As a job-seeker, one of the most effective preparatory practices is to get into the mind of a hiring manager. Those who make the decisions often have many traits and expectations in common, making it prudent to get a better understanding of what makes such individuals tick. For example, there are a large number of pet peeves—some obvious, others not so much—which can immediately send an otherwise productive interview spiraling down the drain.
The examples which follow below are based on real people and their real-world experiences. They are the opinions of actual decision-makers and are very likely to reflect the thoughts and feelings of many such managers you’ll encounter in the course of your interviews.
Energy and Non-Verbal Cues
An interview can go south at any time, but most applicants don’t expect to blow it before they’ve even sat down to the table. A bad first impression can do just that, though, and an ineffectual handshake is one of the most reliable ways to start off on the wrong foot. Your handshake is very likely to be regarded as an indication of your confidence and investment. A gesture which is perceived to be limp or withdrawn is not likely to reflect well on any candidate.
The recommendation is not necessarily to out-squeeze your interviewer—causing a minor hand injury probably won’t score you any points, either. Simply try your best to match the energy of the person interviewing you, offering a firm, confident handshake and plenty of eye contact. Smiling politely is also advisable.
Your personal energy will factor into the interview much more than just during the initial handshake, of course. One of the most notable pet peeves described by executives interviewed on the subject: lack of enthusiasm. A job interview is seen as a try-out of sorts, a chance to exhibit your qualifications as well as some of your basic personal qualities. If you can’t maintain good energy during the initial sit-down, would you expect a hiring manager to have confidence in you as an employee of their company?
Non-verbal cues you should avoid include slumping in your seat, sighing, or acting exasperated by questions that disinterest you. Even the most basic inquiries are important—that’s why they’re being asked. Answer each question with the same energy and enthusiasm as you entered with to show commitment and professionalism.
One last note, specifically for smokers: try to make sure you don’t smell heavily of cigarettes when your interview begins. If you do need a cigarette prior to the conversation, wash or sanitize your hands and use gum or mints to freshen your breath. Just as you wouldn’t want to smell too much like garlic after lunch, keep in mind that cigarettes can be an overpowering aroma for non-smokers.
Verbal Mistakes to Avoid
Naturally, what you say (or don’t say) in a job interview will factor largely into how you are perceived. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an interviewee is to provide canned answers—responses that seem to be lifted straight from a book or website. Honesty is a vital cornerstone in any business relationship, and if it doesn’t appear that your replies come from a place of personal experience, your conversation is not going to be very productive.
A winning strategy is not to over-prepare for specific questions with specific answers, but to reflect and compile an assortment of stories and experiences from throughout your career. These details can then be applied when appropriate during your interview, making it much easier to elaborate and provide substantial information rather than relying on the words of others.
Finally, one major verbal mistake to avoid is not in how you answer, but what you ask. Near the end of most job interviews, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask your own questions. Rule number one: never come up empty. With no questions, you seem interested in getting a job but not in the actual company you’re dealing with. Always be prepared to ask at least one or two basic questions about the organization, its culture, or even about the interviewer him or herself, such as how long they’ve been a part of the company.
Steer clear of questions which are rooted in self-interest, such as asking about paid time off, perks of the job, or anything which might indicate that you’re not fully invested in doing whatever needs to be done in order to succeed. Remember to stay focused on the big picture for best results.