by Pamela Skillings
You’ve got all of the right qualifications and then some. It almost seems as if the job description was written just for you. So why didn’t you get the job offer? You probably messed up the interview.
In a competitive job market you may be up against many qualified candidates including internal applicants. That means it’s not enough to just perform well in the interview. You must wow the interviewer.
Based on my experience as a hiring manager and my interview coaching work with hundreds of job-seekers each year I’ve identified some common interview mistakes that sabotage even the strongest candidates — and some tips for avoiding them.
The Aw Shucks Applicant — Modesty is a lovely quality just not in a job interview. In everyday life you don’t rattle on about your strengths and accomplishments so you may feel awkward tooting your own horn in a job interview if you don’t prepare. If you’re a naturally humble person you’ll need some practice to present your best qualities confidently and avoid selling yourself short.
Even if your resume is stellar you have to back it up in the interview. You don’t have to become an obnoxious self-promoter (see The Used-Car Salesman below). You just have to learn how to discuss your selling points in your own voice without wavering. You have only one opportunity to make your case. Don’t let your modesty prevent you from showing what you can do.
The Supermodel Syndrome — Supermodels don’t have to try to impress anybody. Fawning admirers pursue them wherever they strut. Many of my most accomplished clients are also accustomed to being courted.
Most have never had to try very hard to find a new position. They’re great at what they do. When the job market was strong companies chased them and they played hard to get. Their instinct is to walk into an interview and let the resume speak for them because it has always worked in the past.
In today’s job market however the competition is fierce. Even the most impressive applicants have to sell themselves. This need is especially pronounced for those changing direction or looking to enter a new industry or area of specialization. If you think you might be suffering from Supermodel Syndrome remember that you’re still hot but you have to learn how to tell them why.
To Whom It May Concern — Don’t treat a job interview like a form letter. You can’t use the same spiel for every opportunity. Many job-seekers have standard answers to common interview questions and don’t bother to tailor their approach for each opportunity which is a big mistake.
You must analyze each job description and consider which of your many strengths and achievements will be most relevant and impressive for this interview. If you’ve been working for a while you have many successful projects and areas of expertise. Hiring managers are listening for particular competencies and want to know why you’re a good fit for their position and their company. Many have special concerns — for example the last person in the job left them in the lurch so a long-term commitment is particularly important.
If your responses are too general your interviewer may overlook qualifications that you have but didn’t articulate. Prepare for each interview; remember to read the signals in the room and respond to the interviewer’s cues.
Data Dumper — Drown your interviewer in detail and you’ll lose his or her attention and suck all of the energy out of the room. Eyes will glaze over and the interviewer’s inner dialogue will change from “Who is this interesting person?” to “Please for the love of decency wrap this up before I doze off.”
Detail-oriented and technical people are often tempted to provide way too much information. In most cases the interviewer doesn’t need or want a complete play by play. You must sum up with a high-level description (1-2 minutes at most) and then make it clear that you’re happy to provide whatever additional details are desired.
Focus on the information that demonstrates your specific contributions. These key points get lost when surrounded by too much extraneous data.
The Used-Car Salesman — It is possible to take confidence too far. The used car salesman is all about selling not listening. He makes big claims without backing them up pushes for a commitment prematurely and shamelessly kisses up.
These techniques rarely work unless you’re interviewing for a position in used car sales or spam copywriting. Instead they make the interviewer uncomfortable and raise doubts about your sincerity.
Also be careful not to be so self-assured that you insult your interviewer by criticizing the way the company does things now or indicating you know better. This can put the interviewer on the defensive and turn a positive interaction into a negative one.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Interviewing Mistakes
Avoid these common mistakes that even smart candidates make and you’ll have a much better shot at landing that job that you deserve.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Pamela Skillings is an author interview coach and career expert who has been featured by The New York Times Newsweek ABC News Forbes and other media outlets. As an interview coach she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google Microsoft Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. She is the co-founder of Big Interview an online video-based job interview training system and an adjunct professor for New York University. Previously Pamela spent more than 15 years as a marketing and HR executive for Fortune 500 companies. Her company Skillful Communications also provides management training for the American Management Association and other organizations.