The 25 Worst Job Interview Mistakes


1. Arriving Late

Nothing makes a worse impression. If you can't turn up on time for the interview, what on earth would you do as an employee? If there's even the remotest chance that weather, traffic or hard-to-follow directions might be a problem, leave early just to be sure. If your car is hit by a meteor, go to a phone booth and ask to reschedule.  

2. Arriving Early

Getting to the office building at 3:30 for a 4:00 appointment is good; presenting yourself to the receptionist at that time is not. As Jeffrey G Allen explains in How To Turn An Interview Into A Job, "When it comes to interviewing, only fools rush in." It pressures the interviewer - and could make it look as though you have nothing better to do. Instead, go to a nearby restaurant for a last-minute cup of coffee and a final check of your hair and clothing.  

3. Dressing Wrong

Speaking of clothing, it matters. How you look has a lot to do with how you're seen. "Oftentimes in the very first few minutes of the interview, the decision is made whether it's going to be a turndown or a second interview. "It either clicks on or it clicks off, and the remainder of the interview is spent validating that early judgment." Dressing too casually or flamboyantly can ruin your chances. The safest choice for any interview is a tailored suit in a conservative color like navy, gray or tan. Even the executives in wildly creative fields (TV, music, advertising, etc.) will respect you for knowing that a job candidate should look businesslike.  

4. Dressing In A Rush

Don't. On the job interview, neatness counts more than it has since your last grade for penmanship. Try on your entire interview attire the night before the appointment, if not earlier. That way you can make any necessary improvements or repairs.  

5. Smoking

In one University study, up to 90 percent of all executives surveyed said they'd hire a nonsmoker over a smoker if their qualifications were equal.  

6. Drinking

Even if this is a lunch or dinner interview and others are ordering cocktails, stick to mineral water or club soda. At the very most, ask for a white wine spritzer (a tall glass of wine and club soda on the rocks) and don't have more than one. You need to be alert for this experience, not mellowed out.

7. Chewing Gum

Gum is not a good substitute for cigarettes or self-confidence. Gum chewing looks appropriate only in vintage movies.  

8. Bringing Along a Friend or Relative

Tempting though it may be, resist the urge to bring someone along to hold your hand or help you fill out applications. Even being seen saying goodbye to your best friend at the building door can make you look as if you didn't have the nerve to get there on your own.  

9. Not Doing All Your Homework

It isn't necessary to memorize the company's annual sales and profit figures, but you should know something about their products or services. Check out information about large companies in business magazines or the Internet, or call the company to ask for a copy of the annual report. There are also a host of resources at your disposal online. 

10. Skipping A Dress Rehearsal

You wouldn't make a speech without planning what you're going to say, yet people walk into job interviews every day just assuming that brilliant words will leap to their lips. Don't assume. Make a list of the questions you'd ask if you were interviewing someone for this job then rehearse the best possible answers using a tape recorder and/or a friend for feedback.  

11. Putting A Positive Spin On Your Weakest Qualities

What are some areas of your work that you’d like to improve?  It may sound like a trick question, but hiring managers and recruiters often ask job candidates to describe their worst qualities during an interview.  Don’t worry, they’re not looking for a deep confessional.  Instead, they usually want to know your plans to improve your skills. The easiest way to respond to this question is by turning your negative qualities into positive ones.  Say, for instance, “I’m a very organized person, but you’d never know it from my desk.”  If you’re not a very patient person, you’d say, “Sometimes I’m impatient, but that impatience makes me try harder to make sure clients understand what I’m communicating.”  If you’re a computer guru, but you lack skills in a certain program, you can let them know you’re taking classes or learning the program on your own.  Show that you’re actively taking steps to fix your weakest qualities.

12. Not Knowing Your Own Strengths

Researching the company is only half your pre-interview homework assignment. You have to research yourself as well. "You must know your own background so thoroughly that you are prepared to answer any question about it without hesitation and in enough detail to satisfy the interview," explains Arthur R. Pell in How To Sell Yourself On An Interview. "Hesitating, being vague on certain points, or groping for proper words destroys the effect you are trying to create." Make a list of ten work-related things you do well or know a lot about. Then, during your interview rehearsal, come up with graceful ways to bring them up.  


13. Asking Too Many Questions

If you were the interviewer, would you hire someone who hijacked the entire interview and put you on the defensive?  

14. Not Asking Any

On the other hand, when the interviewer asks, "What questions do you have?" saying that he/she has covered the subject so well you don't have a thing to ask about is a bad idea too. It makes you look uninterested, unimaginative or both. 

15. Inquiring About Benefits Too Soon

Ask not what the company can do for you but what you can do for the company - at least at this point in the selection process. If you seem more interested in the three-week vacation policy or the new dental plan than in actual job duties, the prospective boss may develop serious concerns about your priorities. You can broach the subject when salary negotiations begin. Explain that the offer you'll accept depends on the value of the whole compensation package (salary, benefits, bonuses and any other payments).  

16. Revealing Your Price Tag

Did you ever fall in love with an article of clothing before checking to see how much it cost? It may have taught you to look at the tag right away so, in case the price is out of the question, you can reject the garment mentally before getting your heart set on it. Things work the same way in a job search. Let these people discover how wonderful you are before you tell them how much you cost. 

17. Crying Discrimination

The problem is, not everyone involved in the hiring process knows exactly which questions aren't allowed -- and in complete innocence they may bring up a forbidden issue. Don't jump up and scream accusations. Instead, reassure him/her that you can handle all your responsibilities. Even if the intentions aren't honorable, a dramatic protest is unlikely to get you the job. If you don't get hired, then you can file a complaint. If you do, you can bring up the issue later as a full-fledged employee -- and make important changes from the inside.  

18. Bad-Mouthing Your Boss

Never, never, never say anything negative about a person or company you worked for in the past. It brands you a complainer.  

19. Name Dropping

Attempts to play "who do you know" with your interviewer have an unfortunate tendency to backfire. Drop the name of someone at the company and it could turn out to the hiring manager's worst enemy. Announce that you went to school with the chairman of the board's daughter, and it can come off as elitism. A much better way to use inside contacts: Ask them to recommend or introduce you to the powers that be.  

20. Energy Failure

It doesn't matter if you only slept four hours last night and are coming down with a cold. When you get to the interview, you have to appear bright-eyed and eager. Job candidates with lackluster attitudes rarely get the offer. Mental energy is what it takes, so psych yourself up before making your entrance. Some lecturers and TV talk show guests do it by playing lively music right before going on.  

21. Handshake Failure

A limp or otherwise distasteful handshake is like bad breath, one of those things that even your best friends may never tell you about. So try this: Go to a trusted buddy and say, "If I were going to develop the world's most perfect handshake, would I make mine a little firmer, a more gentle, a little shorter, longer or what?" Then shake her or his hand to demonstrate.  

22. Glancing At Your Watch

Clock watching gives the impression that you're late for a more important date. Avoid that problem by asking when you set up the appointment, how much time you should allow for the interview. If the interviewer asks, "Will you have time to stay today and meet with our vice president?" then you can check the time and make a decision.  

23. Playing The Hero/Heroine

In 999 jobs out of 1,000, you're being called in to work as part of a team, not to make a single-handed rescue of a botched effort. Never convey the message, "You guys have really messed it up, but I can show you how to turn this company around." Instead, stress your “meshability.”  

24. Losing Your Cool

Expect the unexpected. Occasionally, interviewers have been known to test job applicants by surprising them with loaded questions or blunt comments, such as "What makes you think you can handle this job when people with twice your experience don't have the nerve to apply?" Remain calm, even though your injured ego may be fleeing for the nearest exit. Some companies like to see just how professional and unflappable you can be under fire. View our toughest interview questions here.

25. Following These Instructions

Now that you've absorbed the "do's and don’ts" of the job interview, feel free to set the rules aside and concentrate on what a fine job you'll do if these people have the good sense to hire you. Then relax and just be yourself.  

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