Could you be sabotaging your job interviews without even knowing it?
With one stupid statement, you can take yourself out of the running for your dream job. Unfortunately, many candidates are following bad advice and need a refresher course in what not to say on a job interview.
1. Sorry I'm late.
Let's start with the basics. Never, ever be late for a job interview. It's almost impossible to recover from tardiness, even if you're a perfect match for the job.
The usual excuses (traffic, subway delays, dog ate your resume, alien abduction) aren't good enough. The interviewer is thinking: “If he can't make it on time for the interview, what can we expect if we hire him?”
2. I’m a people person and a team player!
Skip the cliches and generalities. You’ll come across as bland, boring, and forgettable.
Do you have any idea how many times your interviewer has heard the phrases “people person” and “team player?” These “strengths” are overused and, frankly, unimpressive. After all, being able to interact with people and work on a team are minimum qualifications for just about any job.
To make a strong impression, lead with strengths that are specific, compelling and relevant to the job at hand. So you’re not just a “team player.” Instead, you are someone who has a knack for motivating and leading cross-functional teams (followed by an example of how you did that recently and got great results).
3. I have an MBA, a PhD, and 3 Tony Awards. (or any other blatant untruths)
Repeat after me: I will not lie in job interviews — especially if there’s a good chance I could get caught.
As you know, lying is wrong. More importantly, I have heard many stories from HR directors about job offers rescinded after references and background checks uncovered candidate dishonesty.
Even a tiny white lie (rounding up your current salary significantly, changing the dates for a past position) can come back to haunt you. Also, interviews are stressful enough without having to worry about keeping your embellishments straight.
Of course, you don’t always have to tell the whole truth. Highlight your most positive and relevant qualities and accomplishments and downplay your weaknesses. That’s just good marketing. However, be careful not to cross the line into false advertising.
4. I’m leaving my old job because of my manager.
Your interviewer will want to know why you’re leaving your current position (or why you left your most recent role). With the overabundance of horrible managers in the world, it may be tempting to blame it all on the boss. Don’t do it.
Avoid making negative statements about any past jobs or supervisors. Nobody wants to hire a complainer, an excuse maker, or a perennial victim.
But what if you have legitimate complaints about your previous manager or company? If it’s an essential part of your story (for example, you were let go unfairly), find a neutral, diplomatic way to talk about it.
Problematic: “I’m leaving because my new manager has something against me. He’s bringing in all of his buddies from his old company and giving them the best clients even though most of them have no idea what they’re doing.”
Much Better: “The company brought in a new manager for the department and he has naturally made some changes. Given the new structure of the team, I don’t really see opportunities for me to continue to grow and take on new challenges in this role.”
Put the focus on seeking bigger challenges, not on running away from a bad situation.
5. My only weakness is that I just work too hard.
Really? That’s your only weakness? And what a tragic weakness it is! How do you sleep at night?
Unfortunately for you, many interviewers still love to ask, “What is your greatest weakness?” Be prepared to answer this always awkward question.
I know that many how-to-interview books tell you to “turn a strength into a weakness.” This is bad advice. Maybe it worked for the first person to try it, but it definitely doesn’t work now.
Hiring managers are not stupid. They will see through this non-answer and either press you for a real weakness or write you off as not worth the time.
The smarter approach is to identify a real weakness, but one that is not a deal-breaker for the job at hand. Describe this weakness in a way that doesn’t scare your interviewer and discuss how you are already working to improve.
6. Based on our discussion, is there any reason that you wouldn’t hire me?
Here’s yet another example of bad interview advice. The misguided logic here is that you should ask your interviewer what she doesn’t like about you so that you’ll have the opportunity to address any misperceptions.
I have never seen this approach work in a candidate’s favor. First of all, you are putting your interviewer on the spot and creating an uncomfortable moment. You risk coming across as needy or aggressive (depending on how you ask).
Even more importantly, you are unlikely to get any valuable insights this way. Many companies train their interviewers to avoid providing specific feedback. Also, most thoughtful interviewers need time to review their notes and process their thoughts before making a final decision on a candidate.
Finally, the worst thing you can do is end the interview on a negative note. The most memorable moments in your interview are your first impression and your last impression. Do you really want your last interaction to be focused on your weaknesses?
7. I don’t have any questions.
You know it’s coming — the moment when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?”
The answer is always yes. Prepare at least three questions in advance. Select questions that demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the job/company and that you are excited about the opportunity.
Even if you’ve asked questions throughout the interview, you should still have at least one at the end. Smart questions will help show them how you think and where your interests lie, so focus on asking for information that would help you excel in the job.
Pamela Skillings is one of the nation’s top job interview coaches and the founder of Big Interview, an online job interview training system that helps people land better jobs faster. She is also the author of the popular career guide Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams and has been featured as a career expert by The New York Times, Forbes, ABC News, and others. Read Pam’s Big Interview blog for more interview advice.