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Guest Blog: 7 mistakes to avoid in interviews

Thanks to Inspiring Interns for this guest contribution.

It’s never easy being interviewed, but when you’re just starting out it can be a bit terrifying. After all, practice makes perfect, so how can students and graduates with very little interview practice make a go of it?

There are plenty of ways to get things right when you’re applying for internships and graduate jobs, but there are also a few pitfalls that are easy to fall into, even for experienced professionals. While some of the biggest mistakes in job interviews are pretty obvious nonstarters – like crashing your car into the building, or setting fire to the interviewer’s newspaper, which both actually happened – some are less so.

So check out our list of 7 easily avoidable interview mistakes, and make sure you give yourself the best chance possible to get that job.

 Falling at the first hurdle

 Turning up late to an interview should be something everyone considers out of the question, but it’s amazing how many people do it – or fail to turn up altogether. Even a couple of minutes delay can really damage the impression you make.

Take precautions like calculating your route in advance, and even doing a dry run if you can. No one can prepare for everything, so if you do find yourself delayed, make sure you contact the employer straight away and let them know.

What’s more of a surprise is that doing the opposite and turning up too early can also count against you. It’s great to turn up in the area early, but don’t actually head into the office until around 10 minutes before. Arriving very early can put pressure on your interviewer to come down and meet you before they’re ready; starting out your interview as an inconvenience can damage your changes of impressing them.

 Projecting the wrong image

There’s something basic that can put you straight to the bottom of the candidate pile, no matter how skilled you are: not taking care of your personal hygiene. Job offers have been lost because of bad breath or a sad lack of deodorant. No one wants to hire an intern or employee who appears not to wash.

What you wear also matters. Match your outfit to the company; check out any pictures of their offices and staff online, or make an educated guess based on the type of company it is. A bank probably wants you to turn up in a suit, while a tech start-up might have a more relaxed dress code. Still, it’s generally better to err on the side of formal, and fairly bland, in your outfit choice.

Finally, pay attention to your body language. You might be wearing the sharpest suit in the world, but if you slouch, fidget, and mumble your words, you’re unlikely to make a good impression. According to one survey, 67% of hiring managers think failure to make eye contact is the biggest body language mistake to make. You don’t need to lock eyes with them constantly, but make sure you do a reasonable amount.

 Criticise your last employer

No matter how unhappy you were in your last job, or how much of a problem you had with an ex-colleague, you should never badmouth them in an interview. Your interviewer will be making a judgement about what you’d be like to work with as well as what your skills are. Rather then making you look like the good guy, it makes you come across as having a bad attitude.

This can get difficult if you’re asked to talk about a conflict at work, or about a time when you disagreed with your boss. Just make sure you don’t let any negative emotions show through, and don’t talk about something you’re still angry about. Instead, focus on talking about how the problem was brought to a successful conclusion.

Brag without backing

 A very common mistake made in job interviews is claiming to have a skill, but offering little to no evidence that demonstrates it’s more than an empty brag. Whenever you say something like “I’m a great team-player” or “I have strong problem-solving abilities”, draw on your past experience and give an example of times you have used these skills.

 Asking the wrong questions

 There are some questions that you shouldn’t ask in the first interview, and others that you shouldn’t ask at all. In the first category is anything to do with your salary and benefits. This is a conversation that you will do have before accepting an offer, but bringing it up too early can reflect badly on you, and make it seem you only care about the money.

Meanwhile in the second category you have questions like “Will you perform a background check”, which suggests that you might have something to hide. Of course, asking about the next steps in the application or the on-boarding process is fine, and they might well tell you then if there is a check.

Equally bad, however, is asking no questions at all. If you have nothing to ask your interviewer, you’ll not only miss your chance to find out more, but you’ll risk coming across as uninterested in the role.

 Getting distracted by technology

 If there are two places your phone should never be heard, they’re the theatre and an interview. You definitely shouldn’t pick up your phone to answer a call or check Facebook – which, extraordinarily, does happen. Even if you have your phone on silent, buzzing every time you receive a text message does you no favours either; it’s distracting, and can make you appear disengaged.

This point goes both ways. If your interviewer is distracted by their emails in the middle of your conversation, you should certainly make note of the fact. It suggests that they don’t value your time, which, especially if they’re your future manager, is a warning sign.

 Doing the robot

Not the dance-move (although throwing some shapes during an interview is also a bad idea), but rather the monotonous recital of your perfectly drafted answers. Preparing for an interview is good, as is researching about what makes a good or bad answer. But if you take this too far, and over-prepare, you might find that it backfires.

For one thing, if you recite pre-prepared answers word for word, you’ll frustrate interviewers who are looking for an insight into your personality. Again, they want to know whether you’re the right fit on that level, as well as having the technical skills required.

For another, although there are some common questions that will come up in most interviews, you can’t predict everything you’ll get asked, or asked to expand on. If your prepared answers and off-the-cuff ones are markedly different in quality, this could damage how you’re perceived.

It’s hard to strike a perfect balance, but try preparing for questions without actually drafting out a complete answer, and memorising some general points you want to bring up, rather than a word-for-word response.

If you’ve got an interview coming up, make an appointment with a Careers Consultant at City to have a mock interview!

Claire Kilroy is a content writer for graduate recruitment agency Inspiring Interns. Check out their listings of internships and graduate jobs London, or head to their blog for more graduate careers advice.