Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

5 Subtle Ways You're Sabotaging Yourself in an Interview

Interviews are tricky. Even if you make every effort to research a company before the big day and practice for a week straight, it’s still possible to get it wrong. Interviews are just imperfect like that. In fact, you may even be sabotaging yourself without even knowing it.

Don’t get discouraged though. You can rest assured that doing your homework on the company will certainly pay dividends in the future. Similarly, answering mock interview questions aloud will definitely smooth out some of the rough patches in your responses. And, best of all, reading on and learning about these five ways people unknowingly leave a bad impression in an interview ensures that you don’t make the same mistakes.

1. Over-Focusing on Only One Part of the Job

Maybe you’re making a career change and can only make a strong case for one transferable skill, or maybe you’re just particularly enthusiastic about one specific aspect of a job—either way, candidates often spend too much time focusing only one piece of the position.

The problem? You can’t exactly guarantee that the interviewer cares about the part of the job you’re spending all your time talking about. Say, for example, you’re interviewing for a communications role. You may be most excited about taking over the company’s LinkedIn company page, but if your interviewer sees this as only a minor responsibility, you’re setting yourself up to leave the wrong impression.

It’s fine to be excited about a particular part of the job, but don’t lose the big picture. Ultimately, you’ll need to speak to the main function of the position. If you’re not entirely sure what that is, pay attention to the questions your interviewer asks and follow his or her lead.

2. Mixing Your Strengths with Weaker Skills

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant Halvorson gives an excellent example of a situation in which less is more: Instead of stopping after describing your degrees from Harvard and Yale, your excellent and relevant internships, and your extensive technical expertise—you tack on your two semesters of college-level Spanish.

Maybe Spanish is relevant to the job, but even so, according to the “Presenter’s Paradox,” rather than seeing the two semesters of Spanish as a bonus, our minds tend to average out the impressiveness of the listed achievements and actually see this particular interviewee as less competent than if he or she had stopped at the degrees and work experience.

Instead, save those Spanish skills for another time in the conversation. Try to keep any string of accomplishments you mention within the same range of impressiveness as others, and either leave out the outliers or wait for a better opportunity to talk about them when they won’t be stacked against your highest achievements.

3. Not Relating Your Stories to the Position

Stories are a great way to connect with the interviewer—they’re more memorable than facts, help you build rapport, and can help you to quite literally share an experience with your interviewer.

But, as highlighted in this SlideShare (see Mistake #4), you need to tie that story back into what the company’s needs are, your interviewer’s experience, or, more specifically, to the position he or she is trying to fill, or you risk being forgotten. Don’t make the mistake of telling the story of the time you saved the day on a client project without connecting it back to your listener’s needs—otherwise, your brilliance may not even be remembered.

4. Mistaking a Job Interview for an Admissions Interview

You may have heard that showing off what you know about the company during the interview is a good idea, particularly when asked, “Why are you interested in our company?” or “What makes you a good fit?”

While that’s definitely true, it’s not quite that simple. Showing off what you know about the company, but focusing on what the company can do for you rather than what you can do for the company isn’t really going to leave the right impression. For example, you wouldn’t want to spend all your time talking about the mentorship opportunities, training program, and opportunities for growth a particular company offers without also mentioning how your skills align with the position’s needs.

5. Using Too Many Abstract Words

If your interview answers sound a little too much like Weird Al’s song, “Mission Statement,” you’re probably not going to be the most memorable candidate. Turns out, listening to abstract words (think “strategic alliances” and “cutting-edge technology”) only activates areas of the brain related to language processing. Alternatively, concrete words like “carrot juice,” “smoking car engine,” and “stood in front of 150 people” are easier to picture, activate more areas of the brain, and are therefore more memorable. Pull in the five senses and describe actions taken. You’ll be remembered positively rather than for being a jargon bot.

The main takeaway from all this is to just think from the perspective of the interviewer. While some of these mistakes are not the most intuitive to avoid, most, in fact, are if you make a point to try and step into the the other person’s shoes. If you were the hiring manager, what would you like to hear from a potential job candidate? Think this through carefully, and incorporate your thoughts into your interview prep.

Photo of interview room courtesy of Shutterstock.