Looking for a job can be stressful and demoralizing. I’d really like for you to succeed: it would be good for you, for the company that hires you, and for the overall economy. In fact, I want you to get the best job you possibly can – one that you enjoy, and that challenges you and makes best use of your strengths.
In the service of that, there are some actions I want to steer you away from when you’re doing a job interview, things that – trust me – will not create the impression you want to create. Of course, some approaches are a matter of taste and style – certain interviewers will like them while others won’t – but there are also ways of behaving that are pretty universally not a good idea. And, unfortunately, interviewees often get counseled to do some version of these things. So, having interviewed a great many people over the course of my career, and having spoken to hundreds of hiring managers about what they’ve liked and haven’t liked in those they’ve interviewed, here you go. If you want an interview to go well, don’t:
1. Freeze up – A few years ago, I interviewed a woman for an administrative position with our company. Her resume looked excellent and appropriate, and she had been articulate, though very quiet, on the phone. When we were actually sitting in a room together, though, she more or less disappeared: wouldn’t look at me; gave monosyllabic answers in a frightened mumble; seemed terrified when I asked her to tell me why she wanted to work for our company. If you can’t make it through an interview without crumbling, people are unlikely to believe you’ll be able to withstand the rigors of a normal job. So if you find interviews particularly daunting, work on your self-talk beforehand. For example, if you find you’re saying things to yourself like, “I’m terrible in interviews, I know I’ll look like an idiot” – that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, change your mental monologue to something more hopeful, yet still realistic, like “I get nervous during interviews, so I need to practice beforehand, and remember to look at the interviewer and keep breathing.” And do practice, too – that can really reduce your fear of the unknown.
2. Dominate – Then there’s the opposite behavior. I was once interviewing a woman who swept into the room, flashed me a blinding smile, shook my hand as though it were a pump handle, sat down and just started talking. The quality of what she said was actually good – she’d done her homework about our company, and had great insights into what the job might require. But there was no space for anything but her monologue – I wasn’t able to ask her a single question. It was exhausting, and certainly not something I would have wanted to experience every day. If you know you have a strong personality and tend to talk a lot, coach yourself before you go into an interview to get curious about the interviewer: what he or she might be interested in hearing from you, his or her view of the job and of the company. If you’re in a curious mindset, you’ll be much more likely to listen, and the interview will be a dialogue, vs. a monologue.
3. Be sloppy – Some companies are very casual – people come to work in tee shirts and jeans – while others still have rigorous dress codes (someone told me yesterday that female employees at the Ritz-Carlton are still expected to wear hose every day). Try to find out, before your interview, what’s standard dress at that particular company. But no matter how casual the dress code – don’t be a slob. Having good personal hygiene – clean hair, showered, nails trimmed – and clean, unwrinkled clothing is much more important than whether you’re a little over-dressed or under-dressed. When someone comes to an interview looking like he or she has just rolled out of bed, it communicates lack of respect for the interviewer, the job and the company.