The 9 Biggest Job Interview Fails (And How They Hurt You)

FailThe first thing you should know about job interviews: everyone being interviewed can probably do the job. The employer believes that, or they wouldn’t have extended the invitation for a meeting.

The purpose of the interview, then, is to see if you are a fit for the employer, and if the employer is a fit for you.

And, of course, to differentiate yourself from the other candidates by standing out with strong evidence that you are the right person for them. This means providing evidence not just about your skills and experience. It means also providing evidence that you are likable, coach-able, self-aware and ready to be a part of the team.

But not everyone is successful at conveying these attributes in an interview.

In fact, Harvey Nash, a global recruiting firm, recently interviewed a host of recruiters in the US to see what they observed as the most significant “interview fails.” In no particular order, with tips on why they hurt you and how to correct them BEFORE you get caught in an interview pinch, here they are…

1. Poor Personal Appearance and Habits

I was speaking with a hiring manager the other day and asked her what advice she would give (particularly to a new grad) about the interview process.

I’m always surprised when people say these things – because they seem intuitively obvious to me – but I’m going to go ahead and repeat them anyway:

  • Turn off your cell phone (and do not use the vibrate setting)
  • Don’t chew gum
  • Cover your tattoos and piercings

In an interview you want the attention wholly focused on you, your dialogue and the quality of your candidacy (not your gum chewing, piercings or tattoos).

One interviewer said she was so obsessed with the candidate’s gum chewing and snapping, that she literally did not hear one answer the candidate gave. Not surprisingly, gum chewer didn’t get an offer.

Anything that distracts from you and your brilliant dialogue should be taken off the table. So, don’t wear 37 bracelets, or a ring on each finger. Distracting!

As well, your appearance is a reflection of the way you feel about the people around you. A nice appearance with professional dress indicates you have a level of respect for the people with whom you’re interviewing. Dirty, unkempt, wrinkled or inappropriate attire will leave you in Loserville. Employers will think you don’t care, or that you don’t really want the job.

Do this instead:

Turn off your cell phone (and do not use the vibrate setting). Don’t chew gum. Cover your tattoos and piercings. Before you leave the house, inspect your appearance/behavior for anything that could possibly distract an interviewer from what you are saying. If you’re not sure, have a professional give you feedback.

As well, even if the organization has a business casual attire culture, an interview is a professional appointment that requires business dress, unless you’re given instructions otherwise.

2. Lack of Interest and Enthusiasm

As a hiring manager I wanted to hire the best person for the job who really wanted that job. After interviewing candidates, my team would first eliminate anyone who “didn’t seem like they really wanted the job.”

Interest in and enthusiasm for the job is such an important attribute I can’t possibly overstate it.

And if you don’t demonstrate it, you will easily get eliminated.

Do this instead:

Practice talking about how you’re excited about the job and that you really want that job. Often, particularly with young adults, voices tend to be very flat and monotonous and not reflect the enthusiasm or the connection with the job that you might feel.

If you’re unsure about how you show up, practice! Videotape yourself giving interview responses, and get feedback from other people. Here’s a great piece on techniques actors use for “grabbing the room,” including vocal exercises.

3. Failure to Make Eye Contact

It may be uncomfortable for you to make eye contact easily with someone – especially if you are anxious with authority figures who have the power over your destiny. After all, they make the decision to hire you or not after a job interview.

Eye contact is important because most people read a lack of it as an indication that you’re evading the truth, being disingenuous, or just plain lying.

Do this instead:

Use the very simple trip trick of looking at the bridge of the person’s nose, if eye contact is too difficult for you. And practice with another person – for as long as it takes for you to be more comfortable – before your interview.

4. A Limp, Fishy Handshake

Maybe you had a Dad like mine and you learned this one early and often – give a good, firm, handshake!

Research shows it takes about 1/10 of one second to form an initial impression about someone. And that impression is very hard to change.

A limp, wimpy, handshake (my Dad used to call it a “dead fish”) leaves the interviewer with a less than favorable impression. He or she may read it as a lack of confidence, a lack of respect, or even as a lack of engagement or excitement about the interview.

First impressions are made with both verbal and non-verbal cues. And a handshake is one of the most powerful tools you have for showing up strong in the process.

Do this instead:

Practice a firm, confident handshake with others before you go into an interview. If you double that up with eye contact and a smiling demeanor, you’re making a great first impression.

5. Late To The Interview

I once heard advice as a manager, that if an employee shows up late or calls in absent in the first 30 days of the new job, you hired the wrong candidate.

So if you’re late for the interview, the manager may think they invited the wrong candidate to interview. When you’re late, you’re telling the other person that you don’t respect their time.

Managers may have multiple interviews on the schedule. Being late can throw a schedule into chaos, and frustrate everyone involved. Worse, you might actually reduce the time you get to talk with the manager about your ability to do the job!

It’s also a sign to the manager about how you will treat your work responsibilities. Is that the way you want to start a relationship with the potential employer?

Do this instead:

If you have trouble getting places on time, you need to change your tardy behaviors. Practice for a week showing up to every appointment 10 minutes early. It might be hard to make this change, but with intention, planning and practice you can.

Your goal is to be anywhere 10 minutes before the appointed hour. That’s the perfect time to show up for an interview.

6. Failure to Ask Questions About the Job

Managers want to see highly engaged interviewees who have studied the organization and are curious and eager to know more about it, and the position.

When it comes time for YOUR questions and you say, “Nope, I think I’m good,” you eliminated yourself from contention because a hiring manager will scribble interview notes that read “lacking initiative, had no questions, not enthusiastic about the job.”

Do this instead:

Conduct extensive research on the organization, the industry, and the position before you ever go to an interview. Read this post to determine what you need to know before you go to an interview, and prepare yourself accordingly.

Design 5 to 7 really good questions you can use during this part of the interview conversation. Show up engaged, involved, and ready to have a great conversation with the people on your interview team.

7. Focused on Money and the Best Offer

When you appear to be only interested in the money or the best offer, you make the job search about meeting your needs. But a job offer is really about how you and the employer are going to mutually meet one another’s needs.

Since they are the people who have the money, you need to first show them what you are going to do to earn the money. When you overemphasize money and compensation, rather than your ability to do an outstanding job, you may appear arrogant (read: probably a person who might be a prima donna and difficult to manage) and you can end up on the “decline” list.

Do this instead:

Make sure you have a great strategy for talking about how you’re going to bring value, contribution, and success to the organization– and the manager. Then and only then, is it appropriate to talk about compensation.

8. You Talk Smack About Past Employers

One of the most significant rules of the interview is to never ever bring in negative comments, dialogue, or stories that reflect poorly on your past employer or manager.

We have all worked with difficult people, or managers or colleagues. We have all worked for less-than-perfect organizations. Bringing negativity into an interview tells the manager you’re willing to speak negatively about others — and you’ll probably talk smack about them too.

It also tells them you don’t know how to make lemonade out of lemons. And they know there are going to be tons of lemons in their organizations that will challenge you.

If you can’t demonstrate you’ve handled adverse situations professionally, and learned from them, you could be perceived as a whiny problem child who won’t be able to navigate organizational challenges effectively in the future. And no manager wants to hire that.

The other candidates will thank you though, because it will get you eliminated quickly.

Do this instead:

As you prepare for your interview think about the stories you’re going to use about that past employment. Even if there were difficult – or maddening – elements, make sure there’s nothing in your stories that reflects ill on the employer or the colleagues you worked with.

If you did have a difficult experience, see how you can share that story in terms of opportunities that might be important to you, skills you’d like to use in the future, or methods of working that would help you be most productive.

9. Lack Confidence and Poise

This is why we have interviews!

You may look great on paper. You may have gone to a great school or worked for a great company. But the interview will tell the employer who you really are and how you are going to show up as an employee.

How important is confidence? Important!

An informal survey garnered this comment from a recruiter: “I coin the most impressive quality in a job candidate ‘humble confidence.’”

Another said: “When a candidate can answer a question in a brief, bright and confident way, that is a unique skill.”

Hiring managers want to hire confident, likable people. Would you hire someone who said (or came across as if they were saying), “Um, well I think I can do this job, but I’m not really sure…” Probably not.

Do this instead:

Even if you don’t feel amazingly confident, simple body and style techniques can help. Here are a few you can implement today!

Use Amy Cuddy’s power pose routine before you head into the interview.

Dress in an interview-appropriate outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks. Be on time. Greet your host with a firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile. Spend time before the interview visualizing yourself going through the process in minute detail.

Do your research and practice, practice, practice — pretending you’re in the interview. You will be amazed at how much this will impact your confidence level!

There’s no doubt the interview process is wholly imperfect, and subjective. Your job is to do everything you can to increase the odds in your favor. Follow these tips to do everything you can to position yourself as the most qualified candidate – and get the offer.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friend, Lea McLeod!



Lea McLeodAbout the Author: Lea McLeod is author of the Resume Coloring Book. Check it out if you are struggling with writing your resume in today’s job market. She’s also founder of the Job Success Lab so that you can GO PRO in any job! Follow her onTwitter and her blog:



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