Looking for a job is not easy. Even when you land an interview, you only have your foot in the door. To cross the threshold to a new job, the interview must go well.
Most job seekers know the basics of what a hiring manager wants: Dress professionally, bring a copy of your resume, make eye contact, and don't ask about salary and benefits right away.But it can be just as helpful to know what not to do: Interviewers have some lesser-known pet peeves about job applicants and their actions, and avoiding those can be critical to a successful interview.
Human resources professionals and hiring experts shared a few candidate behaviors they see before, during and after the interview that leave a terrible impression — and that ultimately might cost you the job.
1. Desperate mass job applications
When candidates apply to almost every job available on the careers section of a company website, it immediately sends a "desperation" signal to the hiring manager. You might think you're showing how versatile you are by applying for every position, but a recruiter views it as a lack of focus, or non-mastery of specific skills.
"Be aware that if you are a jack-of-all-trades, you probably are a master of none," said Luan Lam, vice president of global talent acquisition at application intelligence company AppDynamics. "You might want to hone in on your best skill set and apply to a maximum of two positions."
Recruiters will often automatically dismiss resumes with bad grammar and spelling, and missing information. The only thing worse than a poorly written or incomplete resume is one that looks great until you realize the candidate was exaggerating or misrepresenting certain information on it. Stretching the truth about a position you held, whether by fudging the employment dates or trumping up your job duties or skills, won't do you any favors when an employer figures out that you lied.
"Nothing frustrates a hiring manager more," said Jack Hill, director of talent acquisition solutions at human capital management software company PeopleFluent. "They took the time to evaluate you and they think you have the prerequisites to do that job."
3. Being late to the interview
It is far better to be early and bored than to be late and panicked. Showing up late to a scheduled interview shows recruiters that you are unreliable with your own time management, Luan Lam said. It also implies a lack of respect and consideration for someone else's time. To avoid running late to an interview, always map out the approximate time it takes to get to your interview location. Allow an extra hour for traffic, parking or delays on public transit.
4. Not looking the part
Everyone says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it is human nature to do so. You will be judged on how you present yourself during the interview, from the way you talk and your body language, to how you dress.
If you're not sure of the company's dress code, ask the recruiter or someone connected to the company. Sloane Barbour, regional director at Jobspring, said to overdress if you're not sure. If the hiring manager says business casual and you perceive it as jeans and a polo shirt, you may be better off wearing slacks and a button-down unless it's communicated to you that jeans are appropriate, he said.
5. Lack of preparation and engagement
This one stems from one of the most commonly dispensed pieces of job interview advice — research the company beforehand. And yet, some candidates still walk into an interview without having done their homework, which obviously doesn't look good to a hiring manager.
"There's so much data out there," said Brigette McInnis-Day, executive vice president of human resources at enterprise software provider SAP. "If you don't come in well prepared and don't have a good reason for wanting to work here ... [it's] just lazy."
Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer of applicant tracking system iCIMS, noted that not engaging with the hiring manager with thoughtful questions about the position or the company is a big red flag for many interviewers as well.
"They don't take well to [a candidate] not asking questions," Vitale said. "You don't need to ask a dozen for the sake of it, but there has to be a question ... about the company, culture, what makes a successful candidate, etc."
6. Responding poorly
Nothing will bother an interviewer more than having to pry the answers out of an interviewee. Nervousness aside, responding to questions with enthusiasm and a well-thought-out answer is imperative. Randall S. Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers, wrote, "Your goal should always be authenticity, responding truthfully to interview questions. At the same time, your goal is to get to the next step, so you'll want to provide focused responses that showcase your skills, experience and fit — with the job and the employer." By providing examples of previous accomplishments and developed solutions, you can show your value, Hansen said.
Also, never bad-mouth a previous employer. It immediately sets them thinking that you may say negative things about them someday, and that may be a risk the interviewer does not want to take. Make the interview about the positive things you bring to the organization and leave the negative at the door.
7. Arrogance or blatant name-dropping
It is good to be confident in your skills and to be able to sell yourself as a potential employee. But there's a line between humble bragging and straight arrogance that shouldn't be crossed during a job interview.
"When you're describing yourself, saying 'I, I, I, I' can sound egotistical and arrogant," McInnis-Day said. "It's too much. You have to balance [it]. Say, 'The team did' [when discussing past accomplishments]."
McInnis-Day also advised against blatant or excessive name-dropping, especially if the aim is to simply prove you have connections at the company. It is fine to mention that a current employee referred you to the job opening, but don't make your interview all about who you know.
8. Not following up
Sending a personalized thank-you note to your interviewer after you've met with them is an important step of the process. When a hiring manager doesn't receive one, it implies that you don't really care about getting the position. Vitale said that sending a polite, timely thank-you with details from the interview is the bare minimum a candidate should do to follow up.
"It goes a long way," Vitale said. "Show that you listened." While an email is always good, you can always do more, with a follow-up phone call thanking them for their time, or a handwritten note delivered via traditional mail. Such extra effort makes you memorable.
9. Dragging out negotiations
Once you receive a job offer, it's OK and even expected that you negotiate it once. Repeatedly going back to a company to negotiate various points will reflect poorly on you, and make a hiring manager wonder why he or she offered you the position.
"To avoid dragging out negotiations, be clear with recruiters from the beginning with the expectations you have from the company and the role," Luan Lam told Business News Daily. "Also, recognize that everything in the contract is not necessarily negotiable, such as benefits and PTO. Be realistic."
10. Backing out on an accepted offer
The worst crime a candidate can commit is backing out after accepting an offer from a company, Lam said. Typically, a company halts all interviewing after an offer is accepted. Backing out on an accepted offer means that the company will have to start over again. Luan Lam recommended having a checklist of all the "must-haves" for the position you are looking for, and making sure a job offer fits before officially accepting.
"If the next position satisfies all criteria, you have a higher level of confidence in taking the job," Lam said.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.