5 Common Interview Mistakes

Your handshake is firm, your eye contact is exceptional, and your thank-you notes are the perfect mix of professionalism and personality. But hold on: Are you bringing in a Big Gulp?! Experts share the less obvious uh-ohs that could derail your chances.

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Leave the Stilettos at Home

The people I don’t hire are often wrongly dressed for the interview. Usually they’re overdressed: too much makeup and jewelry or impractical shoes. It drives me crazy when a woman walks in with peekaboo toes and super-high heels. I know they’re very fashionable, but you should look like you can work a long day and you’ll be OK. You can also dress down too much. Recently I looked for a babysitter for my daughter and was surprised by how many women came for an interview in stretchy pants, oversize tops, and sneakers. Not that they should have worn a business suit, either. You should look one step above what is expected to be worn on the job, not a whole ladder.

Barbara Corcoran is the founder of the Corcoran Group, a real estate firm based in New York City, and an investor on ABC’s Shark Tank.

Don’t Air Your Grievances

For me, the most critical part of the interview is when you explain the decisions you’ve made— especially why you went from one job to the next. The explanation tells me about your motivations and attitude. One golden rule: Do not complain about a former job. Find a positive way to frame it. You don’t have to say that everything was perfect. But if you can’t find a way to explain how you handled a difficult situation or describe what you learned on the job, it can seem as if you’ll be disappointed by the ordinary ups and downs of a business. To me, then, it feels like a risk to hire you.

Jules Pieri is the CEO and cofounder of TheGrommet.com, an online marketplace. She was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of 2013. (Fortune, like Real Simple, is a Time Inc. publication.) She lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Qualify Nothing

A lot of people have negative speech habits, such as using hedges like just, actually, kinda, and almost. For example: “I’m just really grateful to be talking to you today” or “I’m kinda thinking I want to transition into this job.” These hedges make you come across as less confident, less authoritative—and less employable. Same for using disclaimers like “Well, I’m really not an expert on this.” People think these types of statements make them seem more likable or down-to-earth, but they undermine credibility. Before an interview, ask a friend to listen to your speech for any bad habits, since they are often unconscious. Then give yourself a few days to focus on each one, and excise all of them.

Tara Sophia Mohr is the founder of Playing Big, a women’s leadership program, and the author of the forthcoming book Playing Big. She lives in San Francisco.

Stay on Topic

At the interview, talk only about the things that directly correlate with your ability to do the job: your knowledge, skills, and abilities. For legal reasons, interviewers are trained to stay away from trouble spots. But interviewees often open the can of worms themselves—for example, by mentioning problematic family situations. Most people know not to talk about religion or politics, but even sports can be dangerous. If you’re a diehard Yankees fan and your interviewer likes the Red Sox, you could be in trouble. It’s best to stay focused on what you came there to talk about: the job.

Peter Polachi is a partner at Polachi, a Boston-based firm that helps companies find CEOs and fill other executive positions.

Pare Down

Too many people walk into an interview with tons of extraneous items. Do not bring in your cell phone. Or if you do, make sure it’s turned off, not just on vibrate. Interviewers will not excuse phones going off or, worse, people looking at their phones. Don’t bring reading material, either. It gives the interviewer an impression that may be good or bad, when what you want is to stay neutral. A water bottle might be acceptable, but I’ve heard about folks bringing in a Big Gulp. Not a good idea. Companies hire people, not just a set of skills. They take everything you do into account to gauge your fit for their business.

Michael Steinerd is the director of recruiting at Indeed.com, a job search engine. He lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

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