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8 surprising ways you’re ruining your job interview

a skeptical caucasian male interviewer listening to an asian female interviewee; conversation happening over a laptop
There are some not-so-obvious ways you might be ruining your job interviews.

Want to ace a job interview? Don’t chew gum. Don’t dress like a slob. Don’t curse. You know all this. But what about less-evident ways to have your name land in the “do not hire” pile?

Cloud communications company Ringover recently surveyed 1,200 people with remote and in-person interview experience across different fields and age groups.

Several faux pas, like lateness or improper research, might be obvious, noted the company’s CEO and co-founder, Renaud Charvet, but other off-putting job interview behaviors may surprise you — such as not bringing copies of your résumé, making jokes or even asking for two or more sugars in a hot drink, said Charvet.

In a competitive job market, Charvet advises interviewees to take no risks when it comes to interview etiquette. Other experts agree.

Most people know that arriving late to a job interview is a faux pas. Getty Images
Most people know that arriving late to a job interview is a faux pas. Getty Images

“Mastering interview etiquette is just as important as polishing your résumé,” said Kraig Kleeman, founder and CEO of the New Workforce.

He emphasized that by avoiding blunders and focusing on presenting yourself authentically and professionally, you’ll have a much better shot at leaving a lasting impression. “Interviews are like blind dates,” he said. “You can charm your way into the hearts of your potential employer, or you can leave them wondering why they even agreed to meet you.”

Ahead, some common mistakes that give interviewers the ick.

Asking for interview-related expenses

Jeff Herzog — president of FPC National, a nationwide network of over 60 executive search firms based in Long Island — warns against inquiring about reimbursement for interview-related expenses.

“It’s essential to understand that regardless of whether you’ve incurred costs such as tolls, parking fees, train tickets or taxi fare, asking about reimbursement during the interview process can be perceived as unprofessional,” said Herzog, who estimates he has conducted 10,000 interviews in the course of 27 years. “Companies typically communicate upfront if they will cover travel expenses for interviews.”
Reframe your perspective by considering the cost associated with your interview as “an investment in yourself and your future.”

Talking about your personal life too much

There’s a difference between a little small talk and a rambling life story. Getty Images
There’s a difference between a little small talk and a rambling life story. Getty Images

Yes, a little chitchat is normal, but Cierra Gross — CEO of Caged Bird HR, a human resources support company in New York City — sees job candidates ramble on about their personal lives all too often.

“The interviewer is, of course, going to be kind, but they also have a job to do, which is to assess if you are the best candidate for the role,” she said. “Rambling about your personal life not only gives the opportunity to introduce bias into the interview but also can preclude the interviewer from doing their job, which decreases the chance of you landing the role.”

Asking too many questions at the end of the interview

We know, you want to show you did your homework and that you’re eager to get the offer. That said, Gross believes that asking one or two questions to your interviewer at the end of the conversation is plenty. “Three questions can come off as you are being critical of the company, so prepare one or two questions, then let the interviewer wrap the interview up,” she said.

Not treating a recruiter with respect

It’s best to regard every interview as a valuable use of your time. Getty Images
It’s best to regard every interview as a valuable use of your time. Getty Images

Chatting with an executive recruiter to try and land your next gig? Please don’t say, “I wouldn’t say this in a real interview, but …”

Scott White, an executive vice president and principal recruiter at HireMinds LLC in Boston, is turned off every time he hears this one. “I’m a representative of the clients who engage me — so it is a real interview!” said White.

Not appearing tech savvy

Familiarizing yourself with tech for virtual interviews can go along way. Getty Images
Familiarizing yourself with tech for virtual interviews can go along way. Getty Images

White admits that there are absolutely times when technology doesn’t cooperate, but if you know you are having a video interview, test out the platform first.

“Eliminate as many things as possible that can go wrong,” he said, noting that job candidates should always make sure their Zoom or other video platform software is updated right before an interview.

Along those lines, Kleeman wants to gently remind interviewees to either use a virtual background or make sure the real-life one looks polished. “I once had a virtual interview where the candidate’s background was messy — as in clothes everywhere, and not in an excellent, organized way,” Kleeman recalled. “It made me question their professionalism and whether they took the interview seriously.”

Excessive name-dropping

Sometimes, it is more important what you know as opposed to who you know. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Sometimes, it is more important what you know as opposed to who you know. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The hiring manager gets it — your first cousin-in-law is a real big shot in the company’s finance department, or your college roommate referred you for the role. They don’t need to hear about it 50 times. “I’m not impressed with who someone knows — I’m interested in what they have accomplished in their jobs,” said White. “What are they proud of? What did they do to move the needle — how did they help their company make or save money?”

Using superlatives excessively

Herzog said that doing so can leave the interviewer with a negative impression, so steer clear of using adjectives like “best” and “most” when describing your chops for a role.

Avoid general superlatives and stick to quantifiable data during an interview. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Avoid general superlatives and stick to quantifiable data during an interview. Getty Images/iStockphoto

“When you use words like ‘perfect,’ it may come across as though you’re attempting to overly impress the interviewer, which can lead them to question your authenticity,” said Herzog. “Convincing a hiring manager to hire you doesn’t require relying on superlatives; instead, focus on providing factual and quantifiable information to support your candidacy,” Herzog elaborated.

Rather than stating that you’re “perfect” for the position, Herzog said you should take the opportunity to articulate why you’re a good fit for that specific company and provide concrete examples. This way, you’re adhering to the “show not tell” rule and making your case through experiences you’ve had and credentials you’ve racked up, versus waxing poetic about how you’re the best.

Not taking notes

Visual cues like note taking tells the interviewer that you’re excited about the position. Getty Images
Visual cues like note taking tells the interviewer that you’re excited about the position. Getty Images

Even if you know you’re never going to look at them after, taking notes during an interview is a visual cue that you’re engaged and interested.

“Many people claim to have a photographic memory these days. They don’t feel the need to take notes. It’s one of my pet peeves,” said White, noting that some interpret a lack of note-taking as a lack of interest, whether that’s the truth or not. “For example, if I am giving feedback on someone’s résumé, I want them to write things down. I don’t believe that people remember everything I say. If I am investing time to help someone, have the courtesy to jot ideas down.”