Going on a Job Interview? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Learn how to interview and get the job.

Posted Jan 04, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote about the reasons that hiring interviews are costly to employers, because they are often inefficient (when not conducted properly) and are prone to systematic errors and biases. Let's look at the other side. What are the common mistakes that interviewees make in job interviews?

Years ago, we conducted a study with college seniors who were out on the job hunt. We offered them interview training in exchange for their participation, but first they had to go through a mock hiring interview that we videotaped. We showed those videos to judges with HR experience who rated the interviewees' performance. We then systematically coded each of the responses, and looked at how what was said in the interviews related to the judges' ratings of applicants' interview performance.

Here were the most common errors as determined by our HR judges:

By far the most common mistake was providing answers to questions that were too brief and didn't provide enough relevant information. Poor interviewees also took a long time to respond to questions and sometimes didn't understand the questions asked.

A second type of error involved interviewees not knowing about the position or company (in our student interviews, we asked questions related to what they knew about their chosen career path).

A less frequent error, but still significant, was giving long-winded and rambling answers.


* Prepare beforehand. Be ready to tell the interviewer how your skills and past job performance will produce positive results in the new position. Practice possible responses so that you will be brief, to the point, and on-target. Learn as much as you can about the job and the company. Be ready to respond to questions about your future career (a common question is "Where do you see yourself in 3 years?").

* Restate the question to make sure that you understand it.

* Avoid the negatives. The most serious errors focused on the negatives. It was surprising how many times interviewees mentioned negative personal information ("I often get bored on the job." "I'm not much of a team player.").

The most serious of these, our HR professionals categorized as "bizarre responses." These were fatal errors that usually meant that the applicant had lost the job. These included the use of profanity, reference to inappropriate behavior "My last boss said I was a handful; I'm rebellious!" When asked why he left his previous position, one interviewee's response was, "I could have made more money selling drugs." End of interview.

* Remember: An interview is a test. It's not a conversation (or a confessional). It is an opportunity to show your qualifications for a particular position in a particular organization. Focus on that goal. Be positive and get the job.

Tomorrow we will focus on nonverbal communication in the successful job interview.