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Job interview mistakes that you might not notice—but recruiters will

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pay attention to the faux pas that don’t get as much air time.
  • Paul McDonald
By Paul McDonald

Senior Executive Director, Robert Half

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A good friend called me last month to ask a favor. His son (I’ll call him Neil) was interviewing for his dream job—would I be willing to help him prepare for the interview? I spoke with Neil and invited him to come to my office for a mock interview.

Neil had obviously done his homework on the firm and was well-prepared for typical questions asked during an interview, as well as some curveballs. He gave a solid handshake and plenty of eye contact. Yet there were a couple of places in the interview where he fell short. When I pointed these out, Neil was both surprised and grateful for the feedback, saying that he would not have known he was committing these gaffes had we not met in person.

There’s an enormous amount of “how-to” information online about preparing for a job interview. Studying for hours online, however, doesn’t guarantee you’ll make a solid impression in person. Hiring managers quickly notice things that are in your blind spot. My meeting with Neil encouraged me to reach out to colleagues in the recruiting field to ask: What faux pas are candidates committing that don’t get as much air time, but should? Here’s our list of gaffes to avoid:

Using scented products or smoking before interview

Many people have sensitivities to perfumes, colognes and cigarette smoke, and some organizations have designated their workplace as fragrance-free. Know that any scent becomes more potent in a closed-door interview environment. Even if you always wear a fragrance, skip it on the day of your interview.

Choosing words that lack confidence

If you lack confidence, the hiring manager will as well. Consider the difference between “I think I could learn that program” versus “I know I could learn it.” Role-playing the interview will remove the hesitancy from your words and voice.

Acing the interview, then following up with a weak thank-you note

This shows a lack of consistency and solid follow-through. Sending a generic thank you or having typos or other errors in it sends red flags. Always include points specific to the meeting in your note and restate your interest in the role.

Assuming your resume speaks for itself

Many candidates try to bring up all new material in the interview, avoiding any mention of what’s in the resume. This is a mistake. The hiring manager hasn’t spent as much time with your resume as you have—in fact, the interview may be the first time he’s had to look at it. Weave in relevant points from your resume when discussing your accomplishments, as well as how you performed day-to-day responsibilities.

Arriving empty handed

Always have several extra copies of your resume. Bring a notepad and pen, and jot down notes during the interview. Arriving without these items can signal you’re unprepared or not interested in the opportunity.

Being indifferent

Sometimes people think that if they were recruited for the role, they need to be “sold” on the opportunity and can coast through the interview. This is not the case. A hot job market is not an excuse for apathy. Showing a lack of interest in the firm, failing to ask any questions of the hiring manager, or looking bored will keep you out of contention.

Putting the cart before the horse

Asking how long it will be until you’re promoted, can take vacation, or work remote are not appropriate early in the process. Raising any of these issues before you’ve discussed the job itself is premature – and sends the wrong message.

The points above apply to everyone interviewing for a job, whether you’re a recent grad or seasoned professional. I’ve emphasized before the importance of having trusted mentors to guide you in your career. Your mentor’s ability to role play the interview with you in person – as well as your ability to receive constructive feedback – is critical. Practicing the meeting from start to finish may uncover additional gaffes and enable you to correct them before you walk into the real thing. When it comes to the job interview, there’s just no substitute for in-person practice and preparation.

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half.

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