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)

Peter Harris|

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

Peter Harris on Twitter


Category: Job interviews
  • Paul Barron

    sometimes it is a GOOD thing, when , during an interview, one realizes that “this is not a place where I would ever be able to fit in”..ending the interview is not recommended, but neither is showing too much enthusiasm (when you are not really enthused abot the place/ the job )

  • Jerry Falkiner

    Agreed @Paul. I was on a first interview once and thought “This job sounds terrible. I feel like I am on a bad first date”. Didn’t end it, went to the second interview and, well, things eventually ended poorly. I was right.

  • Peter Pottinger

    You aren’t unique at all bud. Many people who interview are interviewing the company, not the job. When you are in-demand one can afford to say no if its not the right fit.

  • Taras Pich

    I would say you didn’t blow the interview. You didn’t want the job and didn’t bother wasting any more time, of yours or the interviewers.
    That being said, the points you identified can lead to a blown interview.

  • Annette Hellingrath

    I had the exact same experience several years ago. I love jewellery and decided working at a jewellery store would suit me. I had a full time job at the time, but was looking for something part time. The interview went well and then the interviewer asked me why I wanted to work at her store. I also looked around and found myself unable to find an answer to that question – because I didn’t want to work there. The store was beautiful, but the back was disgusting, and ugly, full of dusty merchandise on tall shelves. This is where the interview was taking place and where we would eat our lunch and do paperwork. I couldn’t see myself coming into this dungeon every day. As well, they were mainly a pawn shop and I was told that a lot of the clients came there too pawn gold, etc., to buy food for the day, or diapers. Negativity permeated the place. I laughed at her question, got up, said thanks very much, but I don’t want to work here. It was a relief to leave. My interviewer was shocked. I laughed about this for a long time.

  • Rosslyn Picton

    As I read this article, the first thought I had was “self sabotage”, but as I read further it sounded like the potential employee DID the right thing by ending the interview. It certainly is smart to research a company’s values, direction, culture etc. I don’t think it was a ‘bad’ thing to end the interview mid stream. As much as one needs a job, the company needs YOU!! I have felt desperate at times in my job search and sell myself short because I am in NEED of something….a job, money to survive. I am also a human being, and should place high value on myself and what I can offer. I believe it is important to feel happy and connected to your place of employment. After all you must spend your whole day, five days out of the week there.

  • Roustam

    Oh my dear, interview conductor took some of her or his precious time
    for the person who is looking for a job. What a great thing to thank him or her

    But how about the one who has been interviewed? Not only she or he spent
    a lot of time reading about the company, spending money and time for
    travelling, plus spending time for the interview itself? In fact, every
    interview conductor will be paid for each interview, but not the one who was
    interviewed. Had anyone thought about that?

  • Roustam

    Having tendency not following some standard rules, may still end up in two ways: first you are not getting job, and second guess what, against all odds you are getting one. A lot of things could happen nowadays.

  • Roustam

    What I meant, that I wasn’t not very enthusiastic in my last job interview and I didn’t write a single thank you letter. Still, I was hired.

  • KeithA0000

    These are all great things to be aware of- if you want the job.
    But you didn’t want the job, so I think you did nothing wrong. If you discovered that didn’t want the job, you did the right thing by ending it as soon as possible. No sense wasting 2+ people’s time. I actually did this once, and probably should have done it 2 or 3 more times over the years…

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  • Jaz

    According to my experience most of the companies already hire someone before they have interviews for same positions. They just show through doing interviews. The job is posted after the selection of the candidate who has recommended by person working in the same company. The people who are called for interview don’t know that they are just wasting their time and energy no matter they have excellent skills and experience. The candidates are just told sorry we got someone with more experience or skills but poor candidates don’t know that everything was pre planned..,I have seen same story with my own eyes….in the big companies…..

  • Marie Morrissey

    You know, this may be the stupidest example of a job interview blunder that could hit the atmosphere. This guy realized that he didn’t want the job, stood up and said so. Where is the blunder? He stopped the interview process. The 6 biggest blunders don’t even come into play here. You couldn’t come up with a really suitable example?

  • smscamp

    Why ask questions just for the sake of asking questions, perhaps some questions the interviewers can’t answer.

    To me, questions about the company and job, the person being interviewed should know already, so may be such questions may backfire