These "A" traits commonly put otherwise great candidates out of the running, says career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.
The letter “A” is often associated with good things: bring your A-game; get an A rating; be on the A-list.
But when it comes to job interviews, it’s a scarlet letter. Remember—and avoid—these five deadly traits starting with A. The worst thing possible for your chances is to have the hiring manager describe you as…
You might be nervous in an interview, but you don’t want to show it. The interviewer will doubt your ability: Can I put you in front of senior executives? Can you handle top customers? Can you perform in high stakes events?
How to avoid appearing anxious: Role play in advance with a friend, mentor or coach (ideally someone who has hired before). This way, the actual job interview is not the first time you are selling yourself, explaining your body of work and answering tough questions. Your rehearsal also lets you practice being nervous and performing well anyway.
Ideally you demonstrate confidence—knowledge of the industry, company and role at hand—instead of anxiety. However, you don’t want to be overconfident, which can be interpreted as arrogance. No one wants to work with a know-it-all.
How to avoid appearing arrogant: Watch out for making sweeping recommendations that might conflict with inside knowledge you won’t know as someone who doesn’t work there yet. Don’t correct the interviewer or ask such probing questions about the company that you turn the conversation into an interrogation.
You might be looking to leave your job because you don’t feel challenged or there’s no room to advance or you are at odds with the company strategy. So you might be tempted to say so when the interviewer asks what is missing from your job. Or maybe you just get put on the spot with a question like, “What don’t you like about your boss?” or “Who is your most difficult client or colleague?” Beware of coming across as negative or judgmental, as these qualities can be interview killers. People hire people, and people especially hire people that they like and who seem approachable.
How to avoid appearing angry: Stay neutral in your tone of voice. Minimize the talk about your old job and focus on the job at hand, specifically your interest and excitement for it. You have to respond to negative questions if the interviewer asks, but point out a constructive recommendation instead of complaining: I would love to work on emerging markets, but this isn’t the company’s focus. I do my best work with more autonomy but my boss is more hands-on. My clients are terrific, but I’d like to focus on the Fortune 100 and our company serves middle-market. My colleagues are terrific, but I’d like to see more resources devoted to X and there isn’t budget for that right now.
Some candidates think that remaining apathetic will help them negotiate better offers because they look like they can take or leave the job. But employers want to hire people who want them. A job interview is not the time to be coy about your interest in the job.
How to avoid appearing apathetic: Tell the interviewer why this company is where you want to work and why this role is exactly what you want to do. Keep your energy high. You never want the interviewer to think you don’t really want the job. In the above example, you can use your high level of interest to keep from going negative: I’d like to focus on emerging markets, and that’s why this role is of particular interest to me. I work best autonomously, and your company culture is well-known for its entrepreneurial spirt.
Displaying neediness or desperation is a turn-off. You want to make yourself seem busy and in demand—that you could walk away from the table if need be. While you want this employer 100%, you are not waiting by the phone for a Saturday night date!
How to avoid appearing too available: Beware of going overboard on enthusiasm—the too-available person will ask to start tomorrow, as if they have nothing better to do. Also don’t talk about working on your job search, even if that’s all you’ve been doing. You want to talk about projects you are on, people you are meeting, conversations you are having, news you are reading. All of this will give the sense that you are actively networking with their competitors, pursuing other opportunities, and staying busy. That said, the unavailable person will always say that will make time for the ideal employer, that they will find a way to work together: I would love to collaborate in some way. Let’s keep the discussion going.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.
Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:
- How to Cold Call Your Way to a New Job
- Three Easy Résumé Fixes to Help You Make a Career Change
- Make Sure Your Next Raise is Bigger than 3%
- How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day
- How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career
- 10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable
- Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It