The Biggest Interview Mistakes HR Experts See (and How to Avoid Them)
So, you’ve landed an interview. The last thing you want to do is self sabotage and leave a bad impression. Of course interviews can be nerve wracking which can cause us to overthink and end up putting our foot in our mouth. So here are some tips from HR experts to guide you through your next interview.
They meet more people in an afternoon than most of us do in a year. But what faux pas do human resources pros see again and again during the interview process? We picked the brains of two high-profile executives to find out what you definitely should and shouldn’t say, as well as what they secretly think of your résumé.
(One was so brutally honest about her just-don’t-do-this advice that she preferred to remain anonymous.)
You Don’t Know When to Stop Talking
“Talking over your interviewer is the biggest mistake that interview candidates don’t realize they’re making,” says Stacey Hawley, a career and leadership development coach and compensation specialist. “This is usually from nervousness, but as a result, the candidates outtalk the interviewer and don’t engage in active listening.”
Amy Michaels,* a human resources director at a high-tech firm in New York City, agrees: “The inability to listen is huge. That person who’s always trying to have the exact right answer, but can’t stop talking? They ultimately won’t be a success.” Instead, listen up and watch more subtle clues—like your interviewer’s body language. If she’s shifting back and forth or clearing her throat, it’s time to let her get to the next question.
You Bad-Mouth Your Ex-Job
While it may seem like a no-brainer, putting down your current employer happens all too often, says Michaels, perhaps because the bad feelings are still fresh. If you’re tempted to trash your present company, stop right there.
“When I ask why you’re leaving a place, I don’t want to hear you gripe about your current manager or badmouth your situation,” she says. “Be creative enough to come up with a tactful reason as to why you’re leaving. Otherwise, to me, that’s a huge red flag that you’re not mature enough to know not to do it. Not to mention that it makes me nervous about how tactful you’re going to be externally if I hire you.”
You Don’t Acknowledge Your Mistakes
A couple of interview rules of thumb: “Be well-groomed, and be on time,” says Michaels. “Or email if your train is running late. That happens in New York.”
While one minor transgression may not deep-six your prospects of landing the job, you should still acknowledge it and move on, says Michaels. Hawley will also pardon small errors: “Mistakes are OK and acceptable. No one is perfect—or needs to be.” The bigger red flag, both say, is someone who can’t admit their missteps. “The people who make me nuts just act like being late never happened,” says Michaels. “If you make a mistake, own up to it.”
You Neglect Your Cover Letter
Our experts were adamant about this. “To be honest, I don’t read objectives, and I don’t care if you fence,” says Michaels. “But I do read cover letters.” Hawley agrees: “Absolutely write a cover letter. It’s an opportunity to highlight your understanding of the business, and what you can do for the bottom line.”
And, even in the digital age, there’s no excuse for a quickly dashed-off email—take the time to compose it with care. “Demonstrate your knowledge of the company,” says Hawley. “And link your past achievements to the position, showing how you can contribute to their future success.” That, she says, will always make a candidate stand out.
You Try Too Hard
While confidence is a must, check your supersize ego at the door. “I have a good radar,” says Michaels, “and I have a policy where I will not bring in ego. I’ve made that mistake, and it really affects the culture of an organization.”
What good HR professionals have that most humans don’t, notes Michaels, is a high EQ. “You notice body language,” she says. “You can sense whether someone has empathy or is overly self-involved.”