Top 10 mistakes to avoid during an interview

— By Debra Prentice, Market Development Director

We all know the standard mistakes to avoid during an interview: not being prepared, not researching the company, or not appearing interested; but what are the not-so-obvious mistakes to avoid?


Mis-Interpreting the Question: “Can you tell me about yourself?”

Many interviewees will typically answer ALL about themselves (hobbies, family, personal interests, etc.) when asked this question; however, most interviewers actually want to know all about the professional “you” that is related to the job.  While this is a vague and opened ended question, you will want to be prepared to answer concisely and not lose the interest of the interviewer.  Skip Freeman, managing partner of Hire to Win recommends breaking this question into 3 parts:

  1. Offer a very condensed version of your career history.
  2. Offer a specific example of an achievement in a previous career that would be of interest to the hiring manager in this position. 
  3. End with a summary (only a couple of sentences) of what you would like to achieve in your next career.


Providing too Much Information

Humans are naturally wired to verbally communicate, and it appears our favorite subject to talk about is ourselves. In fact, 60% of our conversations consist of talking about ourselves!  Since humans also have an attention span of 59 seconds during a conversation, rambling on about yourself without a strategy will lose the interest of your interviewer.  According to Harvard psychologists, the ideal conversation should include both parties speaking about 50% of the time, “That means staying quiet half the time is a tough, but influential tool for business”.  During a research study, Mark Goulston, a business psychiatrist observed the typical stages of business conversation (which you should definitely avoid during your interview):

  1. The business stage: on task relevant, and concise
  2. The feel-good stage: so wonderful and tension-relieving for you, you don’t even notice the other person is not listening
  3. The off-track attempt to recover stage: rather than re-engaging by listening, the usual impulse is to talk even more to regain their interest

Goulston recommends to first self-evaluate on why you talk too much, and he found that typically too much talk is due to lack of confidence or “babbling out of nerves”. Goulston’s strategy to combat this is to tactfully ask the right questions to draw the other person out.

Marty Nemko, NPR radio show host also offers the following quick traffic-light strategy to minimize chatter:

Green light during the first 20 seconds: “Your listener is liking you, as long as your statement is relevant to the conversation and hopefully in service of the other person.”

— Yellow light for the next 20 seconds: “Now the risk is increasing that the other person is beginning to lose interest or think you’re long-winded.”

— Red light at the 40 second mark: “Yes, there’s an occasional time you want to run that red light and keep talking, but the vast majority of the time, you’d better stop or you’re in danger”.



Failure to Provide Accurate Information and Don’t Fabricate Missing Information

Make sure you provide accurate information, and do not fabricate your response. Have concise answers without rambling; but if you do not know the complete answer, don’t make something up. It is okay to not know everything. Most people in business, especially in an interview would rather know that you do not know the answer vs. being given mis-information.


Talking Negatively About a Previous Employer:


This is a common mistake to make, especially if the interviewer is asking why you are leaving your current job.  Making this mistake is easily avoidable, but almost guarantees you will not get the job if you do it.  According to a Simply Hired survey of more than 850 hiring managers, 87%-88% reported bad-mouthing a former boss or former company makes a negative impression. The only other items that are worse than bad mouthing your former employer is being late to an interview (93%) or whining (92%).



Make a Weakness Seem Like a Positive:

According to Forbes and other experts, recruiters should not be asking “What are your greatest weaknesses?”. Answers to this question are unlikely to draw out a meaningful answer from the interviewee. However, it is still asked during interviews; and you should be prepared to answer it.




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Interviewees are still answering this question by trying to make a weakness look like a positive. Doing this is not only a dated strategy, but it is also 100% wrong.  For example, answering this question with the following, “I get really stressed out when I’m not on time” is an attempt to show the interviewer that you are punctual, but it comes off as not being entirely transparent and can send the message that you cannot handle stress.  While you should try to minimize your weaknesses, being transparent about your weakness ANDspecifying what you are doing to improve it will show your interviewer that you are self-aware and have a plan to fix it.


Not Tactfully Steering the Conversation When Appropriate

Many candidates are interviewed by hiring managers who may or may not be professionally trained on how to ask effective questions during an interview. Your interview may be one of many tasks the interviewer has during the day, and if you feel your interviewer is not asking the right questions; look for a tactful opportunity to highlight your skillsets that would be pertinent for the job.


Letting What you “Don’t Say” Be the Deal Breaker:

According to nonverbal communication in business can either validate or contradict the actual words being said, and good hiring managers are looking for non-verbal cues. For example, crossing your arms could indicate that you are not receptive, or you do not agree with what is being said, but using effective hand gestures keeps your interviewer engaged and re-affirms the words being said.


Not Understanding that the Interview can be a Networking Opportunity:

According to a LinkedIn survey, 85% of jobs filled in 2015 and 2016 were filled by effective networking.  LinkedIn recommends to not just meet as many people as possible, but it is better to know a few well-connected people who can connect you to others. According to, only 4 to 6 people will get an interview out of 250 people who applied for posted corporate jobs.  You may not be the one hired, but your interview can be an incredible networking opportunity. If you are not skilled for this job, the hiring manager may know someone who would be interested in your skill set.


Not Being Prepared with Your Own Questions

Interviews should be a two-way Interview. Learn as much as you can about the company to ensure that the company is also a right fit for you. Additionally, asking the next step questions should give you a timeline on when you can expect an answer.


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Not Understanding Future Trends in the Industry You are Applying For:

Right now, Internet of Things (IoT) is going to impact not only our personal lives but will also impact how most companies do business. According to Forbes, 29% of organizations globally have adopted IoT strategies and 84% of companies investing in IoT have increased their spending in the last year. IoT will most likely affect the job you are applying for. Understanding not only this job but how future trends will affect your business will make you stand out from other candidates.