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Nine Ways to Mess Up an Interview

Sometimes our faces and body language give away more than we’re trying to reveal, especially in a tense or nerve-wracking situation like a first job interview. In some cases, we might not even realize that our brow is furrowed or that we’re repeatedly tapping our toes much to the annoyance of a future employer. 

CareerBuilder recently surveyed hundreds of different employers, asking which interview mistakes were their biggest pet peeves. Not surprisingly, most of these things were considered “the little things”—but as we all know, there’s a reason why they say it’s the little things that matter. 

Acting Bored or Cocky—63 percent
Yawn! Interviews are so boring! Wow, 63 percent is a lot! While most people are undoubtedly more nervous than bored or cocky, some of the same body language tip-offs occur for both emotions. A nervous person may tap their toes repeatedly, swing their feet, or drum their fingers. Unfortunately, these signals also say “I’m soooo bored” to an employer. Boredom is also frequently interpreted as cockiness. 

The Cure: Practice, practice, practice! A calm, unstressed, and interested person’s breathing is slow and steady (this may actually prove to help you get rid of the jitters, too.) Take relatively deep breaths (not the yoga class kind—you don’t want to scare the employer away) and pay attention to where your arms are. Let them rest on the arms of the chair you’re in and keep both feet on the floor, knees together, to minimize foot tapping. Leaning forward slightly can help show that you’re interested. 

Not Dressing Appropriately—61 percent
For the seasoned workforce, dressing professionally may seem like a no brainer, but all too often the graduate fresh from college has lost touch with what is expected in today’s workplace. Wearing flip-flops, jeans, or basically anything but a suit says you don’t take the interviewer seriously. 

The Cure: Just wear a suit. You’ll almost never go wrong! If you want to give it more pizazz and you’re applying for an artsy or creative job, dress it up with some bright or funky accessories. However, if you’re interviewing in a more formal environment like banking or law, keep your accessories very minimal. 

Coming to the Interview with No Knowledge of the Company—58 percent
So … you didn’t Google search the company before you came for the interview. Big mistake. Not only do you not know what they’re selling, but you’re showing 1) ignorance, 2) laziness, and 3) lack of initiative. 

The Cure: Use Google, LinkedIn, and every possible search word and key term that you think will dig up some results. Look through profiles and press releases—you’d be surprised what you’ll find! You’ll impress the interviewer, and you might learn some interesting things about the company and the employees that work there in the process that you wouldn’t ordinarily learn from a quick tour of the office on day one of your new job. 

Keeping Your Cell Phone On—50 percent
We know you don’t like to be disconnected from Facebook for even a minute, but do yourself a favor and cut the ties. Turning off your phone limits distractions and will eliminate your embarrassment in the event your “Baby Got Back” ringtone starts buzzing. 

The Cure: Just leave your phone off and stowed away. There’s nothing that can’t wait until after the interview. 

Not Asking Good Questions During the Interview—49 percent
Most people know that you’re supposed to ask questions during the interview, but not all know what kinds of questions to ask. Asking what kind of perks you’ll get, what your salary will be, and related questions won’t endear you to the interviewer. 

The Cure: Ask questions about the work you’ll be doing. Ask the interviewer what are her favorite things about that company. There are many possibilities.

Perhaps the most effective question to ask is: “What do you think my biggest challenge would be in this position?” This is the ace of interview questions for two reasons. First, it makes the interviewer think that you are very interesting in finding out how you would or would not be a good fit for a job. That is, it dispels the notion that you are just looking for any job. Second, it makes the interviewer tell you what qualms he or she has about hiring you. By discovering that resistance in the interview, you can overcome it then and there and increase your chances of getting the job. 

Asking About Pay Before You Have the Job—38 percent
We’re all interested in it—after all, if we didn’t need money, we wouldn’t be interviewing in the first place, right? Wrong. Finding a job and a career that you love should be about more than the money, and the interviewer knows that. He wants a candidate that isn’t counting their chickens before they hatch. 

The Cure: Keep those burning salary questions at bay by really trying to avoid discussing pay until the interviewer brings it up. 

Spamming Employers with the Same Resume and/or Cover Letter—21 percent
Copying your resume and cover letter a million times and saturating the market is not the best way to land a job you love. Actually, you probably won’t even land a job you like with that technique. And judging from the number of employers who report this problem, you’re probably not getting away with your little trick. 

The Cure: Keep your resume and, more importantly, your cover letter, tailored to the jobs you think look the most interesting. You’ll waste less time by concentrating your efforts to land a job that really fits what you want and you’ll likely get better responses, too. 

Failure to Remove Unprofessional Photos/Content on Social Networking Pages, Blogs, etc.—19 percent
Enough said. Don’t give a potential employer a reason to doubt your credibility. Sites like Myspace and Facebook are just too big to keep your crazy St. Patrick’s Day antics a secret. 

The Cure: Untag, delete, and ask your friends to do the same. If you doubt that this really has any impact, you should read Social Networking and Your Job: Lessons from the Cisco Fatty: the story of a poor soul who actually got hired, then got fired immediately for something he said on the Internet. 

Not Sending a Thank You Note After the Interview—12 percent
With the majority of companies using the internet to find and hire new employees, a simple email can go a long way after an interview and in most cases has replaced the traditional paper card. 

The Cure: A quick email to your interviewer doesn’t take a lot of effort and it’s really worth your time. Doing it immediately after the interview will help you remember, too—or you can set a reminder on your phone when you turn it back on afterward. Just letting someone know that you appreciate their time speaks volumes about you. 

By Kayla Baxter Baxter for WomenCo.