By Barbara Mitchell
Q: I find job interviews extremely stressful, and I’m afraid I’ll slip up by doing or saying something wrong. What common mistakes should I be sure not to make?
A: Lots of people find interviewing for a job stressful, and when you’re stressed it can be easy to make a mistake. But the typical errors that many applicants make at a job interview aren’t difficult to avoid—it just takes a little preparation and common sense.
Anyone who regularly conducts job interviews can describe the applicants they find most annoying and least qualified to move on in the recruitment process. Here’s my list, with tips to make sure they don’t describe you at your next interview:
Applicants who arrive late or too early. Plan to arrive at the interview location about 10 minutes early. If you’re too early, you risk interrupting the interviewer in the middle of a meeting or a task. Use the 10 minutes to relax and focus. If the interview is in a location you’re not familiar with or if you depend on public transportation, consider doing a test run to get your timing right.
Applicants who don’t know anything about me or my organization. Be sure you research the organization where you’ve applied for a job so you can show a basic understanding of its mission, members, and activities. Use LinkedIn to learn more about the people you know you’ll be meeting.
Applicants who don’t ask me any questions. Prepare questions ahead of time, and write them down if you’re concerned you won’t remember them in the interview. I love it when applicants ask me a question I can’t answer—I learn that way. And it’s good for the applicant because we connect again when I get back in touch later with the answer. Ask about growth plans, challenges, management style, or whatever interests you, but never say, “I don’t have any questions.” You’ll look like you lack curiosity and aren’t really interested in the job.
Applicants who criticize their current or past employer. Don’t share your grievances or gossip about past employers or, even worse, disclose confidential information.
Applicants who try to be funny or too familiar. No matter how amusing you think your joke is, an interview is not the time to share it—unless you’re interviewing for a comedy writing position. Also, don’t ask the hiring manager or recruiter personal questions. Keep it professional.
Never say, “I don’t have any questions.” You’ll look like you lack curiosity and aren’t really interested in the job.
Applicants who aren’t prepared to sell their abilities. You should know your strengths and have examples to demonstrate how you’ve used them in previous positions.
Applicants who don’t follow up with a thank you note or email. Don’t waste this great opportunity to reinforce the most important things you want the hiring manager to know about you. If you interview with more than one person, send an individual note or email to each (be sure to ask for a business card).
Don’t be these applicants! If you avoid these mistakes, you’ll have a much better chance to ace your next interview.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]