10 Common Mistakes in Interviewing
By Julie Norwell
Executives entering the job market often think they know how to look for a job. That’s understandable. Many of them have moved fluidly from one role to another over decades. Even if not, executives have usually hired any number of people throughout their careers. Surely, they would know how to navigate the process, right?
Well, not always. Many executives entering the job market are astonished to discover how much has changed. This discovery can be an exercise in great frustration to them. They go through all the motions only to find that their efforts go nowhere – and they don’t know why. It’s because they don’t know what they don’t know.
In a sister article we discussed 12 common mistakes executives make as they embark on a job search. That list focused on getting started. But there are plenty of steps after launching a job search in which executives make mistakes, too.
One of the crucial steps is interviewing. Executives are accustomed to being on the giving end of interviews but find it’s quite different on the receiving end. In job seeking, interviews are an opportunity to tip the scale in your favor – if you know what you’re doing! Following is a list of 10 common mistakes people make in an interview.
1. Not Doing Your Homework
A successful interview begins with solid research on the target organization. One of the most important things you can do to prepare for an interview is to understand the company as well as possible in advance.
The organization’s website is, obviously, a great resource. Press releases will tell you the achievements that the company is proud of. If the company is public, you can easily track down its financial statements or annual report to get an overall understanding of the business. You don’t have to memorize the information, but you should know recent and major developments – say, if the company has doubled in growth, released a new product, and so on.
2. Thinking That You’re on Equal Ground with an Interviewer
Some career pros say that during an interview you are evaluating the employer as much as they are evaluating you. Make no mistake: Unless you are being poached from another role, employers have the power. If you are actively trying to transition jobs, your sole goal in an interview should be to position yourself as the best person for the job. Any leverage you wield comes only AFTER you receive a job offer. Until then, you are not on equal ground with an interviewer.
3. Understating Your Skills
When Tracy Katz began her job search after 20 years with one company, interviewing was a big concern. She felt that she didn’t know how to tell her story well. “Yes, I have accomplished many great things, but I am insecure talking about my successes,” said Tracy. “During a job hunt, however, you have to do that.”
Tracy is 100% correct. In an interview, you’re there to sell a product: yourself. And you have to be comfortable talking about yourself and describing what you’re capable of doing.
Don’t be afraid to use the word “I” in an interview. You don’t want to come across as cocky, of course, but it’s about you. Sure, work is collaborative. So, tell them, “My team created this great software.” But then focus on what your role was in that process.
Practice discussing your achievements with someone in advance so that you will exude confidence during an interview. Confidence will yield a better performance.
4. Overestimating Your Skills
People who overestimate their skills don’t prepare well for interviews. Ned, a Barrett Group client who came in second place in about eight different job prospects, is an example.
“At one point I was closing in on three different job opportunities and felt that I didn’t need the weekly calls with my career coach as I prepared for the interviews. That was a mistake. All three jobs fell through, and I was back to ground zero,” he said.
Ned re-engaged with his coach and did a deep dive on his interview style. He learned that he needed to listen more, answer questions more succinctly, and take care not to talk over people. Shortly thereafter, Ned got two job offers in the same week, with a budding third potential offer.
“All too often, executives come to us thinking they know everything there is to know about finding an executive position,” says Peter Irish, CEO of The Barrett Group, in a recent blog. “‘Just introduce me to hiring managers and I’ll do the rest,’ they say…Well, that kind of single-minded self-promotion is a huge turn-off for most hiring executives,” says Peter.
Another turn-off to bear in mind is trying to be the smartest person in the room. Strategic humility will take you a long way. Hubris, however, can end an interview process quickly.
5. Giving a Soliloquy in Answer to a Question
When giving examples of your experience and successes, you want to provide details and metrics as they relate to the job at hand. What you shouldn’t provide, though, is a soliloquy.
“My working mantra was ‘More than a soundbite, less than a narrative,’” said André, whose coach told him to target 30 seconds in his interview responses. “After that interviewers aren’t listening.”
Executives have rich careers, often with more skills and experience to offer than the position calls for. Resist the temptation to tout them all! Hiring managers want to know your qualifications for the job. By serving up information beyond that, you risk either losing the interviewer’s attention or causing them to think that you’d be bored by the role.
6. Not Recognizing When a Conversation Has Become an Interview
The best job offers are the ones you get when you aren’t expecting them. This happens all the time in the unpublished market, especially when you actively nurture your social capital. You reach out to an old friend or a former colleague to catch up. While chatting, they realize that you have the skillset needed to resolve a business problem they have. So, they try to recruit you.
The trick here is to recognize when a conversation has become an interview and put on your candidate hat. This is exactly how Elfreda landed an amazing role at an EdTech startup. When she connected with a former colleague to ask about his new business, the ensuing discussion prompted him to realize that he needed Elfreda as a thought partner on his team.
Opportunities that evolve organically, like this, may not be a straight line, but the results are often the most rewarding because the job is designed around you.
7. Ending an Interview Without Establishing Your Status
You never want to end an interview without knowing where you stand in the hiring process. This can be established with one simple question: “Do you think I’m a good fit for this role?” If the interviewer expresses any doubts about your candidacy, it gives you the opportunity to take another crack at speaking to those concerns.
If the interviewer thinks you’re a fit, you nail down next steps. Knowing their timeframe for future communications enables you to follow up with them appropriately.
8. Taking Rejections Too Hard
Rejections are hard after a lengthy interview process – sometimes devastating. They’re easier, though, if you view them as learning experiences. It’s a matter of mindset (and, yes, it’s easier said than done). The better you understand why you lost a role, the better your performance will be on the next job interview.
Always be gracious after a rejection. If you leave employers with a good impression, they will sometimes circle back later about a different job or with a referral to a hiring manager at another company. There is no sense in burning bridges.
9. Not Tailoring Your Comments to the Interviewer
Know your audience. Feel free to get into the weeds on technical aspects of the role with the tech guy. But when interviewing with the CEO, speak to being a hard worker who performs well under pressure.
If your position typically partners with lawyers or accountants, explain how you have supported these counterparts in previous jobs. Discuss how you have built great relationships in the past. In each case, illustrate what YOU can do for somebody based on their function within the organization.
10. Discussing Money Before You Have an Offer
If you’re asked about money before you have an offer, deflect the question whenever possible. (And definitely don’t ask about compensation yourself!) It’s illegal in some states for recruiters to ask about salary history, but recruiters may still ask what you want to make. If pressed, simply say that you are looking for a salary commensurate with the role and your experience.
You’ve nothing to gain by showing your cards first, and much to lose. At a minimum, you put yourself at a disadvantage in the negotiation phase. But it can also cost you an offer if your initial number seems either too low or too high.
11. Bonus Point: Forgetting the Basics
There are a few mistakes that go without saying: Do not arrive too early, and don’t arrive late. Dress sharply but be sensitive to the sartorial culture of the company, especially at startups. (Imagine showing up in a formal black suit to find the hiring manager in jeans.)
Make eye contact. If you’re interviewing remotely, set up your screen so that you’re looking at the camera. You will appear to be looking at the interviewer.
Prepare questions for when you are invited to ask them. They should be intelligent, thoughtful, and demonstrate that you have researched the company. DO NOT ask about vacation policy, what time people go home, or anything else that smacks of “what’s in it for me?” You can ask those questions after you get an offer. Instead, you might ask, “What are the most urgent problems over the next three to six months?” or “I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve been here 10 years. What keeps you here?”
Lastly, always thank your interviewer for taking the time to speak with you. Then follow up with a brief thank you email.
Don’t be shy to accept your inexperience in interviewing. Correcting these common mistakes could be the difference in landing your next job.