Tag: interview preparation


16 Embarrassing Job Interview Mistakes That Will Make You Look Unprofessional

CNBC has a new show called The Job Interview. It exhibits real people interviewing for real jobs with real employers. There are 20 cameras capturing all the nerve-wracking nuances of an interview. And all the mistakes. Those of which you can learn from and not make in your own interviews.

However, if you don’t have the trained eye of a career coach, you probably won’t pick up on many of the mistakes just by watching the show. So, I’ve taken the first episode and broken it down for you to see the little things most job candidates don’t know they’re doing wrong. And to be fair, I’m also pointing out some of the things they’re doing right.

Here’s the 20-minute episode, along with my commentary at various time markers. See if you pick up on the same things I’m noticing. What can you learn from what you see?

job interview

(Sorry, the full episode is no longer available on YouTube. Here’s the link to the on-demand version of the episode.)

What NOT to Overlook (3:06)

One of the qualifications for the job is someone who is detail-oriented. You’ll notice how the interviewers are pouring over the resumes, looking for the smallest of mistakes to determine if each candidate is indeed detail-oriented or not. One interviewer noticed how on one resume the text was off just half a space.

My clients wonder why I knit-pick their resumes. This is a perfect example of why I do. As I’ve said in previous blogs and in my video guides, employers are looking for reasons to throw out your resume. Not reasons to keep it.

What NOT to Wear (4:27)

For the type of job this woman is interviewing, she should really be wearing a blazer over her sleeveless top. Always dress professionally and in a way that is customary to the particular industry.

How NOT to Shake Hands (4:48)

While this candidate is dressed appropriately, he did not give a good handshake. Always give a firm handshake. Anything too limp or too strong leaves a bad impression, as the interviewer indicates.

What NOT to Assume (4:58)

The candidate’s response as to why he gave the female interviewer a gentle handshake compared to the firm one he gave to the male interviewer shows his lack of understanding of business etiquette. In business, gender is neutral.

The other thing this candidate did wrong when beginning the interview is he swiveled and rocked in his chair. You’ll see this mistake a lot throughout the episode from many of the other candidates as well.

If you’re ever offered a seat in a swivel chair in an interview, resist the urge to swivel!

What NOT to Say (5:10)

This candidate starts off strong with her response to “Tell us about yourself,” but almost crosses the line with a little too much personal information.

You want to avoid discussing marital status, children, and other personal matters since it is illegal for the interviewer to ask you for this type of personal information. While her sharing of this info didn’t seem to cause a problem in this case, it could very well be a turn-off for other interviewers because they may fear being accused of making hiring decisions based on the personal information the candidate provided.

What NOT to Ask (5:35)

This candidate says she did her research (like all candidates should), but if you listen to the first thing she said she knew about the company, you’ll see she made her answer all about herself. She talked about how convenient it is for her that the company is located close to her house. You’ll soon see too just how poor of a job she actually did on researching the company!

Another faux pas committed by this candidate is she came out and asked a very personal question of the interviewers. Just like interviewers should avoid asking candidates personal questions, so should candidates avoid asking the interviewers personal questions!

What NOT to Avoid (7:05)

This candidate did a good job of establishing rapport with the interviewers early in her interview.

Be yourself without getting too personal with the interviewer. If it becomes clear in the interview you have some of the same interests in common, feel free to use that as common ground to build rapport with the interviewer.

How NOT to Answer “What do you feel is your greatest strength?” (7:22)

Do you know what each candidate did wrong in answering this question?

None of them gave an example of how they’ve previously demonstrated their strength. Always answer with specific examples, never in generalities. Providing examples makes you stand out in a positive way and makes you more memorable to the interviewers.

How NOT to Answer “What would be your greatest weakness?” (7:30)

So what did all the candidates do wrong in their answers to this question?

They all listed a personality trait as their weakness instead of a skill. Why should you never answer this question with a personality trait? Because personality traits are more ingrained in us, and therefore take a long time to unlearn, if ever. However, a skill is something that can be quickly learned or improved upon.

There are several other ways screw up your answer to this question, and several ways to answer it well. Click here to learn more about how to answer “What’s your greatest weakness?”

How NOT to Behave (8:24)

We’re now about to see how the candidate who said she’d done her research actually did NOT do a good job on her research. She said she doesn’t have the desire to go back into accounting, ALL WHILE INTERVIEWING FOR AN ACCOUNTING POSITION! (REALLY?!!). She didn’t have a clue that the company or the position was related to accounting.

Plus her negative, flippant attitude about the industry and her inappropriate laughter about leaving a previous job were completely out of place and a turn-off to the interviewers.

What NOT to Judge (13:20)

As shown here, interviewers aren’t perfect and they too can make embarrassing mistakes in interviews. Remember they’re human just like you are, so don’t let them intimidate you to the point that you can’t perform and sell yourself to the best of your ability.

In fact, I notice how my clients become less nervous about an interview when I remind them that the interviewers are also nervous. Interviewers are typically nervous about making a wrong decision and therefore costing the company a lot of money, unintentionally letting an illegal or inappropriate question slip out, and making you feel more nervous than you probably are.

Remember that it’s an awkward situation for all involved. Instead, it should be treated as a meeting where the interview is a two-way street (you’re there to ask your own questions too to determine if the job is a right fit for you). Approaching it this way can help you relax.

How NOT to Fail the Test (14:13)

Here you’ll see the third or fourth test the interviewers have given the candidates. Always be prepared for potential tests.

For example, if you’re going into sales, you’ll probably have to sell something to the interviewer. If you’re going into a job that will require you to give presentations on a regular basis, you may be asked to prepare a presentation for your interview.

Years ago, I had a day-long interview where in one part of the afternoon I was given 45 minutes and certain parameters to come up with an idea for a new program that could be implemented throughout the organization. I then had to present on my idea and why it would be a good program for the organization.

I didn’t get the job, and later found out that no one got the job. It made all of us candidates wonder if the company held interviews just to get ideas without having to pay a salary for them. This can and has happened before, which is a very unethical practice on the part of a company. If you ever sense this is what’s going on in one of your interviews, consider it a red flag!

What NOT to Include (14:39)

When given a test, never say, “I don’t like being put on the spot,” like this candidate did.

What NOT to Leave Out (17:04)

This candidate gave a good response to the question of “What would this job mean to you?”

So did the candidate at the 17:15 mark. I liked that she said, “I have a lot to give,” instead of “I feel like I have a lot to give.” “I have” shows more confidence than “I feel like I have.”

However, as the interviewer I would want to know how has she given a lot and been an asset in her past experience? What are some examples of her giving her all and being an asset to her previous company? I’d want to hear stories about times when she’s demonstrated these qualities. Again, these stories are what makes a candidate memorable.

What NOT to Forget (18:18)

Here are the things the interviewers were most attracted to:

  • Positive attitude
  • Someone who “gets it”
  • Someone who “wants it”

No matter how negative of an experience your last job was or your current job search is, leave all negativity at the door. Interviewers can sense a negative attitude very quickly so do what you can to improve your attitude before walking into an interview.

Be the person who gets what the job is about, what the company stands for, and what they’re trying to accomplish. This comes with doing your research and understanding what problem they need the new person in this role to help solve.

Always indicate you want the job you’re interviewing for by coming out and saying so. However, if you don’t really want the job and you’re just interviewing to gain interview practice, this is an unethical practice (just like the one on the interviewer’s part in my personal example above), and therefore you shouldn’t be there.

This may sound harsh, but as you saw, interviewers can be harsh about very small things. I’m trying to help you get into the mind of the interviewer so you can be successful in your next job interview!

How NOT to Overreact (20:26)

Even if you don’t get the job offer, you never know what still may come of your experience. Here, because this candidate showed such a positive attitude, another door has been opened to him. The interviewers are setting him up for an interview with another company they think he’ll be a good fit for.

A friend of mine interviewed for a job and didn’t get the offer. Six weeks later, she got a call from the company asking if she was still interested in the job because the person they originally hired didn’t work out.

Things like this happen all the time which is why it’s important to stay positive, send your thank you notes after your interviews, and be gracious even when rejected. You never know how things might turn around down the road.

More Job Interview Tips

Based on the little edited snippets we saw of the actual interview, they hired the candidate I would’ve hired. However, in episode 2, they chose a different candidate than the one I would’ve chosen. Can you figure out why, based on what you learned above? Watch here and let me know!

For more interview preparation tips, check out the video guides in the Steps to Acing the Interview and Reducing Your Interview Anxiety on-demand program.

Related Resources: 

job interview

The Best Way to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions (Re-Post)

“Tell me about a time when…”

UGH! Behavioral interview questions. No job seeker enjoys answering these questions. Myself included. They’re just as dreaded as the “What’s your greatest weakness?” question.

I can remember back in grad school doing my first mock interview with the career center on campus. It was very intimidating, even more so than any real interview I’ve ever had. They recorded it which of course was even more horrifying. And I was really bad at answering the behavioral interview questions.

It was actually this experience and what I learned from it that made me decide to go into career advising. A year later I was working as an intern in the same career center. Eventually I became the director of a college career center and then started my own career coaching business.

You have more experience than you think

I remember my mock interview like it was yesterday. A few years ago I found the video and watched the cringe-worthy performance (through my fingers). I’d used the same example for every behavioral question because I thought I didn’t have any other “real” experience to pull from. After all, I was just a lowly graduate assistant with only one assistantship under my belt.

But now I realize this wasn’t true. I could’ve pulled from so many other experiences for more variety of answers:  my part-time jobs from college, my work as an orientation leader at my undergrad, my leadership role in my student organization, my class projects. I could’ve even pulled from my work on my passion projects.

The tried-and-true method vs. modern experience

The formula for how to answer behavioral interview questions hasn’t changed much since my grad school days. But the way people work has, therefore giving job seekers a new way to sell themselves in an interview.

Here’s what I mean. When answering a behavioral interview question, you always want each answer to follow a method similar to the “CAR” method:

  • C:  State the CHALLENGE you faced.
  • A:  Describe the ACTION you took.
  • R:  Indicate the RESULTS of your action.

But unlike what you may have thought in the past, your examples don’t have to all come from traditional job experiences. Today, people have side-hustles, freelance assignments, passion projects, and greater access to creative pursuits. These bodies of work may be very different, but they all demonstrate your creativity, project management skills, and problem-solving skills. All things employers seek in potential employees.

The secret to perfect behavioral interview answers

The secret to answering behavioral interview questions perfectly is to gather relevant examples from ALL your sources of experience (paid, unpaid, volunteer, stuff done for fun, etc.). Then, tell a single interesting story for each question that connects the dots for your listener. Show how your “soft skills” used on your own projects will benefit the company on their projects. Hard data (quantifiable results) and testimonials (qualitative results) will drive home your points, so always include them in each answer.

Also, anticipate further questions. When practicing your examples, listen for holes in your information triggering a need for clarification or more details. A friend or a career coach is more likely to help you recognize those holes, so get assistance. By addressing those areas right away, the interviewer won’t have to keep probing. You’ll be a hero because you made their job easier by providing all the important info without being asked or reminded to.

The best way to prepare

There’s no way to prepare for every commonly asked behavioral interview question. There are just too many. The only way to really predict which ones you’ll get is to look on Glassdoor to see if there are any interview questions listed for your particular job opening. However there’s no guarantee they’ll ask the same questions this time around.

Instead, the best use of your time and energy is to look at the list of required skills in the job ad, and come up with a different story for when you’ve previously performed each skill. This is more manageable since this list is finite. Always choose stories that show your success in performing the skill.

By focusing on the list of skills, you’ll have enough examples to use as answers for the unexpected questions. Most importantly, you’ll be able to connect those dots from your past experience to your future experience. Don’t forget to use the CAR method when drafting your stories. Doing so keeps your stories organized with a beginning, middle, and end.

Pulling from ALL your experience is a great strategy for someone who has a lengthy gap in their employment history. It’s also a good approach for recent grads with little to no professional experience. Click here to see how this has worked successfully for Tanner Christensen who landed a job as a product developer at Facebook with very little experience.

For more job interview tips, sign up for the on-demand program, Steps to Acing the Interview. You’ll learn how to answer other commonly asked interview questions, questions you should be asking, and more, resulting in more job offers!

A Proven Interview Hack

If you’re going through a job search, you know how competitive the interview process can be. And you’d probably like to know some ways to increase your chances of beating out the competition for an offer. Here’s a proven interview hack I recently shared on Quora.

My Favorite Interview Hack

My favorite interview hack is winning the interview with the questions YOU ask! When I landed my first job out of grad school, I asked my interviewers what made them choose me from the other candidates. Their response: “The questions you asked. Your questions showed us not only how knowledgeable you are, but also how much you care about the population you’ll serve in this role.”

The Questions You Should Ask

So, what kind of questions should you ask? There are six categories of questions you should be asking in the interview (because interviewing is a two-way street!):

  1. Questions you need to have answered to determine fit/questions related to the organization’s culture. For example, “How do you foster an employee’s connection to the organization?”, “How do you motivate your employees?”, or even “Do employees typically eat lunch together or at their desks?” (this one will tell you a lot about the company culture!).
  2. Questions that come up in your research you conduct on the company. This will be specific to the company, and will show your genuine interest in the company. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, especially if they exhibit your ethics. For instance, in my interview, I wanted to know how one of the practices I would be required to carry out in the job wasn’t in direct violation of a federal law common to that industry. I think this was also the question that impressed them the most.
  3. Questions to determine future opportunities for advancement. For example, “What opportunities are available for advancement?” This shows you’re interested enough in the company to want to stay long-term.
  4. Questions to determine their hiring timeline. (Okay, these questions are really just for you and your own sanity.) When candidates go on interviews and then don’t hear anything back either way, they freak out. Yes, it’s stressful, and also rude of the company to keep you hanging. So, before you leave the interview, ask when they plan to make a hiring decision. Also, ask if they will be letting each of those being interviewed know the results, or just the one being offered the job. That way you won’t spend your time and energy fretting over what they decided.

Here’s where it gets good!

These last two types of questions you should ask are the real hacks!

  • 5. Questions to show your initiative and to help them visualize you in the job. For instance, “What results would you like to see from me in the first 90 days of the job?”, “What will be the first projects I’ll be working on once hired?”, or “When we sit down to discuss my performance a year from now, what will success look like”? Wording questions this way helps them picture YOU as the person in the job!
  • 6. Questions to get them to verbalize what they like about you. In #5, it was all about helping them visualize, now you need to get them to verbalize! You want them to convince YOU why they should hire you, which will in turn convince them to hire you. (Yeah, that undergraduate degree I got in psychology is really paying off here!) For example, “What part of my resume stands out to you the most?” or “What made you choose to interview me out of all the other applicants?”

You should always have questions of your own prepared for an interview because interviewing is a two-way street. When you’re asked, “What questions do you have for us?” never say, “None.” If so, you’re for sure to lose the job to someone who shows more interest with their questions.

More Interview Hacks

Want more interview hacks? Check out these other blog posts on interviewing. You can also improve your interview skills when you purchase the on-demand course Steps to Acing the Interview and Reducing Your Interview Anxiety.