14 Things to Never Do in an Interview
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2017
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Whether you’re burned out at your current job, looking for a more challenging position, between jobs, fun-employed or whatever, welcome to the job-hunt jungle. Focused on landing a worthy gig, you’ve rolled up your sleeves and done everything that smart job seekers do -- spread the word amongst your friends and former coworkers, researched company leaders on LinkedIn, wrote a brilliant cover letter, collected glowing recommendations and completed several epic online applications. Then, one day, the career gods bestowed upon you a glimmer of hope: You have an interview, which is one step closer to snagging a J-O-B. But how can you make the best possible impression on your interviewers? Recruiters, hiring managers and career coaches weighed in with real insights and advice to give you the edge. So if you want to ace your interview, whatever you do, don’t do these things.
Beautiful peacock with fully fanned tail
SHOWING UP LATE OR TOO EARLY
It’s a no-brainer: Obviously, punctuality is important in an interview. But sometimes your Waze is way off, causing you to arrive much too early or embarrassingly late. You may think arriving early is a point in your favor. But you don’t want to show up more than 15 minutes early because it can stress out your interviewers. After all, they take responsibility for your waiting time, and they don’t want to feel guilty if you’re stuck on a couch for what seems like an eternity. So if you get to an interview more than 10 minutes early, find a place to wait -- your car, Starbucks, etc. -- to avoid creating any awkwardness. And regarding lateness, Cheryl Jordan, chief financial officer for Omega/Cinema Props, urges, “Don’t be late. But if it’s unavoidable, be sure to call.”
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BE AFRAID TO MAKE EYE CONTACT
You know the old proverb “The eyes are the windows to the soul?” Well, it isn’t just some hokey, poetic metaphor. When it comes to job interviews, your eyes really do give the interviewers an idea of your level of interest, professionalism and confidence. That’s why eye contact is crucial. Melissa Logan, general manager at Amoeba Music, recommends, “Avoid darting eyes. Instead, try to keep eye contact throughout the interview.” Eye contact also shows sincerity, honesty and respect -- all of which are imperative when you first meet a prospective employer. And as far as first impressions and eye contact go, Cheryl Jordan, CFO for Omega/Cinema Props offers, “A pleasant, confident greeting is important -- especially to a company where customer-service skills are key.”
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CHECKING YOUR PHONE
Sure, it’s tempting to text a friend or scroll through your Facebook feed when you’re in a quiet room, nervously anticipating an interview. But just don’t. Cheryl Jordan, CFO for Omega/Cinema Props, says, “Turn off your cellphone before entering the building. Don’t use it even while waiting for your interview in the reception area.” Because, she explains, “current employees may ‘check out’ applicants. And if an applicant is excessively texting or using his cellphone, it’s considered a danger signal. These current employees will then pass this information on to the manager who is interviewing.” You should really just ignore your phone completely throughout the entire visit. Revolve Clothing senior recruiter Laura Santos advises, “Don’t even glance at it during the interview.”
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WEAR INAPPROPRIATE CLOTHING
Clearly, you’re not going to saunter in to an interview in gray sweatpants or a Kim Kardashian-esque beige bodycon dress. But you do need to consider what you want your style to convey. Laura Santos, senior recruiter at Revolve Clothing, advises, “You definitely want to dress the part.” In order to come across as a professional, you should always err on the side of slightly more overdressed and conservative -- even if your job is in a more laid-back environment. But all job fields aren’t created equal when it comes to “dressing the part.” According to Ryan Kahn, founder of The Hired Group and MTV’s “Hired” career coach, “It’s all about understanding the company culture.” Just dress accordingly, whether the environment is creative to tech to corporate to fashion to finance. Pay attention to grooming and hygiene too. Also, Laura suggests, “avoid overloading on fragrance.”
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FORGET TO DO RESEARCH
Once you’ve landed a job interview, take a cue from William Miller, the budding Rolling Stone journalist in “Almost Famous”: Do your homework. Know who you’re talking to, what they’re about and what they do. Show some genuine interest, even passion. Don’t venture in and think you can fake it. Cheryl Jordan, CFO for Omega/Cinema Props says, “Research the company. Prepare a series of intelligent questions that will highlight your curiosity about the company and its function. Nothing makes me crazier than an applicant who asks: So, what exactly do you do here?” Angela Priest, former hiring manager for a Fortune 500 company adds, “I expect you to be assessing whether or not this company is a good fit for you as much as we’re assessing how well you fit with the company.”
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QUESTION THE PERKS
The adrenaline rush of a potential new job can be exhilarating, almost to the point that you’re eager to know every perk as if you already have the job. But before you rattle off a series of questions -- “How many vacation days do I get? Does your company give annual bonuses? What’s your retirement savings plan like?” -- slow down and be patient. “While it’s good to have follow-up questions prepared for your interviewer, don’t ask too many questions about benefits and time off during an initial interview,” says Jordan. “It’s appropriate to request more information -- especially that kind -- once you receive the job offer.” So wait till that offer comes.
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Melissa Logan, general manager for Amoeba Music, says it best: “Don’t under- or oversell yourself. Just be yourself!” It sounds simple, yet so many people have a tough time doing it. We all want to cruise into a job interview and convince the hiring team that we’re everything they’ve ever wanted in a star employee. But you don’t want to paint an over-the-top picture of your skills. As smart and gifted as you are, you probably can’t defy gravity or herd unicorns. Advocate for what you can do, and don’t doubt the value and experience you bring. “Don’t lack confidence in your skills -- sell yourself!” Santos advises.
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Of course you want your interviewers to like you, so it’s a good idea to share a few details that highlight your interests and personality. Angela Priest, former hiring manager for a Fortune 500 company, explains, “This helps me understand a bit more about you as a person and how you might fit into the company culture.” But you don’t want to turn your interview into a therapy session. Melissa Logan says, “You should definitely avoid divulging too much personal info.” For example, you may think that recounting a touching, personal story in an interview will tug at your hiring team’s heartstrings. But it could end up leaving a Debbie Downer vibe in the room, which doesn’t exactly scream, “Hire me!” Oversharing also applies to pre-interview information. “Don’t post anything on social media that you don’t want a potential employer to see. We look!” says Cheryl Jordan.
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BAD-MOUTH YOUR FORMER JOB
All of our experts agree that this is a huge red flag. Even if you left the most horrible job on the planet, your current interviewers do not need to know about it. “Don’t say negative things about your previous employer or company -- even if you left because the situation was bad,” Angela Priest stresses. “Instead, discuss it in a constructive way or describe why the company was no longer a good fit for you. You may be saving us both some time and angst if there are similar conditions at our company.” Laura Santos explains further, saying, “We wouldn’t want you doing that with us if we hire you.”
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FORGET YOUR RESUME
If you’re eager to land the job, you’ve got to be ready for anything -- which includes having an arsenal of tools that tout your talent and show just how serious you are. “Don’t forget to bring copies of your resume. Yeah, we’ve already seen it, but it’s nice to see that you’re prepared,” says Laura Santos. Cheryl Jordan also suggests: “If you have letters of reference from former employers, bring those too.” It’s definitely helpful to show the value you’ve brought to your past workplaces.
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USE TOO MANY BUZZWORDS
Brainy is good. BS is not. If you start rattling off information you have memorized about “m-commerce” and how “mobile storefronts need to be more user-friendly to drive purchases via mobile phone,” but you don’t really understand what you’re saying, it’s going to be apparent. Angela Priest advises, “Don’t use too many buzzwords. If you know something, you know it. Using too many buzzwords makes me think that you read it somewhere in a textbook and don’t know the real-world application, whether or not that’s true.”
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BE UNREALISTIC ABOUT SALARY
Everyone dreams of making bank -- whether that means you can finally pay all of your bills or afford a personal masseuse named Antonio. But before you throw out an outrageously huge number, you’ve got to consider your years of experience, talent and what you currently make to guide you to a feasible amount. Laura Santos says, “Don’t be unrealistic with your compensation requirements. We all think that we are worth a million bucks -- but that doesn’t mean your next employer will pay that.” So if you know what you’re worth, how do you convince an employer to pay you accordingly? Andrew G. Rosen, founder and editor of jobacle.com, suggests, “Be honest with what you make and how much you’d require to take the position. Then explain what you’re worth and give a realistic salary range.”
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LIE ABOUT YOUR OTHER OPTIONS
Even if you’re a Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute graduate, it’s probably not the best idea to test out your skills with hiring managers, HR personnel and other big guns who can make or break your job status. According to our experts, these people are pros at detecting when someone’s bluffing. Laura Santos warns prospective candidates: “Don’t lie about interviewing at other places. We can see right through it.” Then again, you don’t want to admit it’s the only company you’re interviewing with. According to Lily Zhang, career development specialist at MIT, there’s no need to give the interviewer more power than he or she already has. Lily says, “Instead of responding with your lack of other interviews, let your interviewer know what types of positions and companies you’ve been applying to.”
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PLAY IT TOO COOL
You’re in the hot seat for a reason, right? You genuinely want this job. Cheryl Jordan says, “Interviewing applicants who obviously don’t give a damn about where they work as long as they receive a paycheck is a huge chore, while interviewing those who are interested and enthusiastic is always a pleasure.” Certified career management coach and expert resume writer Don Goodman suggests, “Before you go in for an interview, look over the company’s website for news events. Did the company just sign a significant partnership, bring in a key individual from the industry or launch a new product? These are topics that can help build rapport and show that you have a sincere interest in the company.”
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