Your resume made it to the right person and made the right impression and you were invited for an interview. Nicely done!
Whether you’re a recent grad or you’re thinking ahead to your first interview out of school, it’s a good time to be searching for a job. The U.S. unemployment rate is at an 18-year low. That means companies are competing to hire the best and the brightest—that would be you! So you’re at an advantage.
But that doesn’t mean you should be lazy and rest on your laurels (or your polished resume). There are still ways you can mess up your chances of being offered a position. First and foremost is being late. This should go without saying, so all we’ll note is: Show up on time. Punctuality matters. As far as other mistakes, they’re easy to avoid. Here’s how to shine rather than slip up.
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Mistake #1: Missing a key part of your research
Winging it may have worked to land your seasonal gig restocking jeans, but it won’t fly in a post-grad job interview. Besides, there’s no good excuse to not do your homework since Google makes it really easy, says Beth Hendler-Grunt, founder and president of Next Great Step, an advisory service that helps college grads land their first job.
Focus your research in two areas: the company in general, and also the person you’re meeting with. Google both names to see what comes in up in terms of social media profiles and news articles. “Whether it’s the hiring manager or a family friend who’s interviewing you, look them up on LinkedIn, read their profile, and take note of any [conversation starters],” says Hendler-Grunt. Mentioning a point you have in common—for example, an alma mater or volunteer work—gives you something to discuss during the interview, shows you did your homework, and helps create a connection.
Plus, sharing an anecdote about your experiences brings you to life and makes you more of a standout, and more memorable, to your interviewer.
Search “XYZ Company in the news” or “XYZ Company press announcements” to bring you to the page of the company’s latest press releases. It gives you the opportunity to say, for example, “I saw that you just announced third-quarter earnings. What are your thoughts about that?” The beauty of this strategy is that you don’t have to know the answer. It just shows that you did your homework.
If it helps, write your research notes down on a notepad and refer to it during your meeting. You can say, “I have some notes that I want to make reference to during the interview. I hope you don’t mind.” They’ll most likely appreciate that you came prepared.
Mistake #2: Avoiding eye contact
“Looking someone in the eye and shaking someone’s hand is not always easy for some kids in this generation,” says Hendler-Grunt. If you’re not comfortable making eye contact, she says there are ways to make it less awkward.
For instance, one of the reasons for avoiding eye contact is that you may not feel confident about your interview skills. Hendler-Grunt says that the way to become more confident is by practicing talking to people, doing your research on the company, and taking an inventory of your skills so you can come up with 3 things you want your interviewer to know about you.
Ask yourself: What are my top 3 skills? Are you a good researcher or a masterful writer, or do you excel in Excel? “When you go into an interview more prepared and you know what you’re going to say, you will feel more confident,” says Hendler-Grunt. “[It’ll be easier to] look someone in the eye to show them that you’re ready for that conversation.”
Mistake #3: Asking the wrong questions
You not only need to be prepared to answer questions but you should also have several to ask, to show your interest in the position. (They should not, however, include, “How long do people get for lunch?”)!
“The questions that I tell students they should always ask is, ‘What are the company’s priorities?’ or ‘What are the challenges that you’re facing in your business right now?’” These will get managers talking and show that you’re interested in the company and its success.
Other good questions to ask: “How do you measure success?” or “How would you measure success for a new employee?” The intent is that if you learn what’s important to the hiring manager, you can present any of your skills that will help them accomplish their goals. Similarly, you can ask, “What are the characteristics that you look for in a new employee?” and “Can you tell me about an employee that didn’t work out and why?” Like the previous questions, these will help you get a deeper understanding of what’s important to them and why people are successful in this company—or not.
Mistake #4: Checking your phone (do we even need to say this?)
You’ve probably seen the viral video A Millennial Job Interview. Sure, it’s a hilarious take on the generational divide, but some (older) hiring managers may buy into the stereotype. Your task: Prove them wrong by keeping your phone out of sight. Make sure it’s set on silent/vibrate or, better yet, turned off before the interview. Don’t use it to take or refer to your notes (because even if you’re actually reading notes, it won’t go over well). A pad and paper will make you look more professional.
And speaking of phones, clean up your social media profiles before you start going out to interviews. Eight out of 10 hiring managers confirmed that they checked the social media accounts of potential new hires.
Mistake #5: Coming to the meeting smelling like …
You want your interviewer to remember you for the right reasons (your impressive work history, impeccable interview skills), not for the lingering scent you left in his or her office. Don’t douse yourself with perfume or cologne prior to your meeting—some experts even advise forgoing fragrance altogether. It may be distracting—or, worse, your interviewer may be allergic.
Other offending scents to avoid? Garlic and cigarettes. “If an employer thinks you’re a smoker, they may think differently about you,” says Hendler-Grunt. And that can hurt your chances of getting an offer. If you do smoke, once you’re dressed and ready for your interview, don’t light up. (Better yet, quit.)
Mistake #6: Faking it
Trying to sound like you know more about the job or industry than you do is likely to backfire. You don’t have to know everything and you’re not expected to, says Hendler-Grunt. “It’s not a test where you have to memorize the answers. You just have to prove that you learned a little bit and that you’d like to learn a lot more.” Keep it simple and say, “I noticed this and I would like your insight into that.”
Inflating your previous work experience also hurts your chance of an offer. That’s because such experiences are easy to verify—either in an online search or while checking your references. In a recent survey by Korn Ferry, hiring managers cited exaggerating or outright lying about previous job experience was the second most common mistakes grads make when interviewing (the first was not doing their research). So don’t do it.
Mistake #7: Going off on a tangent
Hendler-Grunt has found that a lot of times, candidates don’t answer an interviewer’s question. They go off on a tangent (maybe from nerves) and start talking about something else that wasn’t what was asked.
As Tupac said, “Listen twice, speak once.” Listen to the question—really listen to what the interviewer is asking you before you try to answer it. If you’re not sure, ask them to repeat the question or clarify it. And listen carefully before you respond. Keep your answer short and concise. Don’t ramble.
Mistake #8: Ghosting your interviewer
Handwritten thank-you notes used to be the way to go. And they’re still great. But snail mail can take a few days, and these days you need to be responsive and competitive. So email a thank-you note within 24 hours of your interview, says Hendler-Grunt. The message should recap your conversation or mention a particular point (to show that you’ve listened well), and remind them what a great candidate you are! For example, thank them for the meeting, mention how you enjoyed learning something specific about the position and/or company, then remind them of 3 of your skills that you believe could add value to their business. End the message by telling them when you will follow up on the position.
Be very specific when telling them when they can expect to hear from you again. “Don’t think (or write), ‘I’ll wait to hear from you,’” says Hendler-Grunt. “They’re busy. You have to remind them”—especially about what an asset you’d be to have on board.