Job interviews are nerve-racking, particularly if you don’t feel adept at thinking on your feet, or tend to become clammy as soon as you sit down. Not to fear! There are surefire ways to prepare that will make you feel more assured the minute you enter the room, as well as some big taboos to absolutely avoid.
How you approach preparing for your interview will influence how you feel once you’re in the chair.
“Take charge of the process,” says Rik Avalos, a long-time recruiter and HR professional who has found talent for Tesla, Google and Cisco Webex, among others. “Dedicate yourself to learning about the company you’re interviewing with and the person or people interviewing you,” he recommends. “With that knowledge under your belt you’re much less likely to say something you don’t intend, and when they ask you why you want to join their team you really know why. You can substitute the worry about what not to say with the confidence of knowing exactly what you want to get across.”
With that in mind, here are 13 big interview taboos:
- Negativity. If you’re asked why you want to leave your current job, avoid trashing any current or previous managers or bosses. Offer something more benign like, “It wasn’t ultimately a good fit”, or “My manager and I didn’t see eye to eye.”
- Sounding uninformed. Avalos recommends becoming intimately familiar with the company website’s “About” section so that you can go into your interview embodying their values, culture and mission. Be proactive — you should know more about the company than some of the people who work there. He recommends using LinkedIn to search for people in the type of position you’re seeking, and using Glassdoor to read up on what people are saying about working for the company.
- Being late. Avoid this taboo at all costs. Leave early for your interview and do a practice run the day before if you are unsure where you are going.
- Seeming cocky. Exude confidence, but don’t toot your horn so loudly it’s deafening! You should certainly tout your skills and achievements, especially those that make you a great candidate for the position, but avoid being pretentious.
“There’s a difference between bragging and self-assurance” says Sharadon Smith, career counselor at Nova Job Center. For instance, instead of crowing about being a star employee at Google, offer an example of your work on a specific project or initiative to back up your claim. “That completely changes the tone of what you’re communicating.”
- Using negative body language. Interviewers are not only listening to what you’re saying in response to their questions; they’re noticing your body language and demeanor. Slouching does not communicate professionalism or self-confidence. Looking down at your feet thinking you’d rather be anywhere else, or crossing your arms over your chest, sends the wrong message. Make eye contact. Engage. Breathing always helps!
- Not asking questions. Avoid making the interview into a one-way conversation where you sit mostly silent, nodding your head. You’re also trying to suss out if this is the right place for you to land, so ask your own questions. Come with a list of them written down, or in your head. Smith, who also counsels job seekers one-on-one, has heard hiring managers say that they pay more attention to the questions candidates ask than to the ones they answer.
- Being unprepared. Think ahead-of-time about how you’re going to answer the inevitable question about your biggest weakness or shortcoming. Smith recommends using the positive-negative-positive sandwich approach. Instead of beginning your answer with any holes in your skills and experience, start with the positive. She uses the example of competence with business software: “Let’s say you didn’t have to use Excel in your most recent job very much — you don’t want to emphasize that so don’t lead with the fact that you aren’t conversant in Excel. Instead emphasize that you have excellent business software skills, but since you’re currently a little rusty in Excel you’ve been doing online tutorials to get up to speed again.”
- Talking salary. It’s taboo to bring up salary before your interviewer broaches the subject, but if asked, be prepared to talk about your salary expectations and requirements. Instead of saying, “I want X amount of money” Smith recommends couching your answer this way: “I’ve done market research and the salary range for this position is X.” Negotiating pay and benefits will come later in the process, if you’re offered the position.
- Lying. Being untruthful or exaggerating about your background is never a good idea. Not only is lying wrong, they inevitably backfire. “If you’re going to lie,lie” says Avalos, “you’re going to live that lie and that will negatively impact how you’ll behave going forward.”
- Pointing out your shortcomings. Avoid focusing on your lack of experience. Be prepared to explain how your skills are transferable, and how your current skill set (and enthusiasm!) will be an asset to the company. Keep in mind that skills can be learned but character traits are more inherent and equally as important. Over the course of his career Avalos has looked for reliable, smart, willing people who can convince an interviewer of their ability and enthusiasm for learning, coupled with an eagerness to help solve the company’s challenges.
- Using too much jargon. While you want to sound like you understand your field, take care not to overuse industry buzzwords. “When you use jargon, instead of coming across as an insider,” says Smith, “you come across as someone who’s less able to communicate with different groups in the organization and with people who have different levels of experience.”
- Leaving your phone on. Forgetting to turn off your ringer and/or answering your cellphone during an interview is definitely taboo. Turn off your ringer and put your phone away during your interview.
- Being ungroomed. Wearing an inappropriate or wrinkled outfit or forgetting to wear deoderant sends a bad message. Smith recommends dressing one level above what the people in the company wear. “If you’re interviewing for a job where folks are super casual and wear jeans and T-shirts, come in wearing khakis and a polo shirt, or nice slacks and a button-down blouse.”
Imagine yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. Imagine you’re tasked with finding the best person to fill the position — what traits are you going to look for? You’re not only seeking someone with the right set of skills and relevant experience. In fact, in Avalos’ experience, hiring managers are more worried about making a bad hiring decision than they are confident in making a solid one, so take the mystery out of why you’re great for that company and get that across.
For the 411 on the in’s and out’s of interviewing including insights, tips and techniques, search our extensive resources on LiveCareer.com.