Updated: Nov 21, 2022
A COMMON INTERVIEW EXPERIENCE
Imagine that you have put your heart and soul into writing a solid application for a job. The company calls you for an interview and it all goes well, or so you think.
Several days go by before you receive the following message in your inbox:
Thank you for your interest in this position, but we would like to inform you that the role has now been filled. We appreciated the chance to get to know you and we will keep your application on file should future opportunities arise.
You feel gutted. You put so much effort into that interview, and now it feels like a waste of time. After a week of feeling down on yourself, you gradually muster up the strength to apply for yet another job. But the same thing happens. You get the call, but you don't pass the first round. Now you feel like giving up.
Have you ever been through an experience like that? It can feel demoralizing and depressing!
If this is happening to you right now, you probably know that something needs to change. But it's hard to know exactly what to do. "What should I be doing differently?" you might ask.
I get that question a lot as a Career Coach. People often ask me how their interview approach needs to change. And while each person is unique, I often find that they are making interview mistakes. Fortunately, by reading this blog post, you can overcome five of the most common interview mistakes and get out of the slump you are currently in.
MISTAKE #1: NOT ASKING FOR CLARIFICATION DURING AN INTERVIEW
Asking for clarification is an essential skill. It helps you understand the interviewer's intended meaning and prevents you from answering the wrong question!
For example, when a hiring manager asks, “Can you tell me about a time when you didn’t do well in your job?” don’t assume you know what they mean! Ask for more clarity.
You might say:
Yes, I’d be happy to! But just to be sure, are you asking me to share about a previous job that wasn’t a good fit for me? Or are you asking about a work project that didn’t quite meet expectations? I just want to make sure I understand you correctly.
To which the hiring manager replies:
Oh yes! Tell me about a work project that didn't go well. I'd like to know how you dealt with that setback.
Now you truly understand what they meant! Aren't you glad you asked? This example shows how just a little bit of clarity can go a long way, so make sure you do this in your own interviews.
MISTAKE #2: NOT ASKING QUESTIONS AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW
As an interview comes to a close, the hiring manager will usually say, "do you have any questions for us?"
In that moment, you have a great opportunity to show interest in the company. Sadly, many job candidates drop the ball at that point. Their typical reply is, "No, that's ok. I feel like you've covered the territory quite well already!"
But that reply is a mistake. It tells the interviewer you aren't very interested in the job or even curious about the company! So how should you respond instead?
I'd recommend that you prepare three strategic questions based on your research of the company, and then bring them with you to the interview.
Here are some examples:
In a recent news article, I read that ABC company has surpassed its revenue targets five years in a row. What do you attribute your success to? And how do you plan to keep that trend going?
What is your company’s work culture like, and how do managers model work-life balance to their employees?
What do you find most enjoyable about working here? What do you find most challenging?
These questions are strategic because they can't be answered simply by reading the company's website. They invite conversation and dialogue. So if you bring them up at the end of an interview, the hiring manager will be impressed!
MISTAKE #3: NOT SPEAKING TO THE JOB REQUIREMENTS
During a first interview, it is tempting to focus on yourself by telling the employer how skilled and experienced you are. But in reality, the employer wants you to focus on them by demonstrating how you will meet their needs. In other words, they want you to speak to the job requirements.
Surprisingly, many job seekers forget to do this. They ignore the job requirements and just talk about themselves for the whole interview. So it's no wonder they don't get called back a second time!
This brings us to the next interview mistake.
MISTAKE #4: TELLING BORING, RAMBLING STORIES
One of the biggest pet peeves for a hiring manager is hearing someone ramble on and on. Long-winded stories are a dealbreaker in any interview. Your stories need to be concise, interesting and relevant. So what's the secret?
I'd recommend sharing 30-90 second stories that follow a three-part sequence: challenge -> action -> result. This sequence will transform your answers into brief, yet compelling, stories that speak to the requirements of the job.
For example, if an interviewer were to say, "Thomas, can you tell me about a time when you used group facilitation skills in a previous job?" here is how I would use the CAR sequence:
[Challenge] "When I was an instructor at an international school, students often struggled to understand the ideas they were studying. They needed to discuss those ideas with other students, outside the standard lecture/classroom format."
[Action] "To address this need, I facilitated formal meal discussions with students during their lunch period in between their work-study schedule. During those discussions, I taught my students active listening and critical thinking skills so that their studies ‘came alive’ to them in conversation."
[Result] "I ended up facilitating 280 group discussions over a 4-year period and my students frequently commented on how impactful those conversations were in fostering a sense of community at the school.
This is just one example of how to use the CAR sequence. It has worked for me in past interviews, and I know it will work for your stories too!
MISTAKE #5: CONFLICTING BODY LANGUAGE
In general, when your body language doesn't match your words, people will struggle to believe what you say. This is especially true for job interviews.
Here are some examples:
You start an interview by saying, “I’m excited about this job opportunity,” but you have a neutral expression on your face.
Or you say, “I’m open to negotiating your job offer,” but your arms are tightly crossed over your chest.
In both cases, your body language is saying the opposite of what you mean. Your neutral face is expressing indifference and your crossed arms are conveying hesitancy, even if this isn't your intention. By sending mixed signals, you make it harder for the interviewer to trust you.
So how can you improve your body language for interviews? I have two suggestions:
First, get to know the basics of trust-building body cues - e.g., occasional nodding, an open posture, mirroring, smiling with the eyes, etc. You can learn all about this by visiting Vanessa Van Edwards' helpful website, The Science of People.
Second, pre-record your interview answers on video and then play them back to yourself. Ask a friend to provide you with feedback so that you can rectify any conflicting body language. This takes courage, but it works!
Rejection is a normal part of the interview process. Even the best of us get turned down sometimes. But if you keep getting turned down after the first round, you might be repeating some common interview mistakes. The good news is, you don't have to keep making those mistakes. By implementing the strategies in this blog post, you can improve your interview skills and start landing those job offers!