Interview Mistakes

I just read this Wall Street Journal article on the eight most common interviewing mistakes. The ones they mention are pretty obvious – entitlement, rude behavior, arrogance, lying, poor dress, sharing inappropriate details, thank you gifts, and having mom or dad contact the recruiter.

Interestingly enough we have seen a tremendous improvement in the caliber of interviewee. Generally, people come in well prepared, dressed well, and speaking directly. I see two possible reasons for the improvement – 1. We are being much more selective on whom we call in (based on resume and phone screening) and 2. People take more time to research best interview practices and employ those practices.

In all fairness, we do get our share of rude people or bring a friend to the interview, but to me these are too obvious of blunders to dwell on. Instead, I wanted to write a piece for strong candidates who make some of the lesser known, perhaps more subtle, interview mistakes.

  • Talking too much! – This one is a killer. I will have an excellent candidate, I ask a question and then I can’t get a word in edgewise. We are all very busy; when you hear a question consider what the interviewer might be looking for and speak to that issue. Be concise and crisp in your answers and allow the interviewer time to ask some follow up questions. When you talk too much you project that you are unfocused and disorganized.
  • Specifics please? – When someone asks you to give a specific instance in your past, make sure you actually give a specific example. When most people ask this question they are looking to see if the candidate will display a given behavioral attribute in certain situations. If candidates cannot give a specific instance I assume that they do not have the attribute – or at best that I cannot determine whether or not they do. So when you get a question that starts with “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of a time when…” take a moment to figure out what attributes they are looking for and select a moment from your recent past in which you displayed those attributes. You should choose a specific instance and give a “there was one time (at band camp…)” answer. Avoid answers like “I did that all the time at my last job.”
  • Not Another People Person! Do not, under any circumstances say you are a “people person.” Ever. The statement is completely vacuous, and yet I hear people say it all the time. This is a trait that people think is valuable, but really says nothing more than that you like people. As a prospective employer I want more. Are you persuasive? Are you comfortable working with very demanding professionals? Are you capable of quickly forming relationships? If so speak to those attributes and kick the “people person” to the crib.
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a weakness. I admit it; I ask the weakness question all the time. Not many people answer it. Many try to get buy it by thinly disguising strength as a weakness. Answers like “I just work too hard” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist” drive me nuts. Can you ever imagine a manager complaining about an employee working too hard? I don’t think so. Show some courage and bring up a real weakness that caused you professional difficultly and that you had to address. It will communicate that you are self aware, and confident your strengths outweigh your weaknesses. This is a trait in an employee that most managers value. Be sure, however, you bring up a weakness that you addressed (as opposed to one that still plagues you) and can comfortably discuss.

Okay, I think that I have covered the basics. Go forth and have great interviews.

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One thought on “Interview Mistakes

  1. Henry Motyka on

    I would like to add more.

    Make sure you research the company. You can then discuss the company and leave a favorable impression.

    Make sure, after you research the company, that you prepare questions that show you know about the company. I have received compliments from interviewers on my questions during interviews. Two of my favorites are What is your biggest problem right now?, and What brought you to this company and what keeps you here?

    Of course, I ask questions on company specifics also.

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