Longtime recruiter and career coach, Caroline Ceniza-Levine, recently conducted 30+ job interviews over four consecutive days in a simulated recruiting exercise. She led 1:1 interview coaching sessions at a leading business school, and the set-up closely reflected a real-life recruiting environment – candidates milling about anxiously waiting for their turn, multiple interviewers hosting back-to-back appointments so they could easily compare the competition. It was the perfect environment to catch job interview mistakes in action.
That was the whole point of the exercise, of course – to make mistakes now in a coaching environment, rather than during an actual job interview with real consequences. If you are in a job search and haven’t interviewed for a while, you too should do a mock interview – you don’t want your first interview in months or years to be a real one. Even talented, diligent professionals make mistakes.
Many of these students had not interviewed in a while – you too may be out of practice. Many of these students had their minds on school assignments and deadlines – you too are likely juggling commitments outside of your job search.
If it hadn’t occurred to you to do a mock interview or to anticipate being scattered in your focus, these are mistakes you didn’t even realize you were making. Here are seven more job interview mistakes Caroline found in her studies that you probably don’t realize you’re making:
01. Starting the Interview Late
Most candidates know to show up to a job interview a few minutes early (you do know that, right?), especially to allow time to get through building security. However, in addition to being physically on time, you need to be there mentally – i.e., looking and sounding polished from the moment the interview starts. Too many candidates start off anxious for the first few minutes – talking too fast, struggling to find their words. They may improve as the interview goes on, but that may be too late if your interviewer is turned off by those first few minutes.
02. Wanting Any Job, Not This One
Too many candidates talk about themselves but not necessarily in relation to the potential job at hand. Don’t assume it’s obvious that you want the job. In my 20+ years of recruiting, I have seen many candidates who are just looking to get out of their current situation and want any job, not necessarily my job. You need to talk about how you’re a fit for the specific job at hand, not just your qualifications overall. If you don’t get specific, you’re too general.
03. Putting Yourself First
Talking too much about yourself and not the job at hand is one example of putting yourself first and the company second. Another even more glaring mistake is when you talk about wanting the job solely for reasons that benefit you – you want to learn, you want the challenge. I assume that candidates say these old tropes because they believe it shows that they’re determined and have grit. However, these attributes are still you-focused – you’re going to take, I mean learn from this company, you’re going to develop yourself while you’re there. The prospective employer is just as selfish and is thinking in terms of what’s in it for them. They don’t care that you want to learn or be challenged – they want you to add value from the first day.
04. Looking Tired
Averting your eyes, slouching even just a little, and talking in a low voice all make you look tired. You don’t need to be big and loud, but you do need to show high energy. Even otherwise articulate candidates, like these top MBA students, often need to make small adjustments to how they comport themselves. You may not notice that you look down or side-to-side rather than directly at the person you’re talking to. You may be comfortable leaning back in your chair or putting your elbows on a table, but in an interview setting, it means you’re not sitting upright. You may not realize you talk too low. Record yourself, and see if you’re making the mistake of looking tired.
05. Lacking Confidence
Low energy might also be interpreted as lacking confidence. Fidgeting is another mistake that shows low confidence during job interviews. For the mock interview sessions, I kept a pad and pen on the candidate side of the desk, so students could take notes after the interview was over. Some students took the pen at the start of the interview and fidgeted with it throughout. Keep your hands to your sides if you tend to drum your fingers on the table or click your pen open and closed.
06. Confusing the Interviewer
Of course, the interview is not just about how you look (e.g., confident, energetic) but also what you say. If you’re a talented and experienced professional, you likely have several interesting roles and projects to showcase your skills, and since you lived these roles and projects, you might assume you can easily talk about them. This is an incorrect assumption! It takes preparation and practice to talk clearly and concisely about complex projects or roles with multiple responsibilities. There are many details to cover, and you’ll end up rambling if you haven’t prepared your examples in advance. You need a structure for giving comprehensive interview examples, and you need to set your examples in advance, or you will confuse the interviewer.
07. Assuming a Phone or Video Interview is the Same as Live
Even if you already incorporate all of the above tips and can ace a live interview, you still need to prepare separately for phone and video interviews. One of my strongest students over the four days came back to do additional practice, and I didn’t think he needed it – until I learned he had an upcoming phone interview and hadn’t yet practiced phone interviewing specifically. Unlike his live interviewing performance, he struggled over the phone. You lose all non-verbal cues, the ones you give and the ones you get from the interviewer. That’s a significant decrease in communication power, and it can throw you off. It also makes the content of what you say and how you speak even that much more important.
The hiring process is competitive. Small details loom large.
While these inadvertent job interview mistakes are easily overlooked, their impact looms large. You want to do everything you can to perform at your best. There are enough other reasons why even a qualified candidate doesn’t get the job. You want to feel like you did everything you could to get hired.
Source: Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Forbes.com