It's time to shine in your big interview. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course.
Let me count the ways: arriving late, crazy hygiene (I’ve seen it) and being rude, just to name a few. Yet, among all the ways an interview can go sideways, I’ve found there are five fatal blunders that stand out -- and that are fairly common.
A lot of mistakes in a job interview can be dismissed or counter-balanced by positives if a company feels you really are the right candidate for the job. But here are five red flags that most great hiring managers will not miss and will have a hard time getting past.
1. Bridge burning. Badmouthing a current or former employer is not the path to my heart. I’m always looking for team players who can work well with others, even in trying circumstances. Criticizing colleagues, a boss or an employer, is a very bad sign.
Obviously, most workplaces are not perfect, so if you feel the need to talk about issues and challenges at your former employer, you must do so in a respectful way -- not a rant. Tell a story that lays out a challenging situation but, more importantly, focuses on what skills or insights you gained through that experience. I want employees who, when confronted with tough situations, found the positives and grew. Nobody wants to hire a grouser.
2. Weak on strengths, and weaknesses. Employers need hires who know where they are strong and where they could use support. Don’t be afraid to articulate clear strengths, bolstered by examples of goals achieved or issues resolved. You should go into an interview armed with at least a handful of strengths, each supported by a couple of concrete examples. If you can’t convey your strengths in a compelling way, you’re in trouble.
At the same time, you need to be able to talk about areas where you hope to develop. Rarely do we find a candidate who is the whole package, so I want candidates to be genuine when they articulate weaknesses.
Even top CEOs are not rock stars at everything. The best recognize their shortcomings and hire rock stars to fill those gaps.
3. No research. If a candidate hasn’t prepared -- and, ideally, over-prepared -- for this critical first meeting, what can we expect on a typical Tuesday in the role? With access today to company websites and Facebook pages, LinkedIn, news searches, sites like Glassdoor.com and other sources, there is no excuse to walk into an interview ignorant.
I expect candidates to understand the business, have read recent news releases on the company, and know a bit about the leadership team. Bonus points to those candidates who find someone connected to the company and can ask a question or two based on those “insider” insights.
If you don’t know someone at a company, use LinkedIn to try to connect with an employee, former employee or someone who has done business with the company. You’ll gain invaluable intelligence. Using the theory that we are all just six connections removed from any person -- and, in this case, any company -- you should make the effort to talk to someone with direct knowledge of the company before you step into an interview.
Related: How to Avoid Hiring Duds
4. No questions. I want candidates who are curious about the team, the role, our strategy and what they can expect to be doing on day one, in six months and in a year. I also want team members that are passionate about what we’re doing -- and excited to learn more.
You should go into every interview with a minimum of five questions for the interviewer. Even if you know the answers, you should be hungry to hear your hiring manager or future co-workers respond to those questions. These should be serious and insightful questions.
Too often I spot candidates who ask token questions because they know they are expected to. They show little interest in delving into how the business is run, what’s the competitive landscape and what’s the work environment and culture like.
If you don’t ask questions that suggests to me you don’t care about the people you are going to be spending 8 to 12 hours a day with. Not a good start to a long-term relationship.
5. Too much “I”. For some candidates, it starts with ‘I’ and never goes anywhere else. Naturally, a prospective employer wants to hear what you have accomplished, but equally important is how you describe those achievements. Was it all ‘me’ that accomplished the great outcomes? Or was it the team from product development, marketing and ‘me’? Even if you led the effort, don’t forget execution is as important as your strategic planning.
We work in an age of collaboration. I want to hire smart people who have accomplished goals elsewhere and can articulate how their contribution worked as part of a larger effort. Do they have a holistic understanding of the way things get done in a business and appreciate that each of us is just a piece of a bigger enterprise?
What you may notice about my five deadly red flags is that they go deeper into a candidate’s personality and his or her approach to interacting with others and with an organization. Committing these blunders will almost assuredly mean the end of your prospects with the company.