A top headhunter gives his best tips for acing interviews
Congratulations! You’ve landed a face-to-face interview. You successfully navigated your way past capricious candidate screening software and overwhelmed HR employees to earn a meeting with the hiring manager.
So don’t squander the opportunity. Careful preparation will dramatically increase the odds you’ll perform well and leave the hiring manager with a positive impression, even if you don’t win the job or if you decide it’s not right for you.
Where do candidates stumble? Here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen across thousands of interviews:
1. Show Up Unprepared
There’s no excuse for a lack of preparation. It’s always obvious to the interviewer, and makes the candidate come off as disinterested or just lazy. You can bet that “disinterested” and “lazy” are not on the list of attributes they seek in an employee.
Do your homework. Before arriving at the interview learn everything you can about the company and the hiring manager. If you have friends or colleagues who worked at the company or know the person with whom you’ll be interviewing, talk to them. Your preparation will make a positive impression, and it will also help you feel more confident.
2. Fail to Ask Questions
I’m astounded when candidates don’t ask any questions at all. Failure to ask questions during the interview suggests the candidate is unprepared, uninterested or unintelligent—or simply willing to take any old job.
Prepare a list of questions before the meeting. There’s no better way to demonstrate intelligence, skills and preparation. Smart hiring managers view smart candidate questions very favorably. If the hiring manager doesn’t like being asked questions, then that’s someone you’d be better off not working for.
3. Act Like a Downer
Most people hate the process of looking for a job. It involves lots of rejection, and is often accompanied by financial stress. It’s natural to feel the strain, but don’t let it show. Nothing is less appealing than a candidate who comes across as a downer. No one wants to hire Eeyore.
Project confidence. If you’re genuinely feeling it, you’re all set. If you’re not, learn to put on a good show. Don’t let them see you fret. Fake it til you make it.
4. Oversell Yourself
This mistake is most commonly made by salespeople, but I’ve seen candidates from every function fall into this trap. The candidate and interviewer trade introductory pleasantries, and then the candidate begins an aggressive monologue about why he is the perfect person for the job.
The hard sell always backfires. For starters, it’s empty — after all, how can the candidate know she’s perfect for the job before learning anything about it from the hiring manager? Moreover, monologues are inherently abrasive and annoying. In the end, the candidate comes off as thoughtless, a poor listener and more than a little desperate.
Resist the urge to oversell. Ask lots of questions so you understand the job and what the hiring manager is seeking. Then you’ll be better positioned to explain how you can help.
5. Fail to Follow Up
These days, many of the old rules of etiquette — like sending thank-you notes — are commonly ignored. When you’re engaged in a job search, you ignore these rules at your peril. Some hiring managers will interpret the lack of a follow-up as lack of interest, or simply rude behavior.
Always send a brief email or note. Keep it simple, something like, “Thank you for your time today. I’m excited about the opportunity at your company, and look forward to our continuing discussions.”
Looking for a job is hard work. Don’t make it harder on yourself. If you avoid these five common pitfalls, you’ll put yourself on a faster and less painful path to that perfect new position.
Michael Travis the principal of Travis & Company, helping top companies recruit talent for the past twenty years, and the author of Mastering the Art of Recruiting: How to Hire the Right Candidate for the Job.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email firstname.lastname@example.org.