The interview process is one of the most stressful parts of the job search. First, just getting an interview often means you’ve sent countless resumés deep into the portal abyss, and are likely stressed about employment. So it’s understandable that you want to put your best foot forward. I am of the opinion that taking the interview, whether or not it’s your dream job, is the right move. Every interview experience is helping you, whether it’s landing you that job, or giving you valuable knowledge that you’ll carry into the next interview. However, being face-to-face with a potential employer is also a challenge, and you need to be wary of what you say. You don’t want to come off seeming like you have less experience than you do, even though we’re all apt to occasionally falter in a high-pressure interview setting. By keeping calm, and having a general sense beforehand of how you want to present yourself, you can go into your interview feeling confident about what you bring to the table.
To help you navigate the process a little more smoothly, here are six pitfalls to avoid in an interview scenario:
1. Not listening to yourself. Perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls in an interview is when you’re not paying attention to what you’re saying. If you’re speaking fast, or putting a lot of pressure on yourself to answer a question, you might not be synthesizing what you’re saying, and you don’t want to contradict yourself later on. Also, if you’re saying “um” or “like” way too much, that’s something you need to be aware of, which is why it’s crucial to pay attention to what’s coming out of your mouth. Being well-spoken is always important, especially if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role.
2. Arriving late, or even “on time.” One of the greatest pieces of advice my father gave me was “early is on time, on time is late.” This can definitely be a reminder as you’re prepping for an interview. Being at least 10 minutes early shows that you value their time, you take initiative, and that you aren’t the type of employee that’s going to show up to work late. (I wouldn’t show up more than 15 minutes early, personally, because you don’t want to put too much pressure on them.) If you arrive late (especially without calling), you may miss filling out paperwork, or an application. Keep in mind that when you’re interviewing, you’re on HRs’ time. On the day of your interview, be sure to know your route well, and check the traffic/subway delays, if possible.
3. Not taking ownership of your experience. It’s too easy to sell yourself short — sometimes you don’t even realize it. Some people decide not to mention restaurant work, for example, when interviewing for a desk job, but you should own the experience you have because it is going to make you a better employee, and you deserve to say so. If you are ever asked if you’ve mentored a coworker or a subordinate, really think about it. Many would say “not really” or “maybe one time,” instead of stepping up and being proud of what they’ve done for someone else. Teaching someone else a task you do everyday, even if it’s minor, still shows your strengths.
4. Admitting that you’re nervous. For whatever the reason, whether it’s your first interview in awhile, or because you’re interviewing for your dream job, don’t confess that your nerves are getting the better of you. Show HR, and your potential boss, that you can handle pressure. You’ve gotten an in-person meeting, which means you’ve already piqued their interest with your resumé, and they want to see more — use that to reassure yourself. Admitting you’re stressed may lead HR or a manager to believe that you can’t work under pressure, and handle stressful situations at their company. The best way to overcome the butterflies is to practice a few times in the days leading up to it. Run through some typical questions with friends, and build up your confidence.
5. Not knowing the company. A crucial part of any interview is knowing the company you want to work for. When you don’t know when they were founded, where the headquarters is located, or what other companies are affiliated with them, you look like you haven’t done your homework. For example, if it’s a company that does yearly charity work, you should know which organization they work with, and you should know the size of the company, and who the president is. Showing interest and passion for the company will get you bonus points, and it’s always better to be aware of how the company is doing when you’re at an interview.
6. Not having questions. The other side of staying well-informed is asking anything you may want to know. I usually ask what the office culture is like. Even asking what the dress code is, or what qualities they want to see in an ideal employee is fine. If you don’t want to have to think of questions in the moment, prepare them beforehand. Make your questions meaningful and deliberate. It is a way of showing them that you want to find a place at their company.
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