A job interview is your chance to make a killer first impression and prove to the hiring manager that you’re the best person for the job.
But sometimes nerves get the best of us — or we just don’t prepare properly — and we end up doing things that discount our qualifications and make us seem irresponsible or incompetent.
“I’ve easily conducted over 200 job interviews in the past 12 months,” says Liz Wessel, CEO and cofounder of WayUp, a site used by 200,000 college students to find jobs at places like Microsoft, Uber, the New York Times, Disney, and Google, where Wessel previously worked. “Even the brightest and most experienced candidates seem to have issues following best practices for interviewing.”
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She says these are some of the worst mistakes job candidates make in (or before) interviews that can make them look seriously unqualified:
1. Talking about how nervous you are
You might think it’s endearing to admit to nerves in an interview, says Wessel. But the truth is, it’s not a good look. “Employers expect you to be an adult, calm under pressure, and able to handle the kinds of stressful situations that you might encounter in the workplace. Talking about your nerves, and by implication looking for pity, is a great to way to send them the message that you’re not ready to handle a real office environment.”
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2. Failing to do your research
“I once had a candidate walk into the room and ask me if I was the office manager,” Wessel recalls. “Not a great start!”
As you prepare for an interview, you should find out everything you can about the company, its leaders, and the person with whom you’ll be speaking, she continues. “Employers want to see that you’ve done your homework, and that you’re engaged with the company and its issues.”
It’s totally fine to ask questions, she says, but not questions that you should already know the answer to or can easily answer with a quick Google search.
“Good prep work will help you ask insightful, educated questions so you can stand out,” Wessel says.
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3. Answering questions without elaborating
Interviewers aren’t looking for one-word answers — they’re looking for stories about how you made an impact in previous roles, she explains. “So when an interviewer brings up your past role as the president of a club, or as an intern at a startup, don’t just say, ‘Yes, that was a lot of fun.’ Explain! This is your chance to shine.”
Talk about what you learned; how you tackled tough issues, and how you helped bring success to the organization, Wessel advises.
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4. Not having any questions for the interviewer (or acting as if the interviewer covered all of your questions earlier)
At the end of almost every interview, the hiring manager will turn the tables and ask: “Do you have any questions for me?”
“You might think it’s a formality. It’s not,” she says. “A lack of questions reflects a lack of engagement or even an inability to think on your feet.”
The good news is that you can shine pretty easily with just a little bit of prep, Wessel adds. “Come to the interview with three questions that the interviewer is guaranteed not to address during your time. And instead of overused questions — for example, ‘What is your average day like?’ — try something more along the lines of, ‘What is the toughest part of your job?’ or ‘Where do you think the company really needs improvement?'”
Again, she says, asking questions at the end of the interview helps to make the interaction a conversation rather than a grilling, and shows your enthusiasm. “And it doesn’t hurt to make the interviewer feel like you’re interviewing them just a little bit.”
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Luckily, these bad habits are easy to avoid or break.
“Good preparation goes a long way for a lot of these, but for nerves I recommend Amy Cuddy’s advice on body language,” Wessel says. “And even faking confidence often helps create real confidence. When the people around you feel comfortable, that creates a positive feedback loop that helps you feel at ease as well.”