I’m not the greatest interviewee. I get insanely nervous pre-meeting: heart pounding, palms sweating, frantic thoughts—the whole nine yards. Then, once I make it into the office, the real fun begins: I forget what I wanted to say, fumble my words, and let myself get intimidated by the person across the desk.
I can’t help it—in the moment, an interview just seems like a game-changing situation: This meeting could be a defining moment that determines the rest of my life.
How’s that for pressure?
With that kind of outlook, it’s not too surprising that I’ve made some pretty big interviewing blunders along my job-hunting journey. So, to make sure you don’t follow in my footsteps, here are four of the biggest interview mistakes I’ve made—and what you can learn from them to avoid similar situations.
1. I Didn’t Do My Research
One of the most intimidating interviews I’ve been through happened the day after I’d attended a college career fair. The fair had gone well; I’d stopped by this employer’s booth and chatted with the recruiter for just a few short minutes before she asked me if I wanted to sign up for a formal interview spot the next day. (Score!)
With such a quick turnaround, I focused my attention on preparing answers for a standard set of interview questions. And while I’d gleaned a little information about the company at the fair, in no way did I have a thorough understanding of it.
Turned out, that was my downfall. Immediately after shaking my hand, the interviewer got down to business—drilling me about my knowledge of the company: “So, you did you do your research? Who’s our CEO? How many cities do we have offices in?”
I laughed nervously, assuming he was joking. (He wasn’t.) As I fumbled through my answers (“I don’t remember” and “Um, 23?” respectively), I cursed the time I spent scripting answers the night before, rather than researching.
Do your research, and not just a cursory glance at the company’s website. Aim to really understand its mission, vision, culture, and recent news-worthy events. To be fair, I don’t think it’s necessary to study up trivial facts about each company you interview for—mine may have been a one-off experience. But that doesn’t discount the fact that I went into the interview with hardly any knowledge of the company. And that certainly didn’t make me a standout among the rest of the names on that sign-up sheet.
2. I Only Aimed to Impress
After graduating with a degree in management, my dream job was to head up a bakery. So, when I finally came across a job posting for a general manager of a cupcake shop in Atlanta, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived at the interview with stars in my eyes, laser-focused on the ultimate outcome: Impress my interviewer and land the job. I nodded enthusiastically to everything she said, remembered all my scripted answers, and asked a couple obligatory questions at the end.
What I didn’t do was ask questions that would actually help me evaluate if the role was a good fit for me.
And so, less than a year after I’d accepted my “dream job,” I was already on the hunt for something different—and I could have avoided being miserable (and underpaid) for that time if I’d thought to ask deeper questions about what my responsibilities would be, how much control I’d have over the shop’s operations and staff, and the vision that the owner had for the future.
When you’re eager to land a job, it’s easy to do whatever you can to impress your interviewer. And sure, you should be doing that—by being sincere, providing thoughtful answers, and sending a killer thank you note. But, don’t forget that this is your change to evaluate the company as well. So, dig in to find out more about your potential boss, co-workers, company culture, and advancement opportunities—and really take the answers you get into consideration before you make any decisions.
3. I Didn’t Show Up
Have I mentioned that I’m terrible in interviews? I get so nervous, in fact, that no matter how excited I am about a potential job, the same thought always crosses my mind at some point: Maybe I just shouldn’t go.
Sometimes, it’s nerves. Sometimes, I realize (or convince myself) that I’m just not interested in that particular job. Either way, I have—on more than one occasion—refused to pick up the phone for a phone interview or made up an excuse to cancel an in-person meeting last minute.
And you know what? I certainly didn’t become a better interviewee by skipping out on interviews.
If you’re a nervous or inexperienced interviewee—or really, even if you’re an expert serial-interviewer—the more interviews you attend, the more comfortable you’re going to feel in future meetings. That doesn’t mean you have to book up your schedule with interviews for jobs you’re not remotely interested in, but once you land an interview, go through with it. Worst case, you’ll have a learning experience that will come in handy when you do land an interview for your dream job.
4. I Let Myself Get Rattled
By now, you know that not only do I get extremely nervous before interviews, but I also don’t have too many under my belt to help me feel confident in my question-answering ability.
All that combined made me the perfect target for one particular interviewer who seemed to enjoy watching me squirm by asking the tough questions—like, “I don’t think you really want to work in this kind of corporate environment, do you?” or “I don’t see much experience on your resume—what makes you think you can do this job?”
Crumbling under the pressure, I tried to answer—but my voice started to crack, my eyes welled up, and I suddenly forgot that I’m a competent professional who had a lot to offer this potential employer. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t a bit surprised when I didn’t receive an offer.
Unfortunately, some interviewers are straight-to-the-point—and there’s nothing you can do about it, except to bring your confidence into the room, remembering that you were asked to interview because of what you’ve already proven in your resume and cover letter. Now, you just have to let your personality and confidence shine through.
Tell us! What interview blunders have you made?