- Some of the most recurrent mistakes job candidates make are not following up, checking in too much and arriving late to the interview.
- Hiring managers also make mistakes, such as allowing social media to influence their decisions, talking too much during the interview, or not stating their objectives.
- If you do make a mistake, the best thing you can do is acknowledge it quickly and rectify it.
- This article is for job candidates preparing for the interview process and interviewers looking to make the right impression with candidates.
Interviewing can be an anxiety-inducing experience for job candidates. More often than not, this anxiety can cause prospects to make avoidable mistakes before, during and after interviews. Not that interviewers are perfect either – they can fall into common traps that lead to poor hiring decisions. Read on to best prepare yourself for the interview.
Before the interview
Before you show up to your interview, be ready to answer questions about your professional background, skills, and why you believe 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.
Follow this pre-interview checklist prior to the initial interview.
- Familiarize yourself with the company and role. Revealing your knowledge about the company will give a strong impression that you’ve taken the time to do your homework. Learning the ins and outs of the role you are looking to fill will also prepare you to answer questions.
- Bring your own questions. Enter the interview with questions about the company and the role you couldn’t answer in your research. Leave time for other questions that could emerge during the interview.
- Practice answering some basic interview questions. You don’t need to memorize a script, but admitting your weaknesses and strengths will help you answer these types of common questions clearly during the interview.
- Proofread and print your resume and cover letter. These documents will likely form the basis of your interview, so you should check that you remember everything in them. You should also print extra copies so you can give them to your interviewers in case they don’t get to print them beforehand.
- Plan your route. Showing up late to an interview can make a negative first impression, so you should plan your route ahead of time. Doing so can mean planning for traffic if you’re driving, or looking at transit schedules and assembling a route that lets you arrive early. If your initial interview is online, test the link, camera and audio on your device prior to the meeting.
- Choose your outfit and iron out the wrinkles. Even if you don’t need to dress formally for your interview, you should iron whatever clothes you’ll wear. Choosing clean, wrinkle-free items ahead of time can give others a good first impression of you.
Avoid these common interview mistakes on the day of the interview.
Poor hygiene and personal appearance
It should go without saying that you should always have good hygiene in a professional environment. No employee wants to work near a smelly co-worker, and recruiters feel the same. According to a 2020 Recruiter Nation report, 46% 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 over casual attire. [Related: The Future of Recruiting for Small Businesses]
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 arrive on time.
This error can cost you the job, as 46% 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 10-15 minutes early. This gives you extra time to make sure you are in the right place or obtain a visitor pass. 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.
Key takeaway: Even if you’re used to people showing up slightly late to virtual meetings at your current job, lateness for an interview is especially rude – avoid it at all costs.
Rude attitude to the receptionist
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, 62% of recruiters reported that if a potential employee was rude to the support staff, 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.
During the interview
Even if you’re confident about filling the position, you could still unexpectedly feel anxious once you sit down for the interview. That anxiety could lead you to make mistakes you may later regret. Commit to memorizing these missteps now to minimize your chances of repeating them.
Excess comfort with the interviewer
You might hit it off with the hiring manager, but it’s best to remain professional throughout the interviewing process.
“Be polite, but never become too familiar,” said Jodi Chavez, president of Randstad USA Professionals, Life Sciences & Tatum. “Many people assume comfort early on in an attempt to build rapport, but this could put off your interviewer.”
The same is true for social media. While it’s a great marketing and networking tool, it’s not good for socializing with your potential hiring manager.
“[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 be a turnoff to the hiring manager or interviewer.”
Do not attempt to friend an interviewer on Facebook or follow them on Instagram or Twitter. General company accounts are fine, but respect interviewers’ personal boundaries.
Tip: Even if you get along well with your interviewer, they’re not your friend. Remain professional, even if you feel like you’ve really connected.
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 make others 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 much – 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 glance 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 someone’s shoulder while talking to them conveys disinterest.
Salary expectations increase
Mike Astringer, recruiting manager at HKA, 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. “It makes the candidate look bad, it makes me look bad, and it wastes everyone’s time.”
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, CEO of 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.
Lack of transparency
Being upfront and honest is key throughout the interview process, showing you’re a valuable contender with integrity.
“I had a candidate go through two rounds of phone screens and a daylong interview,” said Lisa Barrow, chief recruiter and owner 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.”
Both Barrow and the CEO had a follow-up 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.”
Social media shortsightedness
Many followed 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 Circle City Coaching.
Better yet, remain professional on social media at all times, as prospective employers may search a candidate’s name online to see what pops up. 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? Follow up with personal thank-you notes – handwritten or emailed – to each person who interviewed you. After that, 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,” Chavez said. “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. An initial phone interview with no response may require follow-up within the week. However, you may want to wait 7-10 days after a second or third interview.”
At the end of the interview, 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, vice president of human resources 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 Life by Design Careers. “Following up by email and card or letter is essential.”
According to Zohar Pinhasi, CEO of MonsterCloud, an applicant following up after the interview does more than express gratitude – it shows 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]
“It’s always a good idea to send something personalized as much as possible,” said career coach Irina Pichura. “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.
If you decide the position is not right for you, for whatever reason, 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 grace.
Rishit Shah, accountant and owner of the TallySchool blog, 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, desire the salary the job offers and meet many other important criteria.
Interviewers can mess up, too. Here are some of the most common mistakes interviewers make and how to avoid them.
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, explained Michael Burtov, founder and CEO of GeoOrbital.
Social media bias
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 and other information that is irrelevant to the job, but can unfairly influence decision-making.
Keep your focus on what is professionally relevant, such as details on their LinkedIn profile.
Too much chitchat
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 applicant, 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.
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, skills and culture fit to reach an objective decision.
Max Freedman, Sammi Caramela and Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.