Job interviews are an intimidating but necessary part of the job search process, as they allow potential employers to get a sense of how you’ll fit at their company and give you the opportunity to see how you really feel about a company in real life and not just from its website.
But what if your job interview doesn’t go exactly as planned? Luckily, plenty of other people have been there.
Five professionals are breaking down their most avoidable job interview mistakes and what they learned from them. And once you’re done, you’ll be able to put your best foot forward every time.
1. Bashing a Previous Employer
My biggest job interview mistake was when I was trying to move on from my first job out of college. Like many new grads, I had taken the first position that paid a salary and was remotely connected to my degree, and after six months, I was more than ready to move on.
I somehow landed an interview at a well-known media website, and when the hiring manager asked me why I wanted to leave my current job, I unloaded everything I hated about the [previous] company and its management. I knew it was wrong (you never bash an employer during an interview!), but I was so fed up with the place that I couldn’t seem to stop myself from ranting.
The interviewer could tell I was pretty young and was kind about the situation, and even sympathized with my plight. But she ended the interview noting that I “might not be ready” for this job; she said I should take some time to think about what I really wanted in my career, rather than trying to take any job as an escape route. That advice always stuck with me, and now I’m in a job I love because of it! – Nicole
File this under huge career no-no’s: Never bad-mouth previous or present employers. It never turns out well for the person talking trash, and it says way more about you than it does about the company you’re ranting about.
2. Not Researching Direct Supervisors Beforehand
When I was just out of college and looking for my first job in New York while still living in Georgia, I had a phone interview for an Executive Assistant position at Forbes, where I would have been directly reporting to two editors in particular. When my interviewer, a person in HR, asked me what I knew about the editors I’d be working under, I didn’t have anything to say because I hadn’t researched them AT ALL. I spent more time reading about the history of Forbes and its modern editorial content, which was fine but really not that related to the position I was interviewing for. I stumbled through some kind of answer, but it was really embarrassing, and I didn’t have a second interview.
Basically, I learned that I need to pay more attention to the job description/specifics, not the company in general (although that’s definitely ALWAYS a plus). Also, to plan for the job I’m actually interviewing for, not the job that I maybe wish I was interviewing for).
And always research the person you’re interviewing with and the person who will be your direct supervisor if you can. – Stephanie
Make sure you don’t just research the company as a whole; think about what you’ll need to know about your potential supervisor(s) and the role itself. Then ask yourself: How can I eloquently show that I know these details in my interview?
What are some things to look up in advance? We’ve outlined this in point #2 of this article on putting your best foot forward when initially applying to jobs.
3. Not Handling Difficult Questions About Previous Job History Well
I had a job interview once in which my interviewer was not convinced I was interested in his company’s work. Because my resume had a lot to do with sexuality activism and writing, he was convinced I would be bored with no clients related to that field. I tried countless ways to show him that I was interested in expanding my horizons as a young professional, but to no avail.
I wish I had said more clearly in the interview why my past experiences had given me skills that spanned into multiple career paths. Even though I didn’t perform perfectly in the interview, I knew I was being judged for my slightly scandalous resume that said “SEX” all over it. I knew that someone who didn’t trust my word and was hung up about my interest in sexuality was not the right boss for me. – Gwen
As Gwen learned, trying to show hiring managers and potential employers that your skills from one job or industry are transferable in another can be tricky.
How can you go about showing that these skills can apply even though they may seem unrelated on the surface? First, be honest in acknowledging that your previous jobs aren’t necessarily the same thing as the role you’re applying for. Then, be clear about the skills you bring to the table (make sure they relate back to the job listing) and provide at least one or two concrete examples that prove your point.
Here’s what this answer looks like in practice: “On the surface, it may look like being a receptionist is different than being an account relationship manager. However, both roles call for someone who is effectively forms bonds, manages expectations and requests from others, and is extremely organized at all times. During my time as a receptionist, I had to keep track of our office logistics, interact with clients over the phone and in-person and make sure the office as a whole ran smoothly.”
4. Getting Psyched Out Before the Interview Even Begins
My biggest job interview regret would have to be getting overly anxious. When I [got] anxious I would up talking in circles and sounding far less articulate. It’s something I’ve always struggled with while being interviewed for jobs and has definitely cost me a job opportunity or two that would have been great experience to have under my belt.
The instance that stands out in my mind would have to be the day I interviewed at a well known magazine company for an internship after finishing my freshman year of college. Of course I knew it would be a long shot due to my age and inexperience in the field, but I went for it anyway and was called for an interview. I felt confident before walking into the room, but ultimately I let my anxiety take control and I wound up stumbling over my words and searching for answers to questions regarding something as simple as my work history. I looked unraveled and unprofessional in that moment.
The best way that I’ve learned to deal with my anxiety in regard to interviews would have to be when I take a moment to be real with myself. I will take a deep breath and tell myself that if this interview doesn’t work out, it will not be the end of the world and I will survive, and move on to the next. I’ve also realized that the more interviews I have gone though, the more confident I’ve become with my answers, my presentation and my overall poise. The most important thing for me in regards to squashing my anxiety is recognizing my anxiety when it comes on, but knowing that I’m confident enough in myself and my skills to push it aside and stay calm, cool and collected for my interview. – Hope
Regardless of why you’re psyching yourself out, feeling intimidated or defeated before walking into an interview is more common than you think. But the more prepared you feel to answer questions and confident in your abilities to do the job, the better you’ll be.
5. Addressing the Person Incorrectly
While applying for internships, I accidentally sent a cover letter addressed to a “Mr.” when it should have been a “Ms.” It was an androgynous name, and I almost considered double checking the gender of the recipient before I sent it but I was thought, “nah, what are the odds of me being incorrect?” BIG MISTAKE.
Somehow, I still secured a phone interview. Right before the interview, I googled the person I was interviewing with–starting with her Twitter account. Not only did I realize my mistake, but I saw that on the day I sent in my cover letter, she tweeted that she had “received yet ANOTHER email addressed to Mr. [name redacted].” I started panicking and figured that she had just set up a phone interview with me to call me out.
So as soon as I got on the phone, before we started the interview, I told her that there was one thing I had to tell her before we got started–that I was mortified that I addressed her by the wrong title, but that I had learned my lesson and would not do it again if I got the internship. It worked and now I ALWAYS Google a person before emailing them. And, I learned that the best way to fix a mistake is to address it immediately. – Anna
While this last story isn’t one of an in-interview blip, there are 3 great takeaways here:
- Research, research, research before heading into a job interview.
- Never make assumptions about anyone’s identity (gender, sexual orientation, race, the works).
- Admitting to a sizable mistake is often a lot better than pretending it didn’t happen or trying to overcompensate.
Job interviews are daunting for everyone, and sometimes they don’t go your way. Learn from your mistakes, and know that the more interviews you do, the better you’ll get.