"What are the worst mistakes people make in job interviews?" originally appeared on Quora--the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
As a headhunter, I know who's going to get the job before the interview is over.
Interviews count on one thing, thus I gauge who to represent as a candidate on this one thing: likability.
(Technical capability is beside the point. I'm assuming you know the answers to technical details of your job and have relevant points that prove you can do the job in question.)
The hiring managers I work with, like all humans in general, work off of gut feeling. No matter how hard we try to squash our emotions, they inevitably take control of us. Our unconscious biases, as consciously as we try to fight them, ultimately win every time. People who know this secret weapon use it to beat out others more qualified with a large margin of success.
Here are a few mistakes people make that will ruin likability, thus lessening your chances of landing an offer:
1. Trying too hard to be special from the outset. Candidates always want to leave an impression. When asked "tell me about yourself," they can't wait to talk about their fun hobbies and how creative and different they are. What many people don't understand is that the intro question is simply one to establish a professional profile.
You have the rest of the interview to show how unique you are, you don't need to jump right into it within the first two minutes of meeting someone. Simply answer the question professionally, as I show you how here, and move on. Save your goodies for later--don't use up all your ammo in the first 10 minutes of warfare.
2. Being the smartest person in the room. Candidates from good schools and pedigrees especially have this problem. They're arrogant, self-absorbed, and think everything that comes out of their mouth is worth its weight in gold.
Yet, that is simply not the point of an interview. Your interviewer is also similarly unlikely to be moved by your grandstanding and thirst for validation of your smarts.
To answer a question correctly is definitely a plus--what's more important, however, is the ability to generate rapport with your interviewer. You need to go beyond the politically correct answering mechanism you're built to strive towards to make a connection with the human at the core of the interaction.
Thus, 3. Not making enough of a genuine connection with your interviewers. When I sell my candidate to a hiring manager or a hiring manager to my candidate, I don't talk about résumé headliners or pedigree. I talk about their human attributes. What their personality is like. What they sound and act like. What their philosophy towards work success, life, and family is like. How passionate they feel about the industry.
What they've managed to do in their careers is just a side note. My clients expect that my candidates have performed to a degree of competence. That's a given.
When you're able to break into the interviewers as a human, their career insight, their ability to grow and influence their company, their feelings as a professional, you've pretty much nailed the interview. Don't be afraid to ask their opinions, their advice, their tutelage. You'll, in turn, earn their interest in YOU.
4. Avoiding the use of humor and personal attributes in serious situations. A personal attribute like being humorous and outspoken is the glue that will instantly bond strangers. Yet, this skill is seemingly reserved for comedians and jokesters. That's simply not true. I integrate humor into all of my interactions with everybody. This muscle, if exercised diplomatically and appropriately, earns you brownie points you never knew even existed.
Some people are too scared to let the "real" them show in formal settings. They're afraid that they're "too much," too "high-energy," too "lax." Ironically, it's these human elements that make someone unique and memorable. If people don't like it, I don't care. It's for the better that things don't work out.
I interviewed for a job at a Japanese company I desperately wanted to join after college. In hindsight, I know I messed up because I did not suit the liking of the COO, who was visiting from Japan. I lost this job offer because the company culture did not appreciate my outgoing nature, outspokenness, and being "rough around the edges." Especially as a woman, my brashness, brazenness, rubbed the COO the wrong way.
I was gutted. I thought I got the job and was even learning Japanese in anticipation of my offer letter. A horrible idea popped into my head. Secretly, I was questioning myself:
Do I have to squash who I am to get the job I want?
Despite how disappointed I was in myself and how demoralized I felt, I had no choice but to move on.
My second interview was with a headhunting company that loved my energy, where I could speak freely, be myself, and be totally accepted. Suffice to say, I earned double the amount in my first year as a headhunter than what they were offering at the first job. Life works in mysterious ways; I'm so grateful I failed at the previous interview!
BIG SMILE--Smile as much you as you can. All the time.
Employers LOVE happy people! Who wants to work with someone miserable about life? No one.
Don't be too hard on yourself to memorize everything and overprepare. Just be ready to create some genuine interactions with the people you'll meet during the interview process. Everything is always about learning from people and experiences. Make sure you reflect and gauge whether or not it's a fit. If you have to try too hard to fit in, it probably isn't the right environment for you anyway.
As long as you're a good person who is empathetic, considerate, hard-working, and have good morals, your interviewers will feel that, understand who you are, and appreciate your likability.
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