5 Ways You're Bombing the Job Interview

Last week, one of my clients gave me a call. I helped him with his resume a few months back, and hadn't heard from him recently.

When I picked up the phone, he said something that was absolute music to my ears:

"I have a phone interview coming up. I've had a handful of other interviews with no results, so I'm guessing that I'm doing something wrong. I think I need some interview coaching."

Oh, how refreshing to see someone acknowledging his own potential shortcomings in the job interview process!

In my experience, most people don't respond this way. Instead, they complain all day long about the irritations of a job search: people won't call them back, they don't know the status of an application, the recruiter asked a bunch of insane questions, a hiring manager caught them off guard and didn't give them time to prepare for the interview....you get the gist. 

Yes--candidates are often treated poorly in the hiring process. It is a tragic reality of the current job market. 65% of job seekers rarely--or never--receive notice of their application status. Candidates are often left in the dark, slowly losing hope about an opportunity, and that stinks. 

But despite the frustrations of the application and interview process, the candidate is still responsible for his or her part of the experience. If you're getting called in for interviews and aren't getting any responses after the fact, guess what? You can only blame the recruiters and hiring managers so many times before a pattern starts to emerge. More likely than not, there is something that you're doing in the interview that is ruining your viability as a candidate. 

For a lot of people, this is not an easy fact to accept, and doing the work required to practice interview skills and admit your weaknesses is exposing. I mean, who relishes the idea of practicing a job interview while someone takes detailed notes about everything they're doing wrong?

But examining your own interview skills, identifying weaknesses, and practicing to improve interview performance are all in your best interest as a candidate. The more you practice (the right way!), the more likely you are to shake those bad habits and nail future interviews. So, if you're bombing interviews consistently, here are a few of the biggest and most common mistakes you might be making.

#1: Failing to be likable.

Your nonverbal communication has a gigantic impact on how you're received in an interview. This is wildly unfair, and honestly not beneficial as a hiring tactic. There are lots of people out there who bomb this part of the interview who would also make stellar, loyal employees for the positions they're applying for. But alas, here we are. You have 45 minutes to prove that you are likable, whether that's fair or not. 

"Likability" covers a wide range of habits, and sounds like it would be a subjective thing to pinpoint. In some ways, that's true--every individual hiring manager has preferences. But in a broader sense, there is a standard set of components that add up to general likability: 

  • Smiling
  • Making eye contact
  • Laughing at a joke, or cracking one yourself
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Speaking clearly
  • Resisting fidgeting
  • Leaning in to the conversation
  • Keeping arms open, as opposed to closed/crossed

The result of failing to meet even one of these items can be completely devastating for your candidacy. 67% of bosses say that failure to make eye contact is a common interview mistake. They specifically call it a mistake, meaning you messed up the interview because you didn't make eye contact. 

Clothing could destroy your chances for the job, even if you nailed every other component of the interview! 65% of bosses say that clothes could be the deciding factor between two similar candidates. Remember, the interview outfit is the only outfit your hiring manager will see you wear. You have one chance, so you better make sure it's sending the right message.

All of these little habits and choices are minor in the greater picture of your overall value as an employee. But in the interview, every piece matters. Why risk losing a job opportunity over something as simple as smiling? Practice is the best way to avoid such an unnecessary disappointment.

#2. Bashing your current or previous employer.

I know. You hate your boss, you hate the company that you work for, and they treat you like scum on the bottom of your shoe. They expect you to work 15 hour days, log on at 10 PM, and work all weekend. They've taken away your favorite projects, and given them to someone incompetent because that guy played basketball with your boss 15 years ago. I don't doubt it at all--poor work culture is the most common reason that my clients give for wanting to make a move. 

But the interview is not, not, NOT the place to complain about your boss. Or your previous boss! Or the culture of your current employer. Think about it. If you're willing to sit there in a formal job interview and discredit your employer, why should your potential employer doubt that you would do the same for them? You instantly become a liability for the company's reputation, and they will NOT want to hire you. 

On top of that, your bitterness is unattractive and concerning. Your inability to let it go and maintain some level of professionalism is a huge red flag for how you will behave in the work environment. How will they expect you to behave if the workload increases for a season, or you get stressed?

Though your intention may be to explain a situation or discredit your unjust employer, the only person you're really discrediting is yourself. Instead of harping on the crappy culture at your current office, focus on what you're looking for and what you hope the new job will offer. Save your rant sessions for private, informal conversations with family and friends.

#3. Showing your cards.

Yes, there is absolutely such a thing as being too honest in a job interview! This can play out in a couple of ways, both of which can be devastating for your interview performance.

The first is desperation. No matter how badly you need the job, it is NOT in your best interest to beg for it. Don't talk about how badly you need the job. Don't offer to work for a lower salary. Don't say that you will do anything to get out of your current job! As soon as you do this, you weaken your position as a candidate. Even if they do like you and end up hiring you, you have thrown away all of your negotiating cards, because they know you'll take the job no matter what. 

The other way that this plays out is by emphasizing or blatantly stating your "true" career goals. Let's say you're interviewing for a lateral move into a sales role. You hate sales. You'll take the sales job to get your foot in the door at a good company, but you still want to move into a management position as quickly as possible. 

They're going to ask about your career goals in the interview, one way or another. They're going to ask why you want to work there, and why this specific job. You will be shooting yourself in the foot if you communicate that the job you really want is not the job you're applying for. Don't get me wrong--there's no harm in saying that you have management aspirations, and want to know about the traditional career path for that role in the company. But you definitely don't want to communicate that you have little interest in the job they're hiring for. Bad news--they want someone to stay in that job for a while. If you don't prove that you really want the job, they're going to give it to someone who does.

This leads nicely into #4. 

#4. Not doing your homework. 

Hiring managers want to bring on candidates who are enthusiastic, interested, and motivated. In order to demonstrate that you actually want the job, you have to do a little homework in advance.

Get to know the company. Talk to people who work there, and get a feel for the culture. Read articles about current issues facing the specific company, or the larger industry. In doing so, you will be able to speak knowledgeably in the interview, while also demonstrating your interest in this specific opportunity.

If you fail to do your homework, you also will fail in developing a list of specific, thoughtful questions. You should always have questions prepared for the interviewer, but they should not be general questions applicable for any job at any company. Get specific. Demonstrate that you are a serious candidate, while also gaining information that will help you determine your own level of interest in the company.

These advance efforts take a little time, but they will certainly be noticed, and will increase your value as a potential employee. 

#5. Winging it.

Even if you're super outgoing, friendly, and good on your feet, preparing for an interview is in your best interest. No two interviews are exactly alike, and it's easy to be caught off guard by a curveball question, especially if you're nervous. 

This is particularly useful as you prepare for behavioral interview questions. These are the questions that generally start with "Tell me about a time when..." and ask you to reference specific anecdotes from your work history. It's impossible to prepare for every potential question that someone might ask you in an interview, but you can still prepare well. Review your experience, and practice giving a concise version of a few select anecdotes. Choose some examples that highlight your strengths, as well as your ability to overcome obstacles or learn from your failures. 

The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel in an interview. But it's best not to practice alone with nothing but a blank wall across from you. Enlist the help of a friend or loved one, or consider video-taping your own responses as you practice. If you feel like you need more help, interview coaching is always an option. 

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If you'd like more resources on interview strategies and tips, check out this post on how to address the salary question in an interview, or hop over to the Job Seekers FAQ page

Happy interviewing, my friends. Don't forget to smile!