A recent study by Harris Interactive and Everest College found that 92 percent of U.S. adults find themselves anxious over job interviews. General anxiety consumes 17 percent of the 1,002 polled employees between the ages of 18 and 54. Another 15 percent fear being overqualified, another 15 percent fear not knowing the answer to the interviewer’s question and 14 percent fear being late.
These are all valid concerns, especially because people are often overqualified (and underqualified), unprepared, ill-informed late or worse. As such, CEOs have seen their fair share of interview fails.
We spoke with 12 CEOs who’ve shared the worst interview mistakes that they’ve witnessed candidates make, so you don’t repeat history.
1. Calling the Interviewer by the Wrong Name.
“One young woman came in for a stylist position in one of our NY locations,” says Erika Wasser, founder and CEO of Glam+G. “She called me ‘Tiffany’ three times. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I asked if she had any questions, she asked what the company does.”
2. Not Asking for the Position.
“The biggest mistake interviewers can make is not asking for the position,” says Gene Caballero, CEO and co-founder of GreenPal. “Especially in a sales environment, we want the interviewer to close the ‘proverbial sale’ and ask for the job at the end of the interview. This is a mistake that many make when it comes to solidifying themselves as a front-runner for a position.”
3. Admitting to Unprofessional Behaviors.
“I’ve actually had a potential candidate volunteer that they lied to their former boss; to be specific, the candidate literally said that she lied to her previous manager about suffering from fibromyalgia in order to get more time off,” says Matthew Ross, the co-owner of RIZKNOWS and The Slumber Yard.
This happened during a break in the interview process, so Ross assumes that maybe the interviewee thought it was a more informal environment. Still, he was taken aback.
“I couldn’t believe that someone would admit to lying to their former boss to what could have been their new boss. Needless to say, we did not end up hiring the candidate for character concerns.”
4. Demonstrating a Gender Bias.
“Occasionally, I will interview men who will not talk to me — even though I’m the person making the hiring decision,” says Jennifer Hancock of Humanist Learning Systems. “They talk to and look at my male colleague. Exclusively. Like I don’t exist. When I interview people alone, they talk to me and everything seems fine. But if I am present with a male, they ignore me.”
As a result, Hancock never interviews on her own.
“I always do a co-interview, as I want to see how the candidate handles the dynamic and uncertainty of the situation. If they pay attention to each of us equally, all is well. If they ignore one or the other of us, it’s not okay.”
5. Not Making Eye Contact.
“We were hiring for a field IT technician, and that type of job requires people skills, as they will need to converse with clients,” says Marc Enzor, president of Geeks 2 You. “The candidate came in and refused to make eye contact during the entire interview. He would just stare at his hands for most of the interview. Every few minutes, he would look up, see us staring at him, then duck his eyes back onto his hands. It was incredibly awkward.”
If you want to nail an interview, Enzor says to be sure to make a comfortable amount of eye contact and talk with confidence.
“Assure the hiring manager that you will be a great candidate, and that will go a long way.”
6. Spreading Negativity.
“While engaging in amiable small talk about the media industry, the candidate went off on a tirade about their views of a media organization they had clearly disliked; the candidate went into great length and negativity on the subject, even as I had tried to change the trajectory of the conversation, especially because that media organization was one of our closest partners over the years,” says Zachary Weiner, CEO of Emerging Insider Communications.
The lesson here is two-fold, Weiner says. Do your research to have an idea of a company’s clients, partners and business objectives before the interview. And also, lean towards the positive when it comes to discussions on any topic, as you never know who has friends, colleagues, coworkers or even significant others at wherever you’re discussing.
7. Not Taking the Interview Seriously.
“Many interviewees I have seen in my career are guilty of mistaking an interview for some jolly prom — they are guilty of the professional abomination of coming to an interview rusty and unprepared, and it’s as criminal as puffing a cigarette in the Vatican,” says Michael D. Brown, director at Fresh Passion Institute.
8. Not Doing Their Research.
“In an interview for a marketing position, I asked a candidate for one suggestion about how they might change or improve how our organization was represented online, and the candidate began their response with saying they had not yet looked at our website or social media, and then continued by telling me they weren’t even sure what a Chamber of Commerce was,” says Kari Whaley, president and CEO of the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce. “Their answer came across as unprepared and unprofessional, especially for someone in marketing.”
Whaleys says that it was clear that they didn’t take any time to research the organization and the nature of its work, or generate any ideas about how they could make a unique contribution to the team.
“It could have been avoided if the candidate had taken some time before the interview to at least briefly familiar themselves with the scope of the organization — or if they had researched, but didn’t understand fully what the organization did, it would have been great if they had come with some clarifying questions to ask.”
9. Showing Poor Judgment.
“I had a candidate tell me that he was very good at quickly reading people, so I then asked him what he thought of the senior executive he interviewed with just prior to my interview, and he characterized the executive as a disingenuous egomaniac, which was far from the truth,” says Rod Brace, a CLO and executive coach who has taught C-level executives what to look for in their employees. “His mistake demonstrated his lack of maturity and poor judgment. He would have been better off to not make such a claim and to stay professional in his remarks. He, of course, didn’t get the position.”
10. Getting Stuck in Their Phone.
“I personally interviewed a person for a sales support team that did not take his smartphone earphones off for the whole interview duration,” says Ola Wlodarczyk, HR Specialist at Zety. “I could swear he was checking his social media profiles, too. The best that came to my mind was that he was looking for smart answers to our questions online.”
11. Saying They Just Wanted the Money.
“When we were interviewing prospective college mentors to join our team, we asked one candidate why she wanted to work here,” says Jason Patel, former career ambassador at George Washington University and the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company that is focused on closing the opportunity divide in America. “It’s a tough, open-ended question designed to give the candidate the floor. We wanted to hear her perspective. She instead answered with ‘I just want to get paid, man! Seriously!’ and then didn’t follow up with anything else. I think her goal was to shock and impress us with her honesty, but that didn’t work. Everyone who works for a check is motivated by money; it’s only natural. We want to hear something more significant.”
12. Making Sexist Comments.
“I have been an active part of multiple interview panels, and I noticed one classical mistake that is, unfortunately, going to stay in my mind forever,” says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettl, an HR technology company. “I was interviewing a candidate for Mettl, and the guy looked promising as far as skills and competencies are concerned. After I was done assessing, we were having a hearty laugh talking about characters from a recent flick. Everything looked right, but then suddenly, the guy came up with a few strong, highly opinionated and stereotypical statements about women that clearly showed his sense of gender bias.”
Although Kapoor spent a considerable amount of time assessing the candidate and had almost made the decision to hire him, he says he quickly changed his mind that moment.
“I feared that the person might not fit the company culture.”
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.