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The 5 most common interview mistakes — and how to correct them

A recruiter explains the interview missteps that could be costing you the job.
by Brianna Steinhilber /  / Updated 
Image: Print out a copy of your resume and walk confidently into the interview for your dream job
It’s not just your verbal language, but your body language, that can take you out of the running. Dean Drobot / Shutterstock / Dean Drobot
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You slip into that blazer that says “professional, yet approachable,” print out a copy of your resume and walk confidently into the interview for your dream job. You think it went well, and start dreaming about the day you can put in your two-weeks notice. A few weeks go by before you get the dreaded email: “Thank you for your interest in the position, but we have decided to go with another candidate.”

What went wrong? Could you have done anything differently that would have changed the outcome in your favor?

The truth is, without even realizing it you may have made a handful of mistakes during the interview process that hurt your chances of snagging the job.

Allison Andrade, lead recruiter at Betts Recruiting, sees them all the time. Learn from these mistakes and snag the job — and the salary — you deserve.

1. Showing up unprepared

According to a new CareerBuilder survey conducted by The Harris Poll, half of employers know within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate is a good or bad fit for a position. Which means how you present yourself in those initial moments is crucial. And this starts before you even set foot in the building: “Never show up with less than five copies of your printed out resume, you never know who you will meet with,” says Andrade. “Never wear jeans. Even if the company you are interviewing with is casual, that doesn't give you license to be casual on your interview. And I hope this goes without saying, but do your research on not only the company, but the people you are interviewing with as well.”

Your pre-interview research should include, “the companies [your interviewer has] come from, career progression, mutual connections if they are strong, where they went to school…” says Andrade. “Go one step further and take advantage of all of the social media tools we have and see who they are as a person or if they are a thought leader in that field. Bring it up and ask questions about it.”

And it’s not just your verbal language, but your body language that matters, too. The Harris Poll found the biggest body language mistakes that reflected poorly on the interviewee were: failure to make eye contact, not smiling, playing with something on the table and fidgeting too much in his/her seat and bad posture.

“As prepared as you can be, you will likely get an out-of-the-box question. Answer as direct as possible and don’t dance around it,” says Andrade. “If you don't know the answer, tell them you need a bit of time to think about it and you will get back to them.” Some of the biggest head scratchers she’s seen thrown at people? “Tell me about a time where you failed and how you recovered and what you learned?” and “Can you teach me something right now?” are two of the toughest to get right. An insider tip from Andrade: “The best answer [to the second question] is to teach them how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and walk them through that.”

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2. Not interviewing the hiring manager

A Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that one in two had left their job because of a bad manager. So even if you do manage to snag the position, you may not be there long if you get yourself into a situation where you’re working for a manager who isn’t motivating, or created an overly stressful or uncomfortable environment at the office.

“You are both interviewing each other: They need to sell themselves and their company to you, just as much as you are selling to them,” says Andrade. “We spend a huge chunk of time over the course of our lives at work, so it needs to be a two-way street. People tend to get very bogged down in the job title, money and duties, and forget to ask about culture, people, team and growth opportunities.”

Often when we ask a broad question about company culture, we get a cookie cutter answer. To really get to the heart of what day-to-day life is like, and what the opportunity for growth is, Andrade suggests asking the following questions:

  • Tell me about your most successful, latest hire.
  • What is a trait across teams that successful people share?
  • What is the longest tenure of the current employee within the team?
  • What is one thing about your company culture that you feel sets you apart from other companies?
  • How did the CEO start the company, what is the mission of the company and how do you see that being driven everyday throughout the office?
  • How many people have been promoted internally within the last 12 months?
  • If people are successful here how are they rewarded for their success in terms of their career?
  • How do your company values align with promoting from within?”

3. Thinking you're only being judged in the interview room

Were you short with the receptionist? Didn’t hold the door for another employee? Let a four-letter word slip on the phone with a friend while you were waiting for the elevator?

“You're being judged in every aspect of the interview process. They will interpret the way you act and communicate during the interview as how you would in the role, be that with a client, leadership, coworkers, the IT department …” says Andrade. “How you act with them should mirror how you would conduct yourself as an employee at that company. Everything is a test, from your application to the offer acceptance in the interview room.”

Always treat the front desk person with the same respect you would the CEO.

Andrade has seen firsthand how potential employees hurt their chances of being hired by not being aware of their behavior the entire time. People have not gotten the job “because of chewing gum, no prep/research, being long winded, swearing … so many things [will result in] a quick ‘no’ from a company. If you are out and about on the weekend and run into someone, make sure you keep it professional. Always treat the front desk person — and anyone else that you come across on the interview day — with the same respect you would the CEO.”

4. Poor follow-up skills

Once the interview is over and you’ve left the building, you sit and wait (and pray), right? Wrong.

Within 24 hours, send a follow-up note to thank the people who took the time to meet with you. This is key to staying front and center in their mind while they make their decision. Remember: they may have met with a dozen candidates that day, so it’s easy for the list to become a blur.

“Make sure to send a personalized follow-up note. Personable yet professional; you have not closed them yet, do not get casual with the thank you,” says Andrade. “Avoid sending a mass thank you email. Always send a customized thank you to each person you met and touch on something you two discussed in the interview to make it more personal.”

And be sure to establish timeline expectations before you even leave the interview room. “Being persistent is key, people are busy so stay in front of them, but also make sure to end the interview with a clear understanding of their timeline, any concerns they have about you and next steps for following back up.”

That way, if you know the hiring manager is heading on vacation and wont be back in the office for a week, you can avoid peppering their inbox with follow-up emails until they return. (And save yourself the agony of not hearing back.)

When should you throw in the towel and move on to pursuing the next opportunity? When they say no or after 30 days of silence, says Andrade.

5. Not negotiating

You successfully navigated the interview process and got the offer — congratulations! But you aren’t in the clear yet. Now it’s time to talk numbers. And having the salary talk can be more nerve wrecking than the interview itself – which is why many people don’t have it at all.

A 2016 Glassdoor survey found that 59 percent of American employees did not negotiate their salary for their current job, and women and older workers were even less likely to negotiate their pay. But there is money being left on the table: a survey conducted by Salary.com found that an individual who fails to negotiate a first salary stands to miss out on more than $500,000 by age 60.

“Don't take the offer at face value, negotiate. But this is still a test: ask for too little, they will feel you don’t value yourself enough, ask for too much, they may think you’re greedy,” says Andrade. “There is a fine line, but if you’re top tier, and you have done your research, it is usually [fair to negotiate] within the 5-10k range.”

People should not feel intimidated to negotiate: ninety-nine percent of the time the hiring manager is expecting this and usually there is wiggle room.

When asking for more money, it’s imperative that you back up your request with tangible reasons why you deserve a higher offer. “The reasons should not be feeling-based, but always fact-based, like: I have a certain amount of experience, I am relocating from another area, or if there is a long learning curve/ramp time,” says Andrade. “Always have two or three reasons why you are asking for more. People should not feel intimidated: ninety-nine percent of the time the hiring manager is expecting this and usually there is wiggle room. Going into this, make sure to express your excitement about the company, and then do the ask: ‘I was hoping to get 5k more, and these three reasons are why I deserve that.’”

Many people fear that asking for more money may take their offer off of the table altogether, but Andrade says that shouldn’t be a concern. “People have nothing to be afraid of with this ask. If you are in the negotiation stage and do the ask thoughtfully the company will never rescind the offer,” she says. If increasing the offer isn’t an option for them, they will simply re-send their original offer for you to accept or decline.

Andrade also encourages us to remember that while the company that offers you $5,000 more right now may be the more tempting option, it’s important to really ask yourself: “Is it inline with my five-year goals?”

At the end of the day, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not knowing your worth in the marketplace and where your experience lines up, says Andrade. “Speak with a mentor. Trust their opinion, as they are experts and thinking bigger picture in your career versus thinking what you need in the now.”

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