Didn’t get the job? 7 Surprising Interview Mistakes You May Have Made

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In the wake of the Stop Asking People to Coffee article published a few weeks ago, I’ve received an overwhelming number of responses asking for more career-related content here on GG! (THANK YOU you guys, I’m so flattered!)

Well, you have asked, and you shall receive! And I have to admit, it has been pretty fun dusting off that corporate career part of my brain. So today, we’re talking about a topic that has plagued each and every one of us at one point or another: Interviews. 

Before becoming self-employed, I had racked up some pretty hefty experience on the interview front. In my own career, I’ve had too many interviews to count–from sales jobs in the beginning (ROUGH let me tell you) to advertising jobs, promotion interviews, and the like. On the flip side, I did probably even more interviewing on the other side of the table. Little known fact, but I was actually a recruiter at a staffing company for the first 8 months of my post-college life. I often interviewed 15+ people per day over the phone and in person. Later on when I got into advertising, I often interviewed candidates to fill various positions at the agency. From interns, to beginning level Account Executives, even interviewing potential candidates for positions above mine. 

All in all, I picked up some valuable knowledge along the way about interviewing on both sides of the table, and that’s what I’m about to share with you.

Next time you go in for a big interview, make sure to avoid these common, lesser-known mistakes that can obliterate your chances of making a good impression. (You probably haven’t thought about quite a few of them!) 

Mistake #1: Dressing poorly 

A seemingly materialistic tip–but unfortunately, it’s the truth. (Sometimes the truth if tough!) If you aren’t dressed well, your employer is going to assume you aren’t taking yourself seriously. You hear this all the time, but what does “dress for the job you want” mean exactly?

Here are some tips to dressing for an interview: 

  • When in doubt, err on the dressier side. You can always remove your suit jacket in the lobby, but you can’t put ON panty hose. 
  • If you plan to wear a skirt, it should definitely not be hugging your curves too closely, or more than an inch above the knee, either (in many corporate places, anything above the knee is a no-no as well.) 
  • When it comes to footwear, platform heels of any kind are a no-no. Stick with a 3 inch heel–classy, and easy to walk in. And be careful with rounded ballet flats–paired with the wrong thing, they can take your outfit from totally acceptable to frumpy and sloppy. If you must wear flats, try a pointed pair of flats instead, which will add more polish to your outfit. 
  • Pants should be tailored. Not too tight, nor too loose, and they should absolutely not be dragging on the ground. If you aren’t sure how to decipher a decent fit, grab the Banana Republic sales clerk, and ask her if your pants fit correctly. (I’m not kidding.) I really like these trousers from J.Crew (if you’re going business casual) or if you need a suit, Express has a lot of affordable options, like this chic, fitted navy version
  • Nail polish should be subtle and professional. (This means, no chips in sight, not too long, nor gnawed down to the quick, and certainly no loud colors.) If you choose not to wear nail polish, your nails should be trimmed and very clean. Call me judgy if you will, but I notice these things–and so do potentially employers. 
  • Don’t forget about your bag, notebook, and pen! Those also make an impression! Go with a sleek, understated black tote. You should also pick up a professional padfolio–I like this one from Etsy, or you can snag one from an office supply store. Also, be sure to use a non-descript pen. Not a random one that you stole from Chile’s. Not a pink gelly roller. (Believe me. It’s happened.) 

If you’re looking for more interview attire advice, check out: What to Wear for an Interview” on The Everygirl

 

Mistake #2: Not establishing common ground, quickly 

Being good at small talk isn’t something everyone is automatically good at, but it’s really important for getting people to like you. Develop a genuine interest in people–this is a skill that will never fail you your entire life.

How do you do this exactly? Ask your interviewer to tell you about themselves. Not just, “What’s your background with this company?” but something more personal, like, “Where are you from? What do you like to do outside of work?” This gives you a window to jump in an establish common ground, instead of just remarking on the old standby topic commonly referred to as the weather

For example, if your interviewer were me, I would answer that question like this: “Well, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Indiana University…” then you can say, “Oh, my best friend went to Indiana! I visited her a few times. We had so much fun at, what is that bar called? Kilroys?” 

And then I’m going to FREAK OUT because Kilroys holds basically the best memories of my college experience. Hello–I’m going to be SO much more excited to talk to you now, because we have something in common! I might even know your cousin. She could be my best friend for all you know.

Isn’t that so much easier than just sitting there, staring blankly at your interviewer and waiting for them to pounce on you with the first question? 

Now–this might not seem that important to you, it’s easy to write this piece of advice off. However, keep in mind that in many positions, cultural fit with the company is much more important than experience. Essentially, your personality is more important than the skills you possess, especially when you’re first starting out in an entry level job. Reason being, you can teach someone how to do a job. You can’t teach them a personality. 
 

Mistake #3: Failing to ask the interviewer good questions 

This is often the first trap that interviewees fall into. You might have been great at small talk, impressed me with your work experience, but here–here is where most people fall flat on their face. (Or, on the flip side, you could have totally bombed the small talk area, and have no relevant experience, but if you nail this part–I might hire you on the spot.) That all depends on how you answer this question: 

“So, do you have any questions for me?”

All to often, the answer your interviewer often hears is, “Nope, you gave me such a thorough overview of the job, thank you so much! I don’t think I have any other questions.” 

#PALMTOFACE

If you fail to ask good questions, your potential employer is likely going to think you’re A. Not interested, or B. Just not smart enough. (But you’re smart enough! I know you are!) 

The common misconception is that the “Do you have any more questions?” question is simply a formality, or a courtesy. In reality, it’s one of the most important interview questions of all. This is your chance to REALLY shine.

If you really want to wow them–put them on the spot. Turn the tables. Ask them the important questions that you deserve to know. After all, you’re using this time to gather information to help you decide if you even want this job. Right? 

Here are some examples: 

  • Why is this position opening up? (Is it because it’s a bad job and they can’t keep anyone there for very long? Is it because someone was fired? Or is it because the person doing it now got promoted, or because the company is growing?) 
  • What is your favorite part about working for this company? What is your least favorite part? 
  • You mentioned you transitioned from a smaller company to work at this very large company, what was that transition like for you? It’s one that I would potentially be making, and I’m curious to get your insight on the pro’s and con’s. 
  • What is your management style like? What qualities are you looking for in a [insert position you’re interviewing for] in order to compliment the way you prefer to work? (This is a big deal! If you prefer a lot of structure, you don’t want to be working under a loosey goosey manager. On the flip side, if you prefer to be more independent, you don’t want a micromanaging supervisor breathing down your neck!) 
  • What’s the biggest thing you wish you had known when starting at this company? 
  • If I started this job tomorrow, what would be the biggest hurdles I would face? 
  • Based on our conversation and getting to know each other a little better, is there anything you’ve learned that would prevent me from getting this job? 

 

Mistake #4: Not doing your homework 

When Neal was interviewing for his current job, the head hunter he was working with told him, “the one who is most prepared for the interview always gets the job.” 

And it’s the truth. As much as you’d like to think you can go in and wing an interview, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. To increase your chances of landing the job, find out everything there is to know about that company, and your interviewers, before you go into the interview.

Say you’ve just sat down at the interview table. You’re chit chatting with your interviewer getting to know her a bit better. Which opening sentence is more impressive? 

“So, Diane, tell me about yourself. What’s your main role in the company? How long have you been here?”

OR

“So, Diane, I saw that you’ve been with the firm for quite some time (10 years, if I remember that correctly?) and that you’ve held several different positions. Which one of those has been your favorite? It seems like this company is very open to exposing its employees to a number of roles in order to expand their professional growth, and I really like that. Can you tell me more about it?” 

(No brainer, right?) 

If possible, get the list of names for the people you’ll be interviewing with. (Most HR reps or recruiters will give this to you.) Look them up on LinkedIn, google their names, try to find articles they had written.

I once interviewed for an intern position and mentioned something my interviewer had been quoted saying in an article, and it blew his socks off. I was hired immediately. He knew I would be a great intern, because I had done my homework. It’s that simple! 


Mistake: #5: Wavering about why you want the job 

When asked, “Why do you want this job?” in an interview, people often interpret this question the wrong way. Often, they answer with why they want to be the job title, not why they want to be the job title in that company.

There is a big difference between saying, “I want to be in sales because of x, y, and z” and “I want to be an Account Manager at your firm because of x, y, and z.” 

As an interviewer, I would always be disappointed if someone responded, “I really want this job and I think I’ll make an excellent Account Executive because I’ve always wanted to be in a role that was exposed to both the client and creative sides of the business.” 

Sounds okay–but that has nothing to do with the company. This is better: 

“I know I want to be an Account Executive because I excel in a role that is exposed to both the client and creative sides of the business, but I don’t want just any AE role–I want to be on this team, at this company, for reasons x, y, and z.” But be specific, and be candid. 

(And by all means, if you get through the interview and don’t want the job–don’t feel the need to fake it, either!) 

Mistake #6: Sending a templated thank-you note

This is something I NEVER would’ve thought about before being on the “interviewer” side. How many times have you sent the same thank you email to 10 different people? (Great job sending those thank you’s, by the way.) However, there’s more to it than that. 

Little known fact: there is a high likelihood your interviewers will compare your thank you emails.  I would say these chances greatly increase if your interviewers are friends, around the same age, job level, or if they all sit together. Don’t mistake this for being malicious or trying to “catch” you. It just happens! People talk!

To make sure you don’t come off as a lazy copy-paster, make sure to include specific details in your thank you emails. Note several different unique things that you discussed in your conversation, and what you took away from it. What did you find value in? Why are you glad you had the chance to talk to that person in particular?

Also, make sure to end with a personal touch. For example, if you both discovered you went to the same college, you could say, “Go Buckeyes!” Or “I’m so glad you turned me onto X productivity app–I downloaded it immediately after the interview!” 

Whatever it is, ensure you say something to make you stand out from the pack, and make them believe you were really paying attention, and that you valued what they had to say. 

Is being a templated-thank-you-noter going to lose you the job? Definitely not. But it could EASILY be the difference if it comes down to you and another candidate. 

Mistake #7: Being forgettable 

It’s hard to set yourself apart in the sea of resumes and interviewers, but do what you can to step out of the box. There are a lot of ways you can leave a lasting impression far beyond your interview. Can you make an incredible business plan to wow your interviewers? Can you design the most visually stunning resume anyone has ever seen?

I once made a “Pinterest” resume for a couple different advertising interviews, where I created different pins to go on different boards that illustrated my personality, experience, and so on. (And I got the job, by the way!) I also created an email address once called “hirejess@gmail.com” that I used exclusively for job applications.

There are so many impressive digital resumes and portfolio’s out there, I’m constantly amazed! Whatever it is–get creative! Create something outside of just you that can give a company a sense of your work ethic, creativity, and personality. 

Do this, and I ensure nobody will forget you. 

 

What are your do’s and don’ts for job interviews? What has worked for you in the past, and what have you learned from? 

  • Meaghan

    Love the tips! These are so helpful and on point. I especially think the connecting with the interviewer bit is so important – it makes the whole awkward process a little more personable :] Thanks so much for the professional posts!

  • Alyssa Thomas

    This is SO good Jess. As someone who has not only been the interviewee a couple times in the past couple of years, but also the interviewer, these are such fabulous tips. The dressing ones are particularly helpful. I’ve seen so many horrible outfits in interviews. True, not everyone can afford a nice suit, but it really does make a great first impression. And the short pencil skirts are such a no no!! This is so helpful, I want everyone to read it!

    Alyssa | Glitter and Grey

  • LOVE everything about this, Jess! Establishing common ground is such a good piece of advice and it’s one I always try to do when I meet people for the first time (even if it’s not an interview!). It’s one of the best ways to break the ice, and helps keep my nerves and sweaty palms at bay 😉

    xo,
    Natalie | Natalie Was Here

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  • These are great tips Jess! I love this series that you are doing on career focused topics. Keep it up!
    -Maggie http://www.thatgirlmags.com

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