dress pants or slacks and a nice shirt and tie; or skirt and blouse. Even a laid-back startup would be impressed with your professionalism. Better to be overdressed than, well, naked.

2. Arrive unprepared.

You emailed your résumé—certainly the hiring manager had time to memorize it, or at least to print it and bring copies with him, right? Wrong. You had better bring copies of your resume to the interview.

The more you know about the company and industry before the interview, the better. Research the company’s history, major competitors, market niche, products, etc. Having a quality notebook or leather-bound portfolio in which to take interview notes will add to a professional tone.

3. Offer a weak handshake.

It’s a time-honored killer of good first impressions.

The interviewer enters the room. He or she greets you warmly, smiling, and extends a hand to grasp yours—an awkward moment if you overthink it. Will your hands meet correctly? Will they land slightly askew, resulting in that quasi-handshake, squishy, “I wanna do-over!” event?

Display confidence and social skills: use a firm (dry) handshake to convey confidence and strength of character.

4. Leave your cell phone ringer on.

So, sometimes the cell phone rings at awkward times. The recruiter probably didn’t even notice your phone rings to the tune of Rihanna’s “S&M.”

This is easy to forget, because most of us are so tied to our digital second brain. Turn your phone off—completely off—before the interview. If you do forget and your phone rings, do not answer!

5. Be a distraction diva.

Almost as rude as answering your phone is the person who allows everything to become a distraction.

It could be the gum they fail to discard, constantly clicking their pen, or the change and keys jingling in their pocket. Nervous ticks fall into this category: constantly clearing your throat, “um” and “ya know,” tapping your fingers on the conference room table.

Simple advice: Remove anything that may distract you during your interview, and identify beforehand any nervous habits you may have.

6. Exhibit bad body language.

Your body language communicates for you, loud and clear.

Maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Sitting up and forward shows active interest. Nod your head at appropriate times, and ask questions throughout the interview. An interview should be a dialogue—including what your body language says.

7. Broadcast your opinions.

By opinions, I mean those not related to the job. Political and religious statements are obvious taboos, but unsolicited small talk can be equally damaging.

Statements as innocent as, “I saw Will Ferrell’s movie last night—so effing funny!” and, “I hate small dogs,” can catch the recruiter off guard and may even offend.

8. Play the victim.

Want to turn off a recruiter in one brief lapse of common sense? Play the role of a victim.

Tell the recruiter you’ve submitted dozens, perhaps hundreds, of online applications and have been on several interviews. But, you add, the effort hasn’t resulted in a single job offer. You’ve done everything right, you say, but you just haven’t had any luck. Oh, without fail, you pile on by saying, “I just need a chance…”

Immediate fail. Interview over.

9. Engage in premature negotiation.

Please, do your homework and understand the salary range to the best of your ability before accepting the interview.

If discovering the salary in advance is impossible, ask about it only after you’ve discussed your ability to the fill the position and your potential to be a good fit to the company culture. Only then is it OK to bring up compensation; otherwise, in the eyes of many recruiters you’re planting a big red flag in the ground.

10. Insist on being elitist or unfriendly.

With the exception of very technical positions, employers interview for skills, but they hire for personality and whether you can do the job. When done correctly, the interview reveals both.

Be perceived as an elitist and the interviewer may pigeonhole you as “over-qualified.” Be the slightest bit unapproachable, and you’ll most likely be labeled high-maintenance.

Use your manners, smile, and engage in an articulate manner. Have a sincere conversation with the interviewer. Otherwise, you may just come across as though you really don’t want to be there—now, or as an employee.

11. Fail to follow up.

Most interviewees send résumés and wait, and then interview and hope, with no proactive effort to communicate after the interview.

Don’t fall into the forgotten pile. Follow up after the interview; at the very least, send a thank-you email. Add a few memorable points from your discussion, maybe even a question or two you thought of after the interview.

Most effective is a handwritten thank-you letter (yes, via snail mail). The recruiter may now see you as a sincere applicant worthy of consideration—and perhaps a second look.

12. Become ‘The Stalker.’

The opposite of the failed follow-up is The Stalker—one who is so eager (read: desperate) that all common sense is left behind.

After the interview, The Stalker calls, emails, and tweets so often he or she either scares or annoys the hell out of the recruiter. Through this person’s actions, and perhaps despite the perfect résumé and work experience, The Stalker comes across more like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” than she does the perfect team member.

The Stalker rarely gets a first chance—and never gets a second.

Mark Babbitt, who is CEO of YouTern, is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. He was recently honored to be named to GenJuice’s “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” list. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.

Topics: PR


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