I recently conducted a survey with HR Professionals from a wide variety of companies across several Canadian cities. I asked each of them: What questions are you asked or what behaviors do you see exhibited in job interviews that really turn you off?

Interestingly no two respondents gave me the exact same answer. Which just goes to show that job interviews are personal exchanges. You have to read your interviewer’s body language, because different things bother different people. However, from those surveys, here is the summary of what Canadian HR professionals told me often costs candidates the job.

One senior recruiter asked that you make it easy for them to meet with you. When you’re called for a telephone interview, tell the recruiter exactly when is a good time to talk. Be flexible and give options as to your availability. Show some enthusiasm for having been selected.

Most agreed that clothing matters. Check about the dress code during the booking, especially if your appointment is on a casual Friday. You will still dress up, but maybe not in a three piece suit while the team is in jeans.

HR recruiters often book interviews back to back, so don’t arrive more than 10 minutes before your appointed time. Announcing your early arrival puts pressure on the interviewer to hurry up whatever they are engaged in at the time.

Job interview questions Canadian employers say they don’t want to be asked:

    1. When will I get my first pay cheque?
    2. How much sick time can I take each year?
    3. How soon can I take a vacation?
    4. Do you provide stress leave?
    5. Do you offer any free employee products, services, or other freebies?
    6. How long do you have to work to be eligible for short term disability?
    7. Do you have a union?
    8. What are the minimum number of hours I’m expected to work?
    9. Do you monitor attendance?
    10. What is the dress code?
    11. What is the severance for this position?
    12. What is the overtime policy?
    13. So, did I get the job?

Some of these questions may be appropriate in the second or third interview, or when you are negotiating your terms of employment, but never in the first meeting.

What employers say are deal-breaker behaviours at the job interview:

    1. Being evasive. Not directly answering yes or no questions.
    2. Not researching the company and not indicating that you know about the company you’re interviewing at.
    3. Giving a false sense of caring about a social issue because you read that issue on the web site. Be prepared to back up your beliefs.
    4. Not asking about the values and culture of the company beyond what you have already learned from the website.
    5. Forgetting the companies you have applied to so that when an interviewer calls to arrange an interview you are caught off guard and can’t remember the company or position.
    6. Don’t over explain an answer or talk about how busy you are and what else you are up to with your job search, etc. This could blow your first impression.
    7. Playing with or checking your cell phone tells me you are bored or distracted, not to mention rude.
    8. Putting your cell phone face down on the table in front of you. I don’t want to know you even have a cell phone in the room with you.
    9. Not giving an example when asked a behavioral question. Think of the question being asked, identify the skill I need validated and give me one.
    10. Not going with the interview flow. Rambling on or not listening. Talking too much. Not picking up cues from the interviewer.
    11. Doesn’t anticipate what you might be asked based on the job description and the company and industry.
    12. Not asking any questions at the end or throughout the interview itself.
    13. Applicants who are not forthcoming with responses because we are HR and not the hiring manager. It is like they are telling me – “I am saving the good stuff for the hiring manager.”
    14. Applicants who will not shake your hand without an explanation and/or ignore lower ranking professionals in a panel interview.
    15. Chewing gum; smelling of cigarette smoke.
    16. Using one covering letter to apply for multiple jobs within a company. HR would rather you leave the covering letter off than send the wrong title with the wrong job.
    17. Applicants who ask you to forward their resume to another recruiter within the company.

You have now heard it from the horses’ mouths. Take heed.

– Colleen Clarke

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer


Author of Networking: How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group