15 Common Interview Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

By Maddie Lloyd - Mar. 9, 2021

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When you’re preparing for an interview, you’re probably focused on trying to make a good first impression, prepare your answers to the most common interview questions, and doing whatever you can to show that you’re the best person for the job.

But here’s the kicker:

There are several things you could be doing that are ruining your chances of getting the job — and you might not even realize that you’re doing them. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a list of everything you should avoid doing in an interview to better your chances of getting the job.

Here are the 15 interview mistakes you need to avoid so you can impress employers and land the job:

1Showing Up Late or Too Early

Being late is a great way to make a bad impression before you even meet your interviewer. First impressions are a big deciding factor in hiring candidates, so you’ll want to make sure that you make a good one.

Running late for an interview is bad on so many levels: it shows that you have poor time management skills, and it shows that you don’t respect the company, the interviewer, or the position. Ouch.

Budget your time so you make it to the interview ten to fifteen minutes early. This will show that you’re excited for the opportunity instead of making you look like an ungrateful person.

Showing up super early is almost as bad as showing up late because it puts undue pressure on your interviewer to hurry up. If you arrive any earlier than 15 minutes prior to the interview, don’t enter the workplace just yet. Take a few moments to relax and collect your thoughts before going in.

2Not Dressing for the Occasion

When you interview for a job, you want to look snazzy and professional, not like a sloppy goof who just rolled out of bed. Even though it is possible to dress too nicely for an interview, you should always aim to look polished and put-together.

When you’re going for a professional position, make sure to dress in business attire. If you’re going for a retail, restaurant, lifeguard, etc. position, you can dress a bit more casual, but still try to look like you have your life together.

Use your research on the company to determine your outfit. If it’s a more laid-back start-up, then business casual is probably safe. But if it’s a hyper-traditional business, you might opt to wear more conservative clothing that’s a bit more formal.

For more information on how to dress for an interview, check out this article.

3Thinking of the Interview as an Interrogation

Too many people go into interviews expecting employers to grill them and make them feel intimidated. While you are going to be answering questions, thinking of an interview as an interrogation won’t help you win over an employer.

Instead of thinking of the interview as a situation where one person asks all the questions and the other person answers them, think of it as a conversation where both parties ask and answer questions.

It’s important to have a conversation with the interviewer instead of fearing them and cowering in your answers. Plus, if you don’t ask the interviewer questions, you might not get the job.

Hiring managers make decisions based on more than skills and qualifications alone. Show that you’re a three-dimensional person with a personality and good conversational skills, and the interviewer will have an easier time envisioning you as a team member.

4Bringing a Drink Into the Interview

Showing up to your interview fifteen minutes late with Starbucks isn’t as fashionable as you might think. Leave behind the coffee, soda, or water when you go into your interview. It’s going to be hard to answer questions effectively when you’re trying to slurp down the last drops of your pumpkin spice latte.

Bringing a drink with you isn’t good interview etiquette. Plus, it creates the opportunity for distractions and accidents — and you don’t want to be remembered as the dude who spilled water all over his pants and looked like he had an accident. Yikes!

On the other hand, if your interviewer or another company representative you meet with before the interview offers you a drink, accept it. People get a jolt of good feelings when they perform a small favor for someone, and you definitely want the interviewer to associate you with good feelings.

5Using Your Phone

Please, for the love of god, do not do anything to contribute to stereotypes of millennials and their obsession with smartphones. Just put the dang thing away. Your iPhone will miss you, but you’ll be reunited in a matter of minutes.

Texting or answering calls during your interview sends a pretty clear message to employers that you couldn’t care less about the job or wasting their time. Do yourself a favor and just turn it off.

6Being Clueless About the Company

One of the easiest and most straight-forward interview questions to answer is “What do you know about our company? so getting stumped on this one would be a big mistake.

Do some research on the company before your interview. Look into their background information like their history, their locations, and their mission statement in an “About Us” section on their website. Read it a few times, and maybe once more before your interview so it’s fresh in your mind.

This research is about more than just answering one question. Looking into the company will help you plan answers, present yourself as a perfect cultural fit, and give you plenty of material when discussing how the company’s values align with your own.

We also recommend giving the job description a close read before walking into the door. That way, you’ll have the most important qualifications and responsibilities of the job fresh in your mind, so you can showcase how you’re prepared to do the job on day one.

7Not Being Prepared to Answer Interview Questions

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not being able to answer the most common interview questions. Being caught off-guard by questions like “What are your greatest professional strengths?“” or “What motivates you? basically tells employers that you didn’t care enough to even try to prepare for your interview.

Do yourself a favor and look over the most common questions you can expect to hear during an interview and how you can answer them. You’ll thank yourself later.

We don’t recommend memorizing answers and sticking to a script, though. Instead, think of the most common categories of interview questions: Challenges, conflict, strengths, weaknesses, motivation, career goals, etc. Then, come up with a story that elucidates your thoughts and experience with the subject.

With this strategy, you’ll be prepared to give answers to every behavioral interview question. Set your answers up using the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) to make for a coherent and compelling narrative that the hiring manager or recruiter can easily digest.

IF you have bullet points prepared for each of these topics, as well as commonly-asked questions for your industry and/or role, you’ll be able to give natural-sounding and impressive answers.

8Making Your Weakness Sound Like a Positive

When employers ask about your greatest weakness, they’re not looking to see how well you can spin your weaknesses into positives. Interviewers hear these answers a million times — they’re boring.

Use this question to highlight a skill you hope to improve upon and how to plan to enhance it. Employers don’t care what your weaknesses are — they care about how you handle the question and what your answer says about you.

9Not Paying Attention to the Interviewer

Getting distracted or zoning out during an interview basically says “I’m so bored I would rather be anywhere else than in this job interview right now. Plus, if you can’t stay focused during an interview, how are you supposed to stay focused during your job?

Stay engaged. Make eye contact with your interviewer and make an effort to listen to them and answer their questions effectively. Make sure that you’re well-rested to be alert and free of distractions during your interview.

Low energy and lackluster enthusiasm might be a baseline part of your personality, but interviewing means turning your social abilities up to the maximum. Be engaging with your tone and body language. Getting enough sleep and staying away from alcohol the night before your interview can help you feel fresh for the event.

Just don’t go overboard with the caffeine and come off as a crazy person. Breathe, take time to reflect before answering questions, and practice some pre-interview relaxation tips.

10Having Vague Resume Facts

Even if you submitted your resume or application online, you might be asked to fill out a physical job application at your interview. Make sure that you know information like dates of employment, graduation dates, and employer contact information so none of your information is vague or sketchy.

Being able to talk confidently about your professional experience is what interviews are all about, so if you can’t even keep the basic facts straight, it’s not a good look. Review your resume beforehand and fix the key points and accomplishments in your mind.

11Talking Too Much or Not Enough

You don’t want to be remembered as the person who went on and on and never shut up, or as the person who was so quiet that the interviewer almost forgot you were there.

The interviewer doesn’t need to know your favorite colors or all the other menial details of your life. Keep your answers short and to the point.

On the other hand, it’s hard to have a conversation with someone who only gives one-word answers. Even though you want to avoid rambling, you should aim to give full answers to questions and have a conversation with the interviewer.

The key is active listening. Take time to hear and understand what the interviewer is saying, and ask clarifying questions if you need to. Jumping into answers before fully appreciating the interviewer’s reason for asking can lead to bad results.

12Having Poor Communication Skills

You should be able to conduct yourself as a professional during your job hunt. Instead of saying “Sup, dude?” and going in for a fist bump, make eye contact, shake hands, be confident, and engage the person you’re interviewing with.

Having professional communication skills will show interviewers that you’re a great person for the job even before you start answering questions.

This goes beyond what you say and how you say it. You also need to pay attention to your body language and nonverbal cues. For instance, looking down while enthusiastically talking about your greatest accomplishment puts your words and actions at odds in the interviewer’s mind. They might not trust what you’re saying as much, even if it’s good stuff.

Your tone is also critical. Match the interviewer’s communication style and tone. If they’re laid back, be more relaxed. If they’re super conservative and formal, step into that mode of speaking.

13Saying Bad Things About Past Employers

You never know who your interviewer might have connections with — they could even know your former boss who you just referred to as a “big idiot” You want to show employers that you work well with others and are an effective communicator, so play it safe and refrain from badmouthing anyone you used to work with.

You can always reframe negative situations into positive learning experiences with a bit of creativity. And if you were laid off or fired, explain the circumstances that led to it in a confident way and turn to more forward-thinking ideas.

14Not Asking the Interviewer Questions

Every interview ends with the question “Do you have any questions for me?” Among all of the wrong answers to this question, the worst one would be “No.”

Some good questions you can ask are:

  • What does a typical workday look like?

  • What methods of communication does your team use?

  • What projects are currently being worked on?

You should also ask questions to make sure the job is right for you. So don’t be afraid to ask questions about your potential boss, the company culture, and opportunities for growth so you can make your decision.

15Forgetting to Follow Up After the Interview

Always follow up an interview with a well-written thank you letter. It will reiterate your interest in the position and the company, and it will better your chances of getting the job.

Send your follow-up email within 24 hours of the interview (but not right after it) to remind the interviewer who you were. Mention a positive and unique moment from the interview early on to refresh their memory. Then, restate your most important qualifications and emphasize your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

Close with a thank you and excitement to hear about the next steps.

Final Thoughts

These mistakes may seem painfully obvious, but because we don’t even think about them, they could be ruining our chances of getting a job.

Take some time to prepare for your interview, perfect your communication style, and follow-up post-interview, and you’ll impress employers and land your dream job.

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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