Interviews can be nerve-wracking. Here are some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
- Some of the most common mistakes job candidates make are not following up, following up too much and arriving late to the interview.
- Hiring managers mess up by not remaining objective, allowing social media to influence their decisions or talking too much.
- If you do mess up, the best thing you can do is acknowledge it quickly and rectify your mistake.
The interview is the toughest part of the job application process – it can be nerve-wracking and intense, and it's often difficult to prepare for. Mistakes are easy to make when you're nervous, and the unfortunate truth is that sometimes one mistake is enough to take you out of the running.
It's not just job candidates under pressure, either. Interviewers are just as prone to making pressure-induced mistakes.
Business News Daily spoke to hiring experts to learn the most common mistakes job candidates and interviewers make during the interviewing process, as well as how you can recover if you do slip up.
Before and during the interview
Before you show up to your interview, prepare to answer questions about your professional background, your skills, and why you think you are a good fit for both the position and the company. Make sure you know basic facts about the business, the scope of your potential role and, if possible, the person or people who will be interviewing you.
On the day of the interview, try to avoid these common interview mistakes.
Poor hygiene and personal appearance
It should go without saying that you should always have good hygiene in a professional environment. No employee wants a smelly co-worker, and recruiters feel the same. According to a 2017 Recruiter Nation report, more than half of recruiters would disqualify a job candidate because of bad hygiene.
Make sure you are clean, polished-looking, and dressed appropriately for the position you are applying for. If you are unsure, err on the side of professional dress more than casual.
Showing up late
Being late to a job interview isn't just poor manners – it tells the recruiter that you don't care about the job, have more important things to do or just aren't responsible enough to be where you need to on time.
This error can cost you the job, as 58% of the surveyed recruiters indicated they would remove a candidate from further consideration if they arrived late. To be safe, plan to arrive to your interview at least 10 or 15 minutes early. This gives you extra time to make sure you are in the right place. If you have a few minutes to wait, you can sit in the lobby and review your notes or do a final outfit check in the bathroom.
Keep in mind that it can also be rude to show up too early. If possible, wait in a separate area until five minutes before your interview time, then announce yourself to the receptionist or a staff member.
Being rude to the receptionist or support staff
It is vital that you are kind to everyone in the office when you go in for an interview. You never know who has a say in whether you get the job.
According to the Recruiter Nation report, the worst thing an interviewee can do is be rude to the receptionist or support staff. In fact, 86% of recruiters reported that if a potential employee was rude to the receptionist, they would take the candidate out of the running for the job.
Be courteous, professional and polite to everyone you interact with during the entire process, and make sure to thank people for their time as you leave.
Being too comfortable with the interviewer
You might hit it off with the hiring manager, but you should try to remain professional through the entire hiring process.
"Be polite, but never become too familiar," said Jodi Chavez, president of Randstad Professionals and Life Sciences at Randstad USA. "Many people assume comfort early on in an attempt to build rapport, but this could put off your interviewer."
This goes for social media as well. While it's a great tool for marketing or showing your personality, it's not good for socializing with your potential hiring manager. [Read related article: Social Media Success: A Guide for Job Seekers]
"[One mistake is] asking to connect on LinkedIn with a hiring manager or one of the interviewers as soon as the interview is over," said Richard Orbe-Austin, career coach and partner at Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting. "This request may seem too presumptuous and [can] be a turnoff to the hiring manager or interviewer."
You also should not attempt to friend an interviewer on Facebook or follow them on Instagram or Twitter. General company accounts are fine, but do not hunt down interviewers' personal accounts.
Poor body language
Hiring managers pay attention to your verbal answers, but they also look at how you deliver them. Do you look them in the eye? Do you fidget, play with your pen or fold your arms across your chest? All of these nonverbal cues play a part in the impression you make.
Your eye contact, handshake and posture can all help or hinder your chances of landing a job, and there are positive nonverbal cues that you can send during an interview to help the interview team view you favorably.
In general, sitting up straight indicates that you're paying attention, and a slight lean forward conveys interest and engagement. A warm and genuine smile makes everyone feel more comfortable. You should also have a firm handshake, but not too firm – crushing hands is no way to win favor.
Hand gestures during the conversation are fine, but refrain from fidgeting, such as shaking your leg, tapping your fingers or playing with a pencil.
Finally, maintain eye contact. Staring might make an interviewer uncomfortable, but looking the speaker in the eye, with slight breaks to look away, is polite. The goal is to be engaged and interactive. Looking someone in the eye when they speak to you and while you respond indicates respect for the person and that you are present in the moment. Frequently looking away or over their shoulder while talking to them conveys disinterest.
Changing your salary expectations
Mike Astringer, founder and principal consultant at Human Capital Consultants, noted that HR professionals interview candidates based partly on their initial compensation expectations.
"We [need to] know that they fit into our overall compensation range," he said. "All too often, a candidate will interview for a job, become overconfident [and] then dramatically increase their compensation expectations."
Astringer said he makes an offer to a candidate based on those initial salary expectations. Candidates should avoid greatly increasing their expectations at the final hour, he said.
"It makes the candidate look bad, it makes me look bad, and it wastes everyone's time," Astringer added.
Being too confident
Confidence to the point of arrogance can be seriously off-putting to an interviewer. In a 2018 survey by CareerBuilder, over 59% of hiring managers reported that arrogance or entitlement would be an instant dealbreaker for them.
Becky Beach, design manager at Mom Beach, shared a story about an applicant who took his confidence a bit too far.
"A day after the interview, he tried to connect with me over LinkedIn with the message, 'Thanks for interviewing me yesterday. Let me know when I am able to start the position.' I decided he would not get hired after that."
Be self-assured and confident in your abilities, but remember, the ball is in the interviewer's court, and you should defer to them.
Being upfront about all of your requirements and skills, as well as other offers you may have on the table, is key throughout the interview process.
"I had a candidate go through two rounds of phone screens and a daylong interview," said Lisa Barrow, CEO of Kada Recruiting. "She said to me she wasn't actively interviewing anywhere else. After the interview, she sent a thank-you email to the CEO that included a mention of an offer at another agency. The CEO called me to say he was taken aback and concerned about her lack of transparency in the process."
Barrow and the CEO had a further discussion with the candidate, who admitted that she wasn't truly considering the other offer and had only mentioned it to show her high level of interest in the company. She apologized, but Barrow said, "This ultimately showcased the importance of transparency and the impact it can have in the process."
Overlooking what you post on social media
We all saw the disaster of the NASA intern who swore at a former NASA engineer on Twitter and subsequently lost her position. It should be a rule of thumb to avoid crude, offensive or sensitive posts about your interviewing process during your job search.
"Posting about the interview, especially about interviewers, can be seen as a lack of confidentiality or professionalism," said Michelle Merritt, managing partner at Merrfeld Career Management.
Better yet, remain professional on social media at all times, not just while you're applying to jobs. A professional and polished online presence is important regardless of your career stage.
After the interview
Congratulations, you've made it past your first interview! Now what? Be sure to follow up with personal thank-you notes – handwritten or emailed – to each person who interviewed you. After that, try to be patient and avoid these common post-interview mistakes.
Too much follow-up
It's all right (and even expected) to follow up after the interview, but don't overwhelm your potential employer with multiple messages and phone calls. If you reach out too often, you're going to turn off the hiring manager.
"Many of us have been programmed to send thank-you notes immediately following an interview, and sometimes that's the right plan, but … be respectful of any communication parameters the interviewer may [have] set," said Chavez. "For example, if your interviewer requests email communication, stick to that and don't reach for the phone."
She said your follow-ups should also depend on how far along you are in the interviewing process.
"In general, the earlier you are in the process, the more quickly you should check in," said Chavez. "An initial phone interview with no response may require follow-up within the week. However, you may want to wait seven to 10 days after a second or third interview."
At the end of the interview, you should ask the hiring manager when you can expect to hear back and when it's appropriate to reach out if you haven't heard from them, said Jennifer Akoma, human resources director at Android Industries. Don't take it upon yourself to reach out to people who haven't given you permission to do so.
"We had one candidate [who] … used an organization that many of our employees were involved with to get their internal emails and phone numbers," Akoma said. "Their guerilla tactics ended up leaving a huge negative impression on me and many members of our staff."
It is good etiquette to send one thank-you to whoever you interviewed with one or two days after the interview and wait for them to respond with next steps. Keep in mind that you may not always receive a response.
After the interview, it is vital to send some form of correspondence – whether it be snail mail, email or even a phone call – thanking your interviewer for their time and effort.
"The most common mistake I see people making after the interview is not following up," said Melissa McClung, professional career advisor and owner of LBD Careers. "Following up by email and card or letter is essential."
Zohar Pinhasi, CEO of MonsterCloud, said that an applicant following up after the interview does more than express gratitude – it shows him that they still want the position.
"A post-interview email reassuring me of their interest in the position shows ambition, and also tells me that the candidate enjoyed the interview and is indeed still interested in working for me," he said. "Plus, it's the courteous thing to do."
Interview follow-up is another opportunity to sell yourself to the interviewer by restating your interest and showing good manners. [Read related article: Sample Thank-You Letters for After the Interview]
A generic follow-up letter
"It's always a good idea to send something personalized as much as possible," said Irina Pichura, CEO of Career Manifestations. "Think about topics that came up in the interview, anything you'd like to add that you didn't get a chance to address during the interview, and emphasize your interest in the company."
Most hiring managers can spot a generic thank-you letter (or cover letter, for that matter) a mile away, so take the time and effort to tailor your letter to the interviewer. Bring up something you discussed that isn't strictly related to your skills or the job description.
For example, let's say you talked about a project you worked on in a previous position. Include a link or sample of that project in your follow-up as a nod to the discussion and a way to show off your skills.
Ghosting the company
If you decide the position is not right for you, for whatever reason, be sure to reach out to the company and let them know that you want to withdraw your candidacy. Whoever interviewed you took time out of their busy schedule for you, so the courteous thing to do is to acknowledge that effort with a gracious thank-you and official withdrawal.
What to do if you mess up
Mistakes happen. Though it depends on how serious the mistake was, for the most part, you can recover if you handle minor gaffes with pure intentions and grace.
"I haven't had anyone recover [from a mistake], but I also haven't had anyone try," said Akoma. "For example, if someone noticed an error on their thank-you letter and owned up to it quickly, I think I would still consider them. It shows accountability and a willingness to admit and correct a mistake."
Rishit Shah, accountant and owner of TallySchool, recalled an applicant who accidentally sent his thank-you letter to the wrong person in the organization. "He quickly apologized and sent the letter to the correct person. What I liked about him was that he owned up to his mistake and quickly rectified it."
But no matter what happens after a mistake, don't burn bridges.
"If you don't get the particular position, you always send a gracious follow-up to the hiring managers and/or the HR person expressing interest in future opportunities," Akoma said. "It will make a good impression and could get you considered for other opportunities."
Mistakes to avoid as an interviewer
Job candidates sometimes forget that it is often just as stressful being on the other side of the process. Interviewers and hiring managers have the pressure of finding a candidate who can perform the duties of the job, mesh with the company culture, want the salary the job offers, and meet many other important criteria.
As such, interviewers can mess up too. Here are some of the most common mistakes interviewers make and how you can avoid them.
Using subjective or arbitrary criteria
Rather than "screening out" candidates based on an initial gut feeling or on unpredictive criteria such as GPA, the address on a resume, or the sound of a name, the interviewer should make sure that the evaluation process is as structured, job-specific and objective as possible. This will give them the chance to hire great people they might not have even considered otherwise, said Michael Burtov, founder and CEO of GeoOrbital.
Checking social media
Although social media plays a major part in job searches nowadays, Burtov says that it can evoke unconscious biases in interviewers. Social media profiles often contain pictures of candidates, as well as a plethora of information that is irrelevant to the job but can unfairly influence decision-making.
Try to avoid excessively browsing a candidate's social media. Keep your focus on what is professionally relevant, such as details on their LinkedIn profile, and avoid more personal profiles like their Instagram or TikTok.
Chatting too much
It is common for the interviewer to slip into monologues about the opportunity, the company, the culture and other job attributes during interviews. While this can be a key part of acquainting the candidate with the company, it's important to give the candidate ample opportunities to talk. The more job-relevant information you have about the candidate, the more likely you are to base your hiring decision on objective criteria rather than incomplete and possibly biased impressions. A good rule for an interviewer is 80% listening, 20% talking.
Judging based on personal preferences
As humans, we tend to like people who share our personal preferences and interests, such as music, sports, television shows, lifestyle choices and other behaviors that aren't relevant to the job.
While interviewing, keep in mind that liking the same TV shows is not related to job performance. Interviewers should not let "being like me" unconsciously sway their judgment. Remain as objective and focused on the job qualifications as you can, especially while determining if the candidate is a good culture fit. This is where it can be helpful to have multiple interviewers speak to the same candidate – you can all compare your thoughts on personality and culture fit to reach an objective decision.
Sammi Caramela and Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.