10 Mistakes to Avoid in a Job Interview

Updated on March 25, 2020
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Michael is a writer and researcher on career development and finance.

Pitfalls to Avoid During the Job Interview

Several things can go wrong in a job interview. Avoiding these mistakes could make the difference between success and failure in your career prospecting. Here are ten common mistakes that you need to steer clear of.

1. Insufficient Preparation

Avoid taking anything for granted. Whichever areas you fail to invest adequate time and effort to prepare for could work against you during the interview.

Research the questions that are likely to be asked and then test yourself. Find a preparatory method that suits you best. This may be rehearsing in front of a mirror, using family or friends as an audience or recording yourself on a device. The objective is to practice until the delivery flows naturally and is neither mechanical nor impersonal.

It is obvious that an interviewer will expect you to be knowledgeable concerning the company before you arrive. Their questions will test you on how much knowledge you have.

Invest time to research the company beforehand and be aware of its operations and competitors. Don't attend the interview without having studied the website of the company and checked out other sources of information.

2. Weak Introduction

Avoid being vague and general in the way you describe yourself and define your capabilities. Be clear on your potential and accomplishments with regard to the position.

Neither undersell nor oversell yourself during the interview. Ask yourself such questions as: What is my USP as an individual? What makes me stand out from others? How can I best communicate this without undervaluing myself or exaggerating my capabilities?

3. Inattentiveness

No matter how many qualifications you have and how solid your competencies are, don't come across as a poor listener. Always be attentive irrespective of the setting or what is going on in your life on a personal level.

Pay close attention to each question. Ensure you fully understand and are able to respond accordingly. In the process of answering a question, it is acceptable to pause in case you need to reflect, remember or simply collect your thoughts.

4. Over-talking

You can easily put off the interviewer by dragging on for too long with a response, especially if your answer is veering off the topic.

Stick to details and avoid all vagueness in your speech. Eliminate long-winded explanations and cut to the chase with clear and concise responses.

5. Unawareness

Being unaware of all the details concerning the job that you are applying for will work against you. Have a thorough knowledge of the job description such that you can line up your education, strengths, experience and skills against the requirements and see how you could contribute to the needs of the company. This will help you explain why you are the most suitable candidate for the position.

6. Distractedness

Interviewers can sometimes use tactics like switching into a casual discussion or drawing you away conversationally in a completely different direction. Then, once they see you are at ease and have probably dropped your guard, they come back with a profound work-related question.

They are not just interested in the answers you provide. They would like to observe how you react in an unpredictable situation - whether you can still remain rational and professional. So always be on your guard and do not allow your mind to drift or lose focus.

7. Underdressing or Overdressing

You may be overdressed to the point that it makes you uncomfortable, especially if this is something you are not used to. Not only will physical discomfort affect your conduct during the interview session, but you may also come across as being superfluous or ostentatious.

On the other hand, if you are not professionally dressed and meticulously groomed, it will reflect badly upon you as a candidate. So ensure you dress appropriately for the occasion!

8. Dishonesty

If you are asked a question that you do not understand, be honest about it. Don't pretend to have knowledge in something you have no clue about.

The interviewer will detect this and will also know when you embark on a train of thought that you are unsure of. Relax and be yourself. Answer the questions truthfully. Don't try to create someone else's identity and project it as your own.

9. Failure to Ask Questions

The interview is not exactly a one-way street. Here is where the research we mentioned earlier comes into play. Use the information gathered from your study of the company to arm yourself with intelligent questions when the tables are turned. In this way, you will be demonstrating your competence.

So prepare at least 3 or 4 relevant questions to pose to the recruiter or hiring manager. You do not have to have these memorized. They can be jotted down in advance on a note that you bring with you to use as a reference.

10. Generalization

Avoid having a generic approach to the interview. If you are answering a technical question or working through a specific problem to find an answer, talk the interviewer through your thought process.

Aside from obtaining answers to questions, the interview is designed to measure the level of your intelligence. You have an opportunity to demonstrate this by the step-by-step process you use in approaching and resolving a problem.

Interviewers are keen to see how well you verbalize your thoughts and articulate your problem-solving process to arrive at a conclusion.

What to do After the Job Interview

Job applicants are typically so focused on getting through the interview and the process leading to it, they do not think about the mistakes that could happen afterwards. Here are some examples.

Give Yourself a Break

The first mistake is going back through each of your answers and dwelling on what you should have said or how you should have said it. No one is perfect. So if you are on a mission to find flaws or errors, you will certainly discover plenty of them!

This is an unnecessary drain on your mental faculties and emotions. That time and effort should instead be channelled into the next phase of your job search. Immediately the interview is over, try as much as possible to put it behind you.

The only time a review could be helpful is if there was some significant misinformation conveyed which could impact on your credibility as a candidate. An example would be prior convictions or criminal offences which you did not fully disclose when you were questioned.

If this does not apply in your case, you really need to focus instead on moving forward. Realize that no matter how many interviews you attend and how much effort you put in them, there will always be something that you could have or should have done differently.

There is never such a thing as a perfect and flawless presentation. So settle it once and for all that the past is something which lies completely outside your circle of influence. Don't waste your time and energy on what you cannot change. This is both needless and futile.

Keep your mind preoccupied with the next employment opportunity. Engage in further research. Avoid second-guessing your actions or sinking into the quagmire of regret. Learn from your experience and leverage it to help prepare you for future opportunities.

Thank the Interviewer

Some managers have confessed that after interviewing multiple candidates, they only hire from those who send back thank you letters. Studies have shown that only about 10 to 20 per cent of applicants actually send back thank you letters.

Expressing gratitude after an interview, or even to someone who was instrumental in forwarding your name to the hiring manager is not emphasized as much as it should be.

Job agencies usually instruct on the basics of preparing the right documents (cover letter, resume, references, salary history) but not on how to prepare a thank-you letter. Yet this is something that can set you apart from the rest of the applicants as an intelligent and conscientious candidate.

Recognize that hiring managers can be so high up to their noses with cover letters and resumes, that they are actively looking for reasons to eliminate candidates.

Just put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine a massive pile of applications sitting on your desk and a crowded inbox waiting for you to process along with all the other responsibilities you have for the day.

You would see why looking for a reason to discard applications is not only easy but necessary. Your first move would likely be to narrow down the options in front of you as much as possible.

The way some managers go about this is by dispatching an automated response to every applicant, acknowledging that the application has been received. Then, they lean back and wait for a reaction (or the lack thereof).

If you respond by sending a well-written thank you letter, you immediately gain an edge on the competition.

So how best can you go about this? Don't just scribble a quick note. A thank-you letter should be as properly and professionally composed as the cover letter. It needs to be properly block-formatted and edited using accurate grammar.

The letter should be short, not exceeding three paragraphs. In the first paragraph, explain your reason for thanking the employer and appreciate them for their time and consideration.

Restate at least two major skills you are able to contribute to the company. Reiterate why you are convinced you are the right candidate for the position.

Finally, in the third paragraph, appreciate the employer once again, confirm your availability via phone, email or in person. Then end the letter with "Sincerely yours".

For further advice on succeeding in a job interview, check out the following articles:

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