Please Don’t Do These 9 Things In An Interview
Looking for a job can be stressful and demoralizing. I’d really like for you to succeed: it would be good for you, for the company that hires you, and for the overall economy. In fact, I want you to get the best job you possibly can – one that you enjoy, and that challenges you and makes best use of your strengths.
In the service of that, there are some actions I want to steer you away from when you’re doing a job interview, things that – trust me – will not create the impression you want to create. Of course, some approaches are a matter of taste and style – certain interviewers will like them while others won’t – but there are also ways of behaving that are pretty universally not a good idea. And, unfortunately, interviewees often get counseled to do some version of these things. So, having interviewed a great many people over the course of my career, and having spoken to hundreds of hiring managers about what they’ve liked and haven’t liked in those they’ve interviewed, here you go. If you want an interview to go well, don’t:
1. Freeze up – A few years ago, I interviewed a woman for an administrative position with our company. Her resume looked excellent and appropriate, and she had been articulate, though very quiet, on the phone. When we were actually sitting in a room together, though, she more or less disappeared: wouldn’t look at me; gave monosyllabic answers in a frightened mumble; seemed terrified when I asked her to tell me why she wanted to work for our company. If you can’t make it through an interview without crumbling, people are unlikely to believe you’ll be able to withstand the rigors of a normal job. So if you find interviews particularly daunting, work on your self-talk beforehand. For example, if you find you’re saying things to yourself like, “I’m terrible in interviews, I know I’ll look like an idiot” – that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, change your mental monologue to something more hopeful, yet still realistic, like “I get nervous during interviews, so I need to practice beforehand, and remember to look at the interviewer and keep breathing.” And do practice, too – that can really reduce your fear of the unknown.
2. Dominate – Then there’s the opposite behavior. I was once interviewing a woman who swept into the room, flashed me a blinding smile, shook my hand as though it were a pump handle, sat down and just started talking. The quality of what she said was actually good – she’d done her homework about our company, and had great insights into what the job might require. But there was no space for anything but her monologue – I wasn’t able to ask her a single question. It was exhausting, and certainly not something I would have wanted to experience every day. If you know you have a strong personality and tend to talk a lot, coach yourself before you go into an interview to get curious about the interviewer: what he or she might be interested in hearing from you, his or her view of the job and of the company. If you’re in a curious mindset, you’ll be much more likely to listen, and the interview will be a dialogue, vs. a monologue.
3. Be sloppy – Some companies are very casual – people come to work in tee shirts and jeans – while others still have rigorous dress codes (someone told me yesterday that female employees at the Ritz-Carlton are still expected to wear hose every day). Try to find out, before your interview, what’s standard dress at that particular company. But no matter how casual the dress code – don’t be a slob. Having good personal hygiene – clean hair, showered, nails trimmed – and clean, unwrinkled clothing is much more important than whether you’re a little over-dressed or under-dressed. When someone comes to an interview looking like he or she has just rolled out of bed, it communicates lack of respect for the interviewer, the job and the company.
4. Self-aggrandize – People are often advised to be confident and to market themselves well in interviews. I agree – but it’s all too easy to cross the line from confident into offensively cocky. For example, if an interviewer asks you, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and you respond with something like “My standards are just too high” or “I have a hard time understanding people who don’t care as passionately about the job as I do,” that just sounds like BS…in effect you’re saying you have no weaknesses other than your impatience with those who aren’t as fabulous as you are. Being able to be objective about both your strengths and your weaknesses, and to talk about what you’ve done and are doing to address those weaknesses, comes across as far more mature and confident.
5. Throw anybody under any bus – Even if your last boss was Attila the Hun, your co-workers would have tried the patience of a saint, and your former company felt like Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell…resist the temptation to share any of that with your interviewer. I think sometimes people say dreadful things about their previous job because they don’t think about how it will be perceived, and sometimes because they actually think the interviewer will take it as a kind of compliment (e.g., my last job was horrific, unlike this job…). Trust me, saying negative things about your past work life in an interview will only give the impression that you’re both a complainer and indiscreet. Neither quality will put you on the ‘let’s hire’ list.
6. Focus more on perks than on the job – Job seekers are often counseled to be clear about what they need and expect from a job, rather than just wimpily taking whatever’s offered. While I agree with that in principle, timing is critical. Many years ago, I conducted a first interview with someone whose only questions, when I asked her what else she wanted to know about the company, were 1) how much vacation will I get, 2) how many sick days can I take, and 3) will I get paid for the time I take off for family emergencies. These are all important things to know, and if I had offered her the job, would certainly be things she should find out before taking it. But to focus on them (exclusive of anything else) in a first interview left me with the sense that she was assessing the job purely as a vehicle for her to get paid time off. I was not inspired to hire her.
7. Be opinion-free – One manager told me about an interview he conducted where the interviewee was trying so hard to come across as flexible and accommodating, it felt as though he would have agreed with anything the manager said. He told me he was tempted to say something truly outrageous (We have a policy that no one in the company can have children), just to see what response he’d get. Of course, most people don’t want to hire folks who are combative or rigid – but they do want people who have a sense of who they are, what they think, and what’s important to them.
8. Stretch the truth – This is critical. In this era of massive information availability, anything you say about your experience, your past performance, or your education that isn’t accurate can most likely be checked. It’s much better to be upfront about anything that’s less than stellar, and offer a simple (non-defensive) explanation. Unless you’re applying for a job as a con artist, your trustworthiness is an essential quality – and one that every interviewer will want to see and hear.
9. Be clueless about the hiring company – I once interviewed someone who, when I asked him if he had any questions about the company, actually said (I am not making this up), “So what is it that you guys do?” In the age of the internet, there is no excuse for going into an interview not having a solid foundation of knowledge about the company (and about the department and the hiring manager, in many cases). Even if you’re interviewing for a small local company that doesn’t have much of an online presence, find some customers or employees and pick their brains. Knowing nothing about the company you want to work for comes across as insulting and incurious. If you don’t care enough to find out about the company, it’s natural for the interviewer to assume you won’t be that interested in finding out how to do the job well, either.
And if you do the opposite of these things – if you’re relaxed, open, and confident; show up looking presentable; are positive (or at least diplomatic) about your past jobs; are curious about the job and knowledgeable about the company; and are honest and forthright about who you are, what you think, and what you’ve done – then you’ll have an excellent shot at getting the job you really want – and at succeeding in it.
By Erika Andersen