Despite all the interviewing advice that’s out there, candidates still manage to get tripped up by common interview downfalls. Don’t let yourself be one of them. With a bit of preparation, you can anticipate tricky job interview moments and avoid mistakes.
That being said, nothing outweighs basic prep. “In most interview scenarios, there is a baseline expectation of what hiring managers and hiring committees will expect you to know,” says Jennifer Henry, Senior Vice President of Career Services at 2U, an ed-tech platform that helps prepare students for today’s job market.
Henry says you should brush up on your knowledge of the company’s mission, who the most important stakeholders are, and a few of the company’s recent product launches or news items.
“This basic level of research will give you great conversation fodder to interject into your interview responses, and will show the hiring team that you’ve been following their journey and are up to speed on what they do.”
But you don’t want to over-prepare to the point of sounding rehearsed and being unable to show your true self.
“After all, the interview process is just as much about you interviewing the employer as it is about them interviewing you. You want to find a good fit for your skills and your work style, so do your material research but don’t be afraid to be yourself,” says Henry.
If it feels like the basics alone are a lot to navigate, don’t panic. We’ve asked Henry for her insights on turning around four of the most common interview downfalls. If you can see them coming and know what to do, it’ll be one less thing to worry about on interview day.
Asking the wrong follow-up questions
Perhaps you already know that having no questions at the interview is a big no-no. “Having no questions at the end of an interview signals a general lack of interest or healthy curiosity about the role,” says Henry.
But asking the wrong follow-up questions can also backfire. Save topics like salary and benefits for conversations with HR and use your time with hiring managers wisely to make a good impression and avoid putting your foot in your mouth.
“Hiring managers expect you’ll want to know a little bit about day-to-day tasks, big picture priorities, what’s been working well and not well on the team, and other brass tacks questions that you can potentially help solve. Questions about salary and benefits can and should be discussed separately with the HR lead supporting you in the interview process.”
Weak personal narrative
According to Henry, the most common interview question is “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”
And even though it’s such a popular conversation opener in a job interview context, it’s also the question that sends plenty of promising candidates off track from the very beginning of the interaction. A lot of people make the mistake of repeating the information on their resume to answer it.
“Remember: They have likely already skimmed your resume, so there is no need to go line-by-line repeating your past job experience. Practice a 30-60 second verbal ‘highlight reel’ that succinctly tells the story of who you are, marrying your past accomplishments to your current skills and to the future experience you’re seeking,” says Henry.
She calls this your “personalized brand statement” — it’s about showing that you truly understand the value you bring to the table and can specifically and authentically communicate it.
“Don’t focus too much on presenting yourself as a jack of all trades regarding the hard skills that are required for the role—social and emotional intelligence, as well as a growth mindset and aptitude to learn, are equally important credentials.”
Not conveying enough interest
You could appear perfectly professional, qualified and friendly and still fall into the trap of not conveying enough interest. How? By looking like you just want a job — any job — and showing a lack of enthusiasm for the particular role and organization you’re applying to.
A bit of extra research and small touches can go a long way in terms of demonstrating interest and building rapport.
“It’s important that you understand how to pronounce people’s names and what their positions are: It shows the hiring team that you’ve put the time and effort into understanding them on a personal level and forges a more professional connection,” says Henry.
Generic thank-you note
Yes, sending a thank-you note on the day of your interview is a best practice. But if you knew how many copy-pasted thank-you notes hiring managers receive after interviews, you’d think twice about sending a generic follow-up email.
First, don’t forget to ask the HR manager for the hiring manager/team’s emails in advance or directly after the interview so you can promptly follow up, says Henry. Then, go the extra mile and tie your thank-you note to conversation specifics.
“Be sure to customize the content of the note to your interview discussion. Hiring teams know when they’re reading a recycled email, so the more insights and references from the interview you can include in your note, the more thoughtful you’ll come across.”