If you’re always the bridesmaid but never the bride in job opportunities, it can be an equally-frustrating experience as it is in dating.
There’s nothing quite as demoralizing as going through two rounds of interviews, only to be passed over for yet another gig. Though sometimes it’s due to compatibility and competition, there are often small tweaks you can make in your presentation, body language, and preparedness that could help improve your chances.
From how to respond to the inevitable ‘do you have any questions for me?’ to how to give your living room a mini makeover pre-Zoom chat, take this advice from career experts on how not to bomb your next interview:
You were asked to share ‘a little bit about yourself’… and you offered a novel
When recruiters or hiring managers pose this question, they aren’t curious about how you spend your Saturdays, but more so, are trying to get a sense of your personality and history. It also is a clue into your self-confidence and personal speech delivery.
That’s why Amanda Augustine, the career expert for TopInterview, warns against getting off-topic and discussing your love of reality TV or your new fitness regimen. “Use this opportunity to provide an extended version of your elevator pitch: by summarizing parts of your work history, education, and other activities, explain how you’re qualified for and genuinely interested in working for this company in this particular capacity,” she continues. “The more you relate your experiences and interests back to the job requirements and the company mission, the better.”
And remember: take a break! Your response should not linger on, but instead, cover three to five bullet points to illustrate your history.
You have an unprofessional environment
A year ago, you could have left your entire house in complete, chaotic disarray before heading out the door to an interview. Today though, with the vast majority of initial chats held over video conference, your background not only matters—but could make or break the opportunity.
That’s why career coach Cheryl Palmer suggests doing a quick audit of your space before you dial-in. This includes picking up anything messy, as well as securing an area that’s free of noise. “The room that you are in should look neat and attractive and not be visually distracting. You also need to avoid any auditory distractions such as a barking dog or a crying child. It is also best to turn off the ringer for any phones that are in the room,” she suggests as a starting point.
Then, think about your lighting situation: you don’t want any weird shadows cascading over your face or to be backlit, so the person on the other end can’t tell who you are. Palmer recommends putting a light behind your computer or sitting in front of a bright window to illuminate your face.
Lastly, dress the part! This means t-shirts and shorts are a no-go, even if it’s a Zoom interview. How come? It sends the message you aren’t serious about the job and you are unaware of office norms. “For an executive interview, you should still dress in a suit even though only your top will be seen,” she adds.
You were unprepared to tell a story
If you’ve ever wondered the purpose behind questions like ‘Describe a situation when…’ or ‘Provide an example from previous employment when…’, Augustine says it’s a popular technique known as behavioral interviewing. They are designed to help interviewers determine whether a candidate possesses the skills necessary to perform the job well, based on how they’ve performed in previous roles.
“Anyone can state they work well under pressure or are great at handling difficult customers or vendors; however, it’s the candidates who can provide proof of their skills that will impress a recruiter,” “The last thing you want to do is be unprepared to answer such questions and either draw a blank or ramble for ten minutes.”
Augustine suggests using the STAR Method to prepare for this line of questioning to avoid making this critical mistake. Here’s how:
Step 1: Look over the job description before the interview to create a list of qualities the employer is seeking in a candidate.
Step 2: Brainstorm situations that illustrate how you’ve leveraged a particular skill or knowledge set to meet a goal, solve an issue, or create value.
Step 3: Practice describing your experience through the STAR approach: situation, task, action, and results.
Though politics make up the majority of the headlines in the United States these days, a job interview isn’t a place to share personal, political, economic or health opinions. Of course, this is dependent on the type of opportunity you’re applying for, but in most cases, it’s better to steer clear. As coach and advisor Nicole Moore shared as an example, her company recently interviewed a candidate who immediately went into a monologue about her opinions regarding mask-wearing and COVID-19. “She was just trying to make small talk, however, what she communicated was not at all relevant to her position,” she shared.
It can be easy to assume that every person at a company shares your same views, but in reality, you never know what someone believes. And in many cases, it doesn’t quite matter, as long as the job is getting done and everyone is treated and paid fairly.
“The danger in sharing your opinions on politics, the economy or charged matters is that you unintentionally activate the bias in the person doing the interview and they could pass on you not because you’re not a good candidate for the job but just because you said something that was not in line with their opinion,” Moore explains. “Your employer is not your friend or even someone who necessarily wants to chat with you and hear about your views and opinions on non-work-related matters.”
You had no questions to ask your interviewers.
You know you’ll be asked it, but how often do you actually prep for this question? Not enough, according to Augustine. It’s important to take this opportunity to demonstrate how you’ve researched the company and to illustrate your passion for the gig. If you simply answer ‘You’ve pretty much covered everything’, Augustine says you’re signaling to the interviewer that you don’t care enough to learn more. “When multiple candidates are equally qualified for a job, the person who demonstrates a genuine interest and passion for the position is the one who usually lands the job offer,” she shares. “Avoid this common interview faux-pas by preparing a list of questions that could be asked to each person with whom you meet.”
You don’t come across as likable
Not everyone has an outgoing, extroverted demeanor. And that’s more than okay: every organization needs a balance of every personality type to create a thriving culture. However, you do need to leave an interviewer with a positive impression of you, and part of this includes likeability. Even if you’re on a video interview, Palmer says to practice maintaining eye contact, nodding your head or saying ‘Yes’ as they are speaking, all to signal you are paying attention and engaged in the conversation. You should also appear as if you are excited to be there, since hey, hopefully, you are! Appearing bored, disconnected or distracted will not have the recruiter interested in learning more about you.
You rush to talk about compensation too soon—or too late
Salary is always a tricky topic, and it’s one that should be approached delicately. Not only do you want to avoid asking about compensation too soon, but you also don’t want to drop the ball on researching the market rate when it comes time to share your expectations. Moore says when a potential employee starts off the first interview asking about finances, vacation or benefits, it sends a big red flag. “It makes the employer think that perhaps the applicant is only looking for a way to make money, and they’re not truly interested in this specific position for other reasons. Employers want someone committed and who is going to put in more work than required, not someone who is just in it for a paycheck and to punch out as soon as the clock hits 5 p.m.,” she recommends.
A better approach is to wait until you’ve been asked for a second interview to discuss compensation. If it’s a job you are interested in moving forward with, Moore says to first express how excited you are, and then get into numbers. “The added advantage of this is you have more leverage to negotiate salary once an employer has expressed, they’d really like to hire you than before they’ve emotionally reached a place of ‘yes’ with you,” she adds.
You have pre-scripted answers
If you’re someone who runs anxious or becomes easily nervous, you probably practice before going into an interview. Though this is a positive practice to help you feel ready and confident, you want to make sure not to memorize questions. How come? Career expert and co-founder of Going Places, Melanie Feldman says it sets you up for failure since you’ll sound rehearsed, and any unexpected curveball will through you off your game. Even a simple shift could cause you to freeze, like when Feldman was early in her career and was asked ‘What would your co-worker say is your biggest weakness?’ She had prepared an answer to ‘What would you say is your greatest strength and weakness’—but not from someone else’s perspective. She didn’t have anything to say and didn’t end up with the offer.
To avoid this mishap, focus on having a conversation—rather than seeing the interview as an interrogation or a quiz. “Understand what the company cares about, and how your experiences relate. This is what makes you valuable to them. Understand the job description and the elements they want in the person they need to hire,” she continues. “Every story you tell—every question you answer—should always relate back to what they care about.”