It always surprises me how unprepared candidates are for job interviews. It’s shocking really, given the stakes involved. It’s also not a phenomenon reserved for the younger or less experienced among us. Pretty much across the board – from Junior Associates to SVPs – I’m consistently amazed by the lack of preparation I see in interviews.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about optimizing interview performance – not today. I’m talking about the absolute basics. The things you’d think we should be able to take for granted (evidently many of us do). These are job interview blunders that it would seem you could only make if you held no regard or importance for the job you were interviewing for.
Today I’m going to share with you the 5 most common job interview blunders I see over and over again. These are blunders you cannot recover from. Once you’ve made them, it’s over. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive – I’m sure there are plenty more blunders out there – but these are the ones I’ve been seeing a lot lately and are top of mind for me at the moment. I’d love it if you’d share the common blunders you’ve seen in the comments section following this post.
Here are my top 5 interview blunders …
1. More than 10 Minutes Early … More than 1 Minute Late
There is never an excuse for lateness to a job interview. If you’re one minute late without calling, it’s over. For me at least. Lateness just says so much about your judgement. Maybe you’re the one person in twenty for whom this lateness was a true anomaly, a one-time thing, an unavoidable situation, but it’s not worth it for me to take that gamble. If you’re even one minute late to a job interview, I will not hire you, no matter how well you perform in the interview itself.
There is also no excuse, in my opinion, for being more than 10 minutes early for an interview either. I realize this one might be slightly more contentious but let me explain. When you show up significantly early … more than 10 minutes … you’re demonstrating a lack of respect for the interviewer’s time. For me it shows a lack of empathy and if you’ve read my recent blog posts you’ll know that’s of particular importance to me. Showing up really early shows that you’re way too focused on yourself and not nearly focused enough on the person you’re coming to visit. If you’re fifteen or twenty or thirty minutes early you’re not being eager, you’re really just being rude.
Being super early, or even one moment late, is inexcusable. You can't recover from this. The good news is, all you have to do is come to the interview site 45 minutes or an hour early and sit in the car or the local Starbucks and wait. That’s what I do. That’s what most people do. Then come check in at the office 5 minutes early and wait for the interview to start.
2. Can’t Name the CEO … Can’t Name the Product
I’d find this one shocking if it hadn’t happened in two of my interviews already this year. Regardless of what level you are at in your career or what job you’re applying for; you must do a minimum amount of research ahead of time. Not being able to name the CEO or not being able to recall the name of the main product the company sells is an unrecoverable offense. It reveals a lot about how you will approach your work if you were actually to get the job. It reveals that you are reckless, that you don’t prepare, that you don’t put forth a solid effort, and that you lack good judgement.
If you can’t name the CEO of the company and the main product the company sells, you can’t get hired. A quick visit to the website and a quick creep on the CEO’s LinkedIn profile takes 5 minutes and can make the difference between getting the job and getting the boot.
3. Can’t Name Two Competitors … Haven’t Visited the Web Site
Another one about performing a basic minimum level of research. If I’ve had 30 interviews this year, I bet a solid 7 candidates admitted to not having visited the web site prior to meeting with me … and I work in Marketing!! It seems crazy to be talking about this, but it’s a thing. If you haven’t taken the time to visit the company’s website before the interview, it’s a blunder you cannot recover from.
Taking this one step further, you should also be able to name at least two of the company’s competitors. I know some of you might think that’s a bit of an aggressive expectation. Why does a Finance Manager need to know about the competition? Why does someone on the Facilities team need to be able to identify our rivals? Fair questions from a practical standpoint, but for me it’s about respecting the process and demonstrating you are genuinely interested in the job and the company. It’s about separating candidates who are really trying to win and candidates who are just along for the ride. Too many candidates these days are playing the numbers game. They apply for 500 jobs and hope to get lucky. The problem is, when you apply for that many roles, you can’t afford to do even a basic level of research. Don’t fall into this trap.
When preparing for a job interview, please take a few minutes and visit the company’s web site. Check out the Home page, About Page, Press Page and Products Pages at the very least. Also do a quick google search for “ACME company competitors” or “Companies in the XYZ market” or download a research report on the industry. Anything that will give you a couple of competitor names you can recall during the interview process. Because if you can’t, you won’t get the job.
4. Attire Doesn’t Match the Work Environment
The rule is, dress one level more formal than the attire being worn in the office. If you don’t know what attire people wear in the office, take a look on their social media feeds or at pictures on the website or ask around. You can even ask the HR person or recruiter what attire people wear in the office. Then go one level more formal than that. So if the typical office attire for men is jeans and a sweater or jeans and a collared shirt, I’d wear jeans with a blazer or dress pants with a collared shirt … one level more formal. If the typical attire is dress pants with a collared shirt, then I’d go with dress pants, a collared shirt and a blazer or a suit with no tie … one level more formal.
The unrecoverable sin is to go one or two levels less formal than the typical attire worn in the office. Last year I interviewed a guy wearing a plunging v-neck t-shirt with ample amounts of chest hair bursting through and a pair of super short shorts. I could make the argument that this look is never appropriate in any setting but surely it’s not appropriate in a job interview where the typical office attire was jeans and collared shirts.
Although not as bad by any means, and probably not unrecoverable per se, drastically overdressing should also be avoided. I frequently meet candidates in suits and ties when the standard office attire is jeans and collared shirts. It’s not a deal breaker but it doesn’t exactly help me imagine you working at the company, and it shows that you’re thinking too much about you and not enough about us.
5. Can’t Answer the Two Most Basic Interview Questions
There are two interview questions you absolutely must be able to answer. They are the most basic questions possible. It’s impossible to google “top interview questions” and not see these. But you’d be shocked how often I get blank stares when I ask them.
What got you interested in working here and why do you want the job?
What makes you a great fit for the company and the role?
I’m going to say a full 20% of candidates I interview are not prepared to answer these basic questions. They pause, they stumble, they ramble. My question is, if not these questions, then what? What preparation could you have possibly done and not be able to answer these basic questions? The very first thing you should do when preparing for a job interview is to craft solid answers to these two questions because if you haven’t, you have no chance of getting the job.
I hope this was enjoyable for you. It was certainly therapeutic for me. I’d love to hear about the common blunders you see in job interviews. Share them in the comments below.
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