10 Things Not to Do on a Job Interview

I’m terrible at interviewing for jobs. My hands get all clammy, I start to have heart palpitations, and somehow the words come out of my mouth all wrong. I leave the interview wondering what I could have done better, and wishing I could have feedback from the interviewer to improve my skills in the future.

Lately, though, I’ve been in the position to interview candidates for roles at my company. I’ve been surprised by how poorly some candidates interview, despite their impressive experience. There are a few trends I’ve noticed during interviews that make an otherwise qualified applicant score lower. Here are 10 things not to do on a job interview.

1. DON’T spend five hours telling me about how your last gig was a nightmare.
Your last/current company sucks/sucked. I get it. That’s why you’re applying for a new job. ‘Duh. It amazes me how some job applicants, when I ask them why they’re interested in this job and our company, spend a good amount of time rambling about how crappy their current/last job is without even mentioning the role they are applying for. Sorry, but you’re going to be stuck at crappy company for a lot longer.

2. DON’T say you’re here because a recruiter sent you.
Congrats, you’ve been pushed to the top of the interviewee pile by a capable recruiter who convinced you to consider this opportunity. But, wait, you really don’t know anything about the company and aren’t sure why you’re here to begin with? Don’t waste either of our time. It’s perfectly fine to come into the interview with intelligent questions about the business, it’s not ok to act like you’re holier than thou and you aren’t sure why you’re interviewing for this role to begin with. Just go home. Waste someone else’s time.

3. DON’T talk about how your five year goal is senior management.
Sure you want to be CXO in five years. That’s admirable of you. But what do you really want to do? How will this help benefit our company over the next five years? How will this make a difference in your first year on the job? In five years, you want to have proven that you can move the needle here. You want to be known as a collaborative leader who can inspire change. Have a better story than wanting to be VP.

4. DON’T forget to bring your resume.
Yes, we live in a digital age when life seems to be almost paperless. But not everyone has time to read your resume in advance or print it out. Bring a few extra copies just in case they’re needed. I’m sure the office has a nice recycling bin to put them in if you don’t end up handing them off to anyone.

5. DON’T talk, like, a valley girl, like, um, because, it’s just, not, like, flattering.
It truly amazes me how many Ivy-pedigreed or otherwise academically and professionally impressive candidates cannot get one sentence out without about, like, 9 thousand, like, likes. I’m guilty of throwing in an extra, like, like every now and again, but it’s a good thing to be aware of and pay attention to when you’re interviewing for a role.

6. DON’T avoid reading the company’s website and press before you interview.
Unless you’re applying for a stealth startup being built at the center of the earth, the company you’re applying to has a website and probably a few press articles covering it. Please, for the love of god, understand the company’s product and audience before interviewing for a position. This matters less in a technical role, but if you plan on selling the product, marketing the product, helping customers figure out how to use the product, or making the product, know why the company exists to begin with. Be ready to have an intelligent conversation about the product, not get a 101 overview if the material exists in the public domain.

7. DON’T spell things wrong on your resume.
Really? You graduated with high honors but can’t use spellcheck? Something doesn’t add up here.

8. DON’T babble on forever and ever.
Yes, I asked you a question. That is not an excuse to tell me 10 minutes of your life story. Keep your answers short and use examples. If the interviewer wants to know more, she will ask. If you feel like the interviewer is going silent, throw a question their way before they ask “do you have any questions for me” – the more the interviewer walks away feeling they had a conversation with an equal, the more likely they are to vote for you in the next round of internal discussions.

9. DON’T leave without a solid close.
If you want the job, don’t be afraid to say it. A close doesn’t need to be hoaky. You can thank the interviewer for their time and ask what the next steps are. Sometimes it’s good to ask what they’re looking for in this role, so you can gauge how you fit and not be left wondering when you never hear back from the company. But never just let the interviewer walk out of the room with no formal goodbye.

10. DON’T ruin your chances by forgetting to send a thank you note.
What is it with the kids these days? They don’t send a thank you note and expect to still get hired? Take a few seconds out of your day to email everyone you interviewed with (individually, not a group note) and to thank them for their time. Keep the note short, with a few bullets to reiterate why you’re awesome for the job. If you can remember one anecdote from the interview, cite it in the letter.

Bonus. DO Be Human.
There have been a few job interviews where I was convinced I was talking to a robot. I asked the candidate one question, s/he clearly didn’t feel comfortable answering, so instead of asking a question back or saying they didn’t know the answer, s/he went off on a tangent and tried to sound smart. No one wants to work with a robot or someone who can’t admit that they just don’t know something. There are studies that prove people are more likely to succeed in a business because of cultural fit than just their performance alone. So be yourself. Talk about your hobbies if asked (but don’t get TOO excited about your role playing expertise.) It’s important to be someone that people would want to work with, so just relax, be yourself, and have fun. If you being yourself isn’t the right fit for the company, then find a company where you do fit. Everyone will be better off in the long run.

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5 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Do on a Job Interview”

  1. Let’s face it, job interviews are tough on both sides. As an interviewee my experience is much like yours. As an occasional interviewer, while not being a people person I try to put the interviewee at ease.

    Unfortunately I’ve been to a few interviews where I was made to feel very inadequate by interviewers because my background was different to theirs. They were actually quite unpleasant!

    1. “As an occasional interviewer, while not being a people person I try to put the interviewee at ease.”

      I love this tip for interviewers. That is my top priority when interviewing. I don’t want to be overbearing or scary and drive a good candidate away. I have a deep voice and a bit of a NYC accent and it’s good for me to remember to smile and seem encouraging, esp. for candidates from other more laid-back work cultures.

      I actually had one interview in the Upper Midwest where I was criticized for not dressing “feminine enough” – they seriously wanted me to wear a lacy blouse and my hair in ringlets!! Normally I love feedback after an interview because it helps me be a better presenter but that was beyond the pale. I am not going to pretend to be an entirely different person…I just won’t work at companies who expect me to adhere to 1950s styles of dress!

  2. I have to admit that if I were searching for a new job (thank goodness I’m not) I might not have the confidence to push for a solid close. Did you have any interviewees who did this? How did you respond to it as an interviewer?

  3. In high-tech in NYC, bringing paper resumes to an interview makes you look really old-fashioned. I want my candidates to bring their portfolio samples, ideally in a digital format. I care more about their ability to do good work than the chronology of their career.

    Also, for technical roles – be they UI design or database management or iPhone development or .NET lead – it’s just as important, if not MORE-so for the candidate to know what the company does. If I’m interviewing a dev who doesn’t understand why we’re building this software (or why we’re building it on Rails), the whole interview is sort of a waste of time…for everyone involved!

    Read Nick Corcodilios’s “Ask the Headhunter” blog for tips on how to become an excellent interviewer and find great candidates. He is a headhunter in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley himself so his tips are very apropos to your needs.

    1. p.s. The BE HUMAN tip is probably the most important idea for everyone no matter the industry. I love that you added it! Too many entry level ppl write awful resumes based on outdated advice from their college career centers and in the interviews, they give rehearsed answers they “think” the interviewers want to hear. Really good advice for everyone, but doubly so for those just starting out.

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