Harris Interactive conducted a survey on behalf of the jobs website CareerBuilder.com, in which they canvassed more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30, 2012, to unearth the most shocking mistakes they had seen candidates make during interviews.
The sluggish hiring environment may cause frustrated candidates to make avoidable mistakes–but no amount of stress or pressure can justify some of these outrageous gaffes. Nerves and lack of preparation can also be to blame, says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources, leading to errors like hugging the president of the company or calling your wife mid-interview to ask what’s for dinner.
“In this job market, it can be tough just to get a face-to-face interview,” she says. “When the day comes, it’s not uncommon for anxiety to get the best of the person. On the other hand, there are candidates who are confident and are articulate about their own record, but fail to research anything about the prospective role or the organization.”
Employers understand that being on the other end of the table can be a daunting experience, says Michael Erwin, a senior career advisor at CareerBuilder. “Being a little nervous or needing a moment to get your thoughts straight are common reactions to the stress of a job interview. However, employers are usually less forgiving of mistakes that have nothing to do with nerves and everything to do with a lack of preparation or professionalism.”
Even common blunders can be a sure-fire way to make a bad first impression. CareerBuilder asked hiring managers about frequent mistakes that will destroy a candidate’s chance at employment, and 60% cited answering a call or texting during an interview as one of the biggest deal breakers. Sixty-two percent said one of the most detrimental mistakes a candidate can make is appearing uninterested. Dressing inappropriately, talking negatively about current or previous employers and failing to make eye contact are other common missteps that hiring managers won’t tolerate.
“One mistake that we’re seeing much more frequently is candidates leaving the cell phone ringers on and even answering calls or responding to text messages during the actual interview,” Erwin says. “Cell phones and tablets are a major distraction and send the interviewer the message that you don’t think this opportunity merits your full attention.”
Another item on the list of detrimental mistakes that stuck out for Haefner is talking negatively about current or previous employers. “It’s a mistake that a lot of job seekers probably don’t think about,” she says. “After all, the job seeker may be entirely justified in their criticisms or frustrations with past employers. However, the employer may see it as unprofessional, unwarranted or a sign that the candidate may have a hard time building positive relationships with colleagues.”
If you’ve had a negative experience in a previous job, focus on what you’ve learned from the challenges and stay away from badmouthing old bosses, she adds.
To avoid such screw-ups, Haefner suggests researching and practicing. Vigorous preparation can help you stand out from the crowd—in a good way—so you’ll want to show up with well thought-out questions and examples for the interviewer, and present yourself confidently without teetering into arrogance, she says. “Most important, do whatever it takes you to be calm and focused. For example, exercise a few hours before the interview, make sure you’ve had a meal and aren’t jittery, leave early to eliminate any chances of a rushed or late arrival, and when you’re there, let your personality, professionalism and skills do the standing out.”
Your interview is often where you make your strongest impression, so to avoid making it also your last impression, carefully consider what you want the employer to learn about you during the meeting, and strive to stand out for being a perfect fit for the job. Telling the hiring manager that you’d do whatever it takes to get the job done, legal or not–as one candidate actually did–just won’t cut it.
“Interviews are a job audition,” Haefner says. “The employer isn’t hiring a list of skills and accomplishments. They’re hiring the whole person: their personality, their resume, their critical thinking and creative ability. The impression you make during the interview, regardless of how competitive the job market happens to be, will most always be the determining factor in landing your next job.”