Hunting for a job can be stressful, tedious and sometimes a little discouraging. So, when we get a call or email back for an interview with a great company—one that offers a competitive salary, benefits and is in a great location—we may assume the hardest part of our job hunt is done. However, while landing an interview may feel like an automatic win, the reality is there’s a handful of equally qualified applicants who want the job just as bad as you do—meaning it’s essential that you shine in your interview.
With that in mind, we have compiled a list of the most common interview mistakes to avoid to increase your chance of wowing the interviewer and landing the job you want.
Before we dive in, another thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer is not any different from you and me. We are all human, we have all been on the receiving end of an interview and we have all been nervous at some point in our lives. They are rooting for you and want you to do well, so don’t let fear get in the way of your success.
Now, without further delay, here are the common interview mistakes to avoid:
When you are greeted by the interviewer, it’s important to smile and offer them a good firm handshake. This is their first impression and the way you greet them says a lot about you, so make it count. A limp handshake implies you are weak or non-committal, while a crushing handshake will come off as too aggressive. Another handshake faux-pas is having sweaty or clammy hands, which is common when you’re nervous, so subtly wipe your palms on your clothes before shaking hands or use talcum powder prior to arrival. The length of the handshake is also a factor—don’t hold on too long or it may feel uncomfortable.
A perfect handshake is firm, lasts for two or three shakes and is done with eye contact and a smile. Practice it with a friend to get it right.
It is natural to be nervous when you go into a job interview—it’s human nature. However, when it comes to answering the questions and telling your interviewer about your experience, having conviction in your words is a must. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and what experience you have that is applicable to the job you are interviewing for.
On the other hand, there is a fine line between exuding confidence and coming off as arrogant. You want to convey that you are a strong minded person, but also that you work well with others.
This seems like a no-brainer, but there is a difference between being able to list the jobs you’ve done and being able to articulate the skills and experience you gained from working there.
“I’ve interviewed over 4,500 candidates for positions. If I ever start a sentence with ‘I was interested to read on your resumé that you…’ and see a blank stare come back at me or, worse, a request for reminders of what they wrote, it’s usually a bad sign,” coach Vincent Tuckwood explains. “You have to consider that you are up against candidates who not only have spectacular resumes, but who know them inside-out AND have the charisma to talk about their experience in a highly engaging way.”
You also run the risk of missing an opportunity to shine.
“A candidate that arrives in an interview without a clear perspective of what their knowledge and experience can bring to the organization misses a big opportunity not only to highlight their skills, but also to exhibit that they can articulate their ideas effectively,” Tonya Echols says. “This is also a chance to differentiate yourself from other candidates because it shows you’ve already thought about the needs of the company and gives managers a glimpse into what it might be like having you in the organization.”
Bottom line: be ready to speak to your resume’s contents like you’d memorized a storybook.
In addition to being able to explain your skills and experience, being able to provide concrete examples of when you have used those particular skills in previous roles is a must. It will help drive your point home and paint a picture for the interviewer. What’s more, most interviews are focused on behavioural questions, so having some stories prepared in advance will also take the pressure off.
“People describe their qualities or strengths, but they do not provide examples to back it up. For example if asked what is one of my strengths, I might say I am very good at building relationships. It doesn’t hold a lot of impact. However, if I back it up with an example it is much stronger,” career coach Mary Kruger says.
“So let’s try that again: What is one of your strengths Mary? ‘I am very good at building relationships. An example of that is when I began my role as a learning & development manager I reached out to all the store managers and their learning coordinators and asked them what were the challenges they faced in their specific roles. I then continued to touch base with them on a regular basis, building trust, creating open lines of communication and strong relationships.”
Preparation is key for acing an interview. Behavioural questions have become a standard part of the process and require more well-thought out responses, meaning they can trip you up if you aren’t prepared. “I find that the biggest mistake is not preparing a clear, well rehearsed career story. People routinely under prepare and don’t realize that they are rambling, not hitting key points,” coach George Karris says.
“I recommend people spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing for interviews using the STAR technique. STAR stands for Situation-Task-Action-Results,” coach Marla Williams advises. “This is a tool for answering behavioural questions in a concise manner with examples that have been thought of ahead of time to address specific areas of expertise: teamwork, leadership, problem solving, etc. I will run my clients through mock interviews using this model and helping them refine their answers.”
On the flip side, make sure you carefully listen to what is being asked and ensure you answer the question that has been asked. Going off topic will confuse you and your interviewer and make you seem disorganized or aloof.
There are bound to be some questions that throw you off-guard, so it is important to mentally prepare for those ‘wildcard’ questions.
“In almost every interview process someone asks a goofy and seemingly nonsensical and potentially obnoxious question. Examples include: ‘If you were a unicorn what color would you be?’ or ‘Tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” explains coach Lynden Kidd. “I’ve found that the interviewee might feel like they are being disrespected by such questions and as a result inwardly groan, while scrambling for an answer. What I’ve discovered however is that savvy interviewees know and expect that someone inevitably will ask the crazy, seems to make no sense, question.”
She says the reason for these types of questions are usually to see how you think on your feet, how you handle ambiguity and how resourceful you can be when unprepared. “My clients practice having fun and playing with an answer to a goofy question, so they don’t lose composure, and so they (with a glint in their eye) come up with a lighthearted approach to a vague and nonsensical question proving that they are agile and think on their feet and prove they are unflappable – important attributes for some roles.”
Then there are the weakness/failure questions, which you can expect in nearly every interview.
“You can plan on being asked about a: mistake, failure, weakness, time when things didn’t go as planned, when you didn’t communicate well, when the team let you down or vice versa. You will get asked about a time you didn’t get an outcome you expected. So know what your answer is to a time when things didn’t happen the way you wanted AND be sure to share what you learned as a result. The most important part of the answer is that you learned from the situation and improved for the future.”
Finally, there will likely be conversational questions asked, such as “What are your hobbies/interests?” This may seem like a less important one, but it’s okay to show that you have a life outside of work and enjoy doing different things. In fact, showing this side of yourself will is a great way to connect with your interviewer. Life isn’t all about work and your employer appreciates this.
Not reading up on the company, at least a little bit, is a big no-no. If you are on the job hunt, you have likely applied for a ton of different jobs on different job sites and platforms, so keeping track and doing research on every one can be difficult. However, can you imagine how silly you would look walking in to interview with a company and knowing little-to-nothing about it?
Unfortunately, this interview mistake is quite common, so do your research! Once you get called or emailed for an interview, go to the company’s website and do a little research and take some notes. Find out who will be interviewing you and find out about them as well.
“Why should someone hire you if you have no interest in the organization with which you are interviewing?” asks career coach Terry DellaVecchia. “A terrible mistake is one of neglect! You need to research the company, have a few questions to ask about direction or market share, anything to show you’ve done your homework!”
Most of the time an interviewer will close by asking if you have any questions for them. This one can be tricky for a lot of people. There are certain questions you probably shouldn’t ask, such as the pay, vacation time or sick days and you don’t want to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
You want to get more information and show your interest in the company and the position. You can ask more about the position, the organization, the interviewer, the training or the process and next steps.
Here are some examples:
If you need more inspiration, here is a list of possible questions to ask.
Going back to behavioural questions, you are often asked to describe scenarios when you demonstrated certain skills. Sometimes your answers will involve examples when it was a team effort that resulted in a goal. While teamwork is an important skill to have, you will want to highlight what you brought to the table.
“Using the word “we” to describe work performed on a team in the interview,” coach Tajan B. Renderos explains. “The interviewer is trying to hire the person sitting before them not the team, so it’s important for candidates to understand how they contributed and propelled the team forward and be very skilled at communicating that.”
When you are desperate to find a new job, we can end up applying for anything and everything within our industry—even jobs we aren’t qualified for or don’t even want. Being click-happy on Craigslist, Monster and LinkedIn and just winging it is not the way to go.
“Sometimes in the pressure to find a job, people set goals, such as applying for two to three jobs per week,” explains coach Kathleen Murray. “Unfortunately that can lead people to apply for jobs they don’t want or are not qualified for. Consequently, they either don’t get an interview at all or don’t get called back for a second interview. In turn, their confidence gets affected when they should never have applied for that job in the first place. Stick to applying for jobs that interest you and match your qualifications.”
Kristen is the editor and community manager at Noomii.com and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.