15 ways to screw up a job interview

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Mistake 8: Overselling yourself

When you’re trying to show yourself in the best light, it’s all too easy to tip the balance toward overplaying your actual capabilities, knowledge and skills. “Don’t show off about being a subject matter expert if you’re not,” Meindl says.

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“Be honest about what you know,” Kaul agrees. “Just putting a technology buzzword on your resume or even mentioning it in passing, and not being able to speak about it during your interaction sends across the wrong message to the employer.” And if you don’t know about something they ask, he adds, answer honestly. “Employers don’t expect you to know every piece of technology in this world. If there is something you haven’t worked on but are familiar with, just be candid about it. There is no point beating around the bush assuming that the interviewer sitting across wouldn’t notice.”

This advice extends to your resume, Doran says. Some candidates include what their team was responsible for, “but what were you responsible for – did you use MS Project?” she asks. “If you took a one-day course on it but never used it on the job, it shouldn’t have been on the resume in the first place.”

Mistake 9: Failing to show enthusiasm

Do you really want this job? Then show it. Too often, candidates are stymied by the formality of the interview itself and fail to express their enthusiasm for the opportunity. “If you’re interested and excited about the job, communicate it to the interviewers,” Doran says. “Look them in the eye and say, ‘This is my dream job, I’m super-excited, I can’t wait to hear back, I want this job.’ It shows initiative, decisiveness and a go-getter attitude.”

Mistake 10: Not being yourself

On a similiar note, Doran says, it’s important to show some personality. “Loosen up, don’t be a statue, let your personality shine,” she says. But while it’s OK to laugh and show a sense of humor, don’t get so loose that you use foul language or answer a phone call in the middle of the interview, she says. “Laugh when appropriate, but don’t be the one starting the joke or the guy ordering a beer at lunch.”

Mistake 11: Being negative about your current or past jobs

No one likes sour grapes, Doran says, so no matter why you left – or want to leave – your job, don’t badmouth the company, the team or your manager. “Maybe there was a personality conflict, or the company was poorly run, but find a positive way to handle questions about that,” she says. “Don’t say that the company was terrible. It leaves a bad impression and kicks off the interview poorly.”

Instead Goli says, you can stress how much you learned and achieved and that you’re looking to build on top of that. “Position it within a positive framework as opposed to saying what you didn’t like,” he says.

Mistake 12: Leaving your cellphone on

We’re all so accustomed to setting our mobile phones on the table when meeting with a friend or even during a business meeting. But such behavior is still off-limits during an interview, Goli says. “Turn it off, and focus instead of trying to do three things at the same time,” he says.

Mistake 13: Not prepping for common questions

Because many interviews cover a similar set of questions, it just makes sense to have a response prepared, as long as you can avoid sounding overly scripted. For instance, Doran says, definitely come to the table knowing your strengths and weaknesses, as well as how you’re working on any areas that need development, Doran says. People without this level of self-awareness come across as difficult to manage, she says.

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Another deceivingly simple-sounding question is “Tell me about yourself,” Goli says. This shouldn’t be a 15-minute dissertation on who you are, he says, but a crisp response that is tailored to the context of the job you’re interviewing for. Feel free to ask the interviewer to detail more of what the job is about before answering, Goli says, or have a short response prepared and then ask for further clarification of the role before filling out the rest of your response so you can better map your experience to the job.

When preparing your response, think about what your passions are and what you love to do. If it’s coding, you can say that you’re about solving new problems and building new things, emphasizing your creativity and knack for dealing with abstract concepts and ambiguities. “Focus on inner qualities instead of a history of your experience,” Goli says.

In addition to being prepared with responses, you should also line up some specific experiences in previous positions that you can use as examples in your questions, Kaul says. All of this preparation will pay off because you’ll come across as a good communicator, he says, which is a trait that businesses really prize today. “Because IT is so heavily integrated into today’s businesses, employers are looking for technical professionals who can speak to and work well with their employees who are not technology experts,” he says. “You aren’t expected to be a splendid orator or a presenter, but make sure what you convey is what you mean, and be specific while responding to questions rather than going around in circles.”

Mistake 14: Not prepping for hypothetical questions

Hypothetical questions are more difficult to prepare for, but it can be done. These types of questions are centered on how to resolve a particular issue or what you would do in a certain situation. The important thing, Doran says, is to show how you think rather than giving the “right” answer. “They want to see how you would tackle the challenge, that you’re resourceful and can think things through,” she says. “Nine times out of 10, if you say you would first understand the current state, the current players and where the resources are going to be, you can address that type of question.”

It also helps, she says, if you can plant the seed that you’re up for that type of challenge, and have a systematic approach to addressing something you haven’t done before.

Similarly, Meindl warns interviewers to be wary of seemingly simple questions. Instead of giving a straightforward response, he says, you should always suggest a couple of options, along with the advantages and disadvantages of the solutions you suggest. “As you’re giving your answer, you should convey that you understand the complexity of the problem and even ask whether it would work within their environment,” he says.

Mistake 15: Forgetting to follow-up

Of course, it’s de rigeur to send a thank-you note following the interview. But rather than just writing up a generic thank-you, this is also a good time to tell the hiring manager how enthusiastic you are about the opportunity and even reflect or expand upon what was covered during the interview. “Tell them what you thought about the company culture and the job,” Meindl says. While an e-mail is acceptable, there’s nothing better than a short handwritten note, he says, addressing something very specific that you interacted with them on, he says. “Personalizing your communication and what was discussed is absolutely key – you don’t want it to come off like a form letter. Make it personal, and tie it back to specifics,” he says.

Brandel is a freelance writer. She can be reached at marybrandel@verizon.net.

This story, "15 ways to screw up a job interview" was originally published by Network World.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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