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5 interview mistakes to avoid


How to overcome some common interview mistakes and leave a good impression.

We like to think of a job interview as just a conversation between adults. A simple, normal conversation. And we have those all the time in life, right? So why is it that no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves of this, we still feel nervous when the big day rolls around?

Preparation is one of the most effective ways to overcome this curse of the interview. But when preparing it’s important to not only focus on the big ticket items we hear about all the time like constructing a Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR) answer and knowing where the most convenient parking is, but also on the subtleties that can either leave the interviewer feeling like things were a little ‘off’ or like you are a superstar they need on their team.

Combined, we have interviewed thousands of people. Here are the five biggest mistakes we see that you might not have even realised you were making and how to overcome them:

1. Failing to share the love with the whole interview panel

Far too often we make assumptions about who the key decision maker in the room is. Our natural bias is to seek out the most senior job title. But we all know what they say about making assumptions.

When an interview panel is convened, each person is in the room for a reason and they all carry influence. Smiling is a simple way to bring warmth to the conversation and eye contact makes a convincing candidate. But if your positive body language feels weighted to one panel member it can be distracting and undermine your answer, no matter how good it is.

Regardless of who asks the question, share eye contact and your smile evenly. All panel members are interested in what you have to say and will value the sense of inclusiveness you are creating.

For bonus points, we also recommend personalising your responses by using the panel member’s names from time to time. That’s one kind of name-dropping that will be well received.

2. Trying to wing your answer to “tell us about yourself”

Often the first question asked at an interview is “can you tell us about yourself?” and it is your opportunity to leave a strong first impression.

The last thing you want is for the interviewer to feel like they need to cut you off mid-way through your answer in order to keep the conversation moving forward. It throws the tone of the conversation off early and can take precious time to recover from.

Instead of recapping your chronological career history off the top of your head, prepare an answer beforehand by following our three-part formula:

  1. An overview of who you are as a professional in just a couple of sentences
  2. An optimistic sentence about why you applied for the role
  3. And then a final sentence that captures who you are as a person outside of work to bring colour to the conversation.

Think of your answer length as a paragraph not a page and trust that if the panel would like to learn more, they will ask.

3. Forgetting that short is sweet

Typically you will not be the only candidate that the panel is meeting with that day. At your next interview empathise with the panel members who have been sitting there for hours listening, which can be a tiring task.

Whilst it’s their job to show up to each interview with the same energy as they had in the first, it’s your job to make that as easy as possible for them. The best way to achieve this is to be succinct in your answers and avoid technical jargon.

Allow the discussion to flow but don’t waffle or get caught spending too much time on non-value adding conversation. The greatest risk of overly broad, technical or lengthy answers is that the gold in your response becomes lost and the interviewer is left feeling like you have been speaking for a long time but you haven’t really said anything at all.

As interviewers, we prefer brevity, vibrancy and clarity of thought over clichés or attempts at an ‘all-purpose’ response.

4. Accidentally undermining your own capability

Shelley recently met with a candidate who ended every response with “Did I answer your question?” It can be tempting to seek this comfort in an interview setting, but as an interviewer when we hear this one liner we are left questioning your confidence. It creates a sense of uncertainty and undermines the capability that you have just described so articulately.

Rather than asking for reassurance at the end of your answer, we recommend asking clarifying questions upfront if you feel unclear.

For example, after the interview panel has asked you a question you may like to say “Do you mind if I have a moment to think that through?”, “I have two examples that align really nicely to that question, would you mind if I shared both?”, or “It sounds like you would be most interested in learning more about my skills and capability in [insert relevant competency like ‘people leadership’ or ‘dispute resolution’]. Would that be correct?” This will allow you to better understand their intent and target your reply to suit.

5. Bagging out your current employer

We all have skeletons in our closet or at least a little dirty laundry. But when you are at an interview, it’s important to rise above any ill feelings you may harbour for current or past employers.

You may be asked to explain why you have moved roles throughout your career, and why you are now looking for your next opportunity. It is possible to answer these questions without damaging your reputation and it is mission critical that you do so.

Remember that the interviewer who is sitting in front of you today is considering becoming your next employer. They are looking for a genuine and open answer that de-risks this decision for them, but not to feel like they may end up the next ‘bad ex’.

When preparing for an interview, construct a response that conveys pragmatism, self-ownership, and reflective personal learning out of each experience, then practice it with a friend or family member who you can trust to provide you with honest and objective feedback. Make tweaks if needed and we guarantee you will never cringe again when you are probed about your past.

Emily Bowen and Shelley Johnson are HR professionals and host the my millennial career podcast. For more on building your personal brand, check out their episodes ‘how to crush your next job interview’ and ’10 biggest interview mistakes’.

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication.

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