How to blow a job interview

Six ways to make sure you get rejected at a job interview (and how I did all six at once)

Written by Peter Harris
Posted on May 22, 2015

I received some feedback on my recent post about the worst cover letter that was ever sent to me as a hiring manager. A lot of folks seemed to think that I was being too hard on the candidate in question – as though I enjoyed sharing someone else’s mistakes. My real intent is just to offer advice and strategies to help people succeed in their careers. [See: The worst cover letter ever.]

So, anyway, here’s a true story where I make all of the mistakes; I did everything completely wrong in a job interview one time. It was for a web producer job at a cool start-up company that was a hybrid online / television network. The show I would be producing web content for was all travel-related. (I believe I’ve mentioned that my first few jobs were as a travel writer.)

This seemed like an adventurous, innovative gig, potentially a dream job. I had researched the company, made notes about my connections in the travel industry and my accomplishments in producing engaging content for websites. I was ready and enthusiastic.

And then I wasn’t any more. I can’t really explain it, except that halfway through the interview, as I looked around the still-being-unpacked start-up offices, and I realized that I didn’t want the job.

I could see the team setting up. Everyone looked like the hipsters from the coffee shop around the corner from my house. Wearing tuques and scarves inside, bally sweaters in summer, everyone in black-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. Beards. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, I just knew that I would not be a good cultural fit.

The ideas I was pitching about what I would do to get the website up and drive traffic to it were things that I knew I could do, but that I wasn’t actually interested in doing. I didn’t know why I was there.

So I stopped talking mid-sentence, and I ended the interview. I stood up, held out my hand and thanked the interviewer for taking the time to meet with me. I wished him luck with the new venture and made my exit. The interviewer seemed surprised. Understandably, he assumed that I wanted the job, and I had just made a bunch of blunders at the end ensuring that I wouldn’t get the offer.

The six biggest job interview blunders I made – and what to do instead:

    I didn’t look the part. I wore a suit to the interview – which is generally safe – but in this case my interviewer was wearing a t-shirt from a local punk band whose name is too offensive for me to publish here. It’s important to research the culture of a workplace before a job interview and dress accordingly. In this case, even if I hadn’t have felt out of place, it’s highly probable that the interviewer would have felt the same way about me: that I just wasn’t a good fit for the team.

    I showed a lack of enthusiasm for the role. Employers want to hire someone who is passionate about the job they are offering. You have to be prepared to demonstrate the unique value that you can bring to an organization if they hire you. I had been halfway through doing this, when I lost interest and trailed off. Here are the top three ways to demonstrate the qualities employers care most about in candidates they interview.

    I ended the interview. Obviously, the candidate doesn’t decide when the job interview ends. The conversation either comes to its natural conclusion or the interviewer runs out of time, but the applicant can’t say, “… Anyway, I gotta run …” and end the interview if they actually want the job. You have to act like this is the most important meeting that you could possibly be at – and it has your complete focus. Don’t look at your watch, above all do not check your phone.

    I didn’t ask any questions. Strong candidates always ask smart questions about the company and the job that demonstrate their interest and their insights into the potential challenges of the role. You can take control of the interview and impress an employer more with the questions you ask than with those that you answer.

    We didn’t discuss next steps. There’s usually a discussion about the hiring process at the end of a job interview. Candidates are given a rough timeline of when they can expect to hear back, told if there will be another round of interviews or asked about their own availability. Leaving an interview without any of that is a clear sign that one or both sides simply aren’t interested. See: How to tell if an employer just isn’t that into you.

    I didn’t follow up. Common courtesy says that you should send a thank-you note or email after every job interview. The interviewer took time out of their busy day to meet with you and learn more about your potential. So not only is a thank-you note polite, it also allows you to reiterate your enthusiasm for the job and highlight your key strengths one more time.

    Of course it is always possible to follow-up too much. (Here’s a humorous look at what happens when a candidate crosses that line [Video].)

Employers usually call or at least email a candidate that they’ve interviewed to let them know whether or not they got the job. It’s extremely discourteous to just leave someone hanging with no word at all either way. Candidates remember those companies who’ve treated them shabbily and think less of their brand and products for a long time after. I never heard from the start-up company after my disastrous interview, but in this case, I didn’t hold it against them. This one was all my fault. The only thing I did right was show up on time. Never be late to an interview. That’s an even easier way to blow your chances.

Peter Harris

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