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7 Common Job Interview Mistakes to Avoid & How to Handle Them


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As the daughter of a career counselor, the importance of the perfect job interview was pounded into my head since I was 15 and applied for my first job as a night receptionist. We’ve seen a lot of bad interviewers in the family biz, and more often than not, the best advice provided wasn’t a list of things to do or say, but rather a list of faux pas to avoid.

However, today’s job landscape barely resembles the one of 10 and even 5 years ago. With unemployment still hovering at 7.8%, the market is literally packed with highly qualified job seekers – i.e., your competition. To stand out from the pack, you must focus on being the best interviewee possible.

Common Interview Errors

Interviewers are as eagle-eyed as ever, charged with the unenviable task of selecting the best of the best from the overcrowded job pool. Make sure you know what you should be doing – but don’t forget to remind yourself of what not to do.

Most interview mistakes are completely avoidable, as they don’t have anything to do with your education or experience. Skip these major interview “don’ts” so you can sail onto the next round and, hopefully, come out on top:

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1. Answering the “Weakness” Question Incorrectly
“What would you say is your biggest weakness?” It’s a common interview question used by the interviewer to both find out where you struggle and check your ego.

You may have always been told to take a weakness and turn it into a strength: “Well, I tend to be too much of a perfectionist.” However, saying that can make you sound completely disingenuous and rather pompous. Instead, choose a real weakness, and then discuss how you’re working on making that weakness less of a problem. For instance,  it sounds better to say something like, “My accounting skills were pretty weak, so I started taking a night course to brush up.”

2. Not Doing Your Homework
Remember, a job interview isn’t only about you – it’s also about the company you want to work for. Failing to research the company thoroughly can make you seem unprepared. Not only should you be Googling the company and the person interviewing you, you should also read the job description numerous times. Heading into the interview room and talking about your past experience only works if your past experience actually correlates to the job description. The more you know about the job, the less time you waste talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.

3. Dressing Down
It’s true that offices and workplaces are becoming more and more casual, but that doesn’t mean flip-flops will ever be appropriate. As a general rule, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, so gauge the company’s level of formality by visiting the company’s website. Check it out and click around. Does it seem formal? Is it a little more on the creative side? Chances are, the website design is a reflection of the workplace. However, when in doubt, a suit or formal wear always works. Remember, you can concern yourself with a relaxed dress code after you snag the job.

4. Not Asking Questions
When an interviewer says, “Do you have any questions?” it’s not just a formality. He or she really wants to know if you have questions, and if your answer is no, that might paint you as unprepared or disinterested.

Always come prepared with a few questions – none of which should be about vacation time or holiday pay. Instead, ask about operations, logistics, and anything that can help the interviewer picture you as a team member.

After getting a great job at a recording studio despite having absolutely no work or internship experience, I asked the CEO why he hired me. “You were the only one who seemed actually interested in what we do here,” he replied. Showing interest and being inquisitive can go a long way.

Common Interview Errors

5. Not Updating Your Social Media Profiles
Those pictures from your bachelorette party or boys’ night booze cruise are pretty fun – but they can be a kiss of death to the job seeker.

Before you even submit your application, scan your social networking profiles and set them all to private or remove any incriminating evidence. You can also have two accounts: one for your friends and family, and one for your job search. Just make sure to set your personal one to “private,” and display your educational info and work experience on your public job-seeker profile.

Take care with what you post in the days up to your interview. Don’t create a status message about your interview or about the company – it’s bad form.

6. Skipping the Salary Discussion
Talking about money can be seriously awkward. However, blushing and fidgeting in your seat when the interviewer asks, “What are your salary expectations?” can make you seem unprofessional.

If you want to make a strong impression, hop online and find the median salary for the job you are competing for. Then, compare that to what you were making at your old job, bringing both numbers to the table. That way, you can say something along the lines of “I was making ‘x’ amount at my old job, but I know that ‘y’ amount is typically the norm for this job, so I’d be comfortable in that range.” A solid company that wants to hire you for your expertise will respect any reasonable salary expectations much more than a shrug of the shoulders.

7. Bashing Your Current or Past Job
It doesn’t matter if you left your last company because your boss embezzled money and was put in jail – don’t say a bad word. It’s never acceptable to go on the war path with your former employer. First, you might need that employer for a reference, and furthermore, it makes you look vindictive and disloyal.

If the interviewer asks why you left your last job, be respectful. Instead of saying, “My boss and I didn’t get along,” try explaining, “I didn’t feel fully utilized, and am looking for a more challenging position.” It’s much more professional.

Final Word

Feeling anxious yet? Heading into an interview room can feel a lot like facing a firing squad. The person conducting the interview has limited time to make a snap judgement as to whether you’d be a good employee. By avoiding these mishaps, you can focus on everything you need to do and say to ensure that you make a lasting and positive impression.

How do you make sure you stand out in an interview? Have you been asked any unusual interview questions?

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.