6 job interview mistakes to avoid

Although the economy seems to be showing signs of improvement, there are still more applicants for every job opening than there are available positions. Instead of competing against a handful of candidates, job seekers are frequently throwing their hat into the ring with hundreds of others – some serious and some not-so-serious candidates.

After achieving the first goal of landing the interview, the second step is to try to stand out again – in a positive way.

Each year the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania in York, Penn., conducts a survey of human resources professionals and managers to help measure the current state of professionalism across the country. In our results this year, HR professionals outlined six interview mistakes that can instantly kill the possibility of receiving an offer.

1.Not dressing the part

Student Hector Guevara is interviewed by Lucia Donat during work readiness training at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles April 14. Op-ed contributor Matthew Randall shares 6 mistakes that can ruin an interview – and the chance of a job offer. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

There is an unwritten social norm that states when job candidates show up for an interview, they should always look their best. Well-groomed and properly dressed candidates communicate to the interviewer that they understand one of the core elements of professionalism, which can help put the interviewer at ease.

In our survey, 40 percent of HR professionals outlined inappropriate attire as the most common mistake they see during job interviews – the number one response. An additional 13 percent noted poor presentation of self, while another 11 percent reported slovenly appearance as an interview deal-breaker.

Since respondents also noted that appearance accounts for up to 25 percent of being perceived as a professional, even if all of a candidate’s verbal responses are perfect, they may fall on deaf ears if clothes and accessories are a constant distraction.

Clothes, accessories, and even footwear need not be expensive, however they should be carefully chosen in order to enhance your professional presence and complement your capabilities. Select interview attire as if your career depends on it…because most often it does.

Showing up late

Arriving on time for a job interview seems like common sense, right? Apparently not, as 29 percent of HR professionals noted that having candidates show up late for an interview was the most common mistake they see during the hiring process.

There may be times when a late arrival is out of your control, but the last thing an interviewer wants to start off hearing is a list of excuses. Candidates should always do their best to expect the unexpected and allow enough time to accommodate travel delays that might occur.

If something comes up that is truly out of your control, contact your interviewer as soon as possible to explain the situation and possibility of rescheduling. This will undoubtedly be received better than showing up late and wasting an interviewer’s time by keeping him or her waiting.

Lack of preparation

An interview is a test for the real world. Reflecting on your academic experience, did you perform better on a test if you only flipped through your notes for 15 minutes before class started or if you invested hours of time to study the material? Preparation yields better results.

Today’s job candidates need to do more than just pull up a company’s website for a few minutes to scan its home page for basic information. Determine what industry the company is in, and research any growing trends that might be relevant. If possible, find out why the organization is looking to hire so you can communicate how you would be the best option to fit that need.

Typically at the end of the interview, the employer will ask if you have any questions for them. Don’t ask something that could easily be answered by looking at their website. Instead, use your preparation and that information to develop an educated question that requires a thoughtful response.

Lack of interest

If you’re not truly interested in the position, your lack of enthusiasm will show through during the interview, and the employer is not going to be interested in you. But even for those who desperately want the job, it can be difficult to show that desire.

Passion is paramount. When a job comes down to two people who are equally qualified for the job – and both exude the same confidence and pedigree – the difference maker might be who is more passionate about the position. It’s not just enough to answer all the questions correctly if someone else does, too.

Showing an excitement for the job or company on a more personal level will make you stand out.

Checking your cell phone

Nothing says “I would rather be somewhere else” more than casually glancing at your cell phone in the middle of a conversation with someone. Many of us check our phones so many times during the day that it becomes habitual and we start to do it subconsciously.

But in an interview setting, this subtle motion just screams “I’m really not that interested in talking to you about this job.” As hard as it is to believe, in our survey, 11 percent of HR professionals have seen interviewees receive a call or text message during the interview, and some even answer it.

Instead of opening yourself up to the possibility of this interview hazard, leave your cell phone in the car – or even at home. At the very least, keep it turned off (not on vibrate, which can distract you) in your purse or pocket. This will eliminate a potential distraction and allow you to give your full attention to the interviewer.

Sense of entitlement

An interview is not the time to discuss salary or possibility for advancement. While those questions might be in the back of your mind, keep them there. If a candidate brings these topics up prematurely, it tends to convey to the employer that money is paramount. Receiving a job offer should come above all else.

Half of the HR professionals who responded to our survey noted that workers’ sense of entitlement has increased in the past five years. Since this is something bosses are already tired of dealing with, you don’t want to go into a company and be seen as perpetuating the cycle. Another 12 percent noted that candidates exhibiting a sense of entitlement during the interview was a common problem.

While salary level is a valid concern, there is a time and place for discussing this. Assuming you are already in a position to negotiate before having an offer is not going to reflect very highly on you when potential employers consider your level of professionalism.

Matthew Randall is the executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania in York, Penn.