1. Freeze up
If you can’t make it through an interview without crumbling, people are unlikely to believe you’ll be able to withstand the rigors of a normal job. So if you find interviews particularly daunting, work on your pep-talk beforehand. For example, if you find you’re saying things to yourself like, “I’m terrible in interviews, I know I’ll look like an idiot” – that can’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, change your mental monologue to something more hopeful, yet still realistic, like “I get nervous during interviews, so I need to practice beforehand, and remember to look at the interviewer and keep breathing.” And do practice, too – that can really reduce your fear.
If you know you have a strong personality and tend to talk a lot, coach yourself before you go into an interview to get curious about the interviewer: what he or she might be interested in hearing from you, his or her view of the job and of the company. If you’re in a curious mindset, you’ll be much more likely to listen, and the interview will be a dialogue, vs. a monologue.
3. Be sloppy
Try to find out, before your interview, what’s standard dress at that particular company. But no matter how casual the dress code – don’t be a slob. Having good personal hygiene – clean hair, showered, nails trimmed – and clean, unwrinkled clothing is much more important than whether you’re a little over-dressed or under-dressed. When someone comes to an interview looking like he or she has just rolled out of bed, it communicates lack of respect for the interviewer, the job and the company.
4. Throw anybody under any bus
Even if your former employer was terrible, resist the temptation to share any of that with your interviewer. I think sometimes people say dreadful things about their previous job because they don’t think about how it will be perceived, and sometimes because they actually think the interviewer will take it as a kind of compliment (e.g., my last job was horrific, unlike this job…). Trust me, saying negative things about your past work life in an interview will only give the impression that you’re both a complainer and indiscreet. Neither quality will put you on the ‘let’s hire’ list.
5. Focus more on perks than on the job
Job seekers are often counseled to be clear about what they need and expect from a job, rather than just taking whatever’s offered. While I agree with that in principle, timing is critical. Many years ago, I conducted a first interview with someone whose only questions, when I asked her what else she wanted to know about the company, were 1) how much vacation will I get, 2) how many sick days can I take, and 3) will I get paid for the time I take off for family emergencies. These are all important things to know, and if I had offered her the job, would certainly be things she should find out before taking it. But to focus on them (exclusive of anything else) in a first interview left me with the sense that she was assessing the job purely as a vehicle for her to get paid time off. I was not inspired to hire her.
6. Be opinion-free
One manager told me about an interview he conducted where the interviewee was trying so hard to come across as flexible and accommodating, it felt as though he would have agreed with anything the manager said. Of course, most people don’t want to hire folks who are combative or rigid – but they do want people who have a sense of who they are, what they think, and what’s important to them.
7. Stretch the truth
This is critical. In this era of massive information availability, anything you say about your experience, your past performance, or your education that isn’t accurate can most likely be checked. It’s much better to be upfront about anything that’s less than stellar, and offer a simple (non-defensive) explanation. Unless you’re applying for a job as a con artist, your trustworthiness is an essential quality – and one that every interviewer will want to see and hear.
8. Be clueless about the hiring company
In the age of the internet, there is no excuse for going into an interview not having a solid foundation of knowledge about the company. Knowing nothing about the company you want to work for comes across as insulting and incurious. If you don’t care enough to find out about the company, it’s natural for the interviewer to assume you won’t be that interested in finding out how to do the job well, either.