10 Things not to do during an interview

By glblguy

Interview
Photo by: Antonio Bonanno

I’m an IT manager in the “real world” and as result, a pretty large portion of my time is spent interviewing potential candidates for both contract and full time IT positions. I interview for positions on my team and also assist other managers when they are interviewing. Lately, I’ve been interviewing far more than usual due to the high workload we currently have. I enjoy the interview process, as it provides me an opportunity to meet new people and expand my interpersonal and oral communication skills. I’m a bit of an introvert, so having to walk into a room and talk to a complete stranger is definitely out of my comfort zone, but interviewing has really helped.

It’s amazing to me how much the various candidates differ. Some are very technical,  some not at all. Some professional, some not. Some very talkative and others hardly say a word. As I’ve been interviewing over the past couple of months, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things you shouldn’t do during an interview. These are things that pretty much make me cut the interview short and walk out.

Say you know something when you don’t

This is the number one blunder in my book. Nothing irritates me more than to say you know something on your resume, during an interview and then not be able to answer questions about it. One candidate I interviewed claimed on his resume that “He was the primary developer for all parts of the system“. I thought this was great and is exactly the kind of person I like to hire, someone well rounded. I began asking him questions about the system and in a very short period of time, it became clear that he only worked on one part of the system, “but knew about the other parts“. He knew about the whole system alright, knew they existed! But he couldn’t tell me anything more about the rest of it. He flat out lied on his resume. Next!

When you put together your resume, it’s fine to sell yourself, but don’t oversell or flat-out lie about your experience or what you worked on. During the interview if you’re asked about something, be honest and state your exact involvement. If you don’t know something or don’t know the answer, just say you don’t know. One answer that really impresses me when I am interviewing is “I don’t know, but the first thing I would do is pull up Google and learn about it“. This answer shows both honesty and initiative, two primary things I look for. I don’t expect you to know everything, but I do expect you to know how to find the answers.

Dominate the conversation

A fairly recent candidate we interviewed looked really promising. They had tons of technical experience and lots of knowledge about the development products we use. At first he seemed great, he was very communicative, friendly and easy going. The problem was we couldn’t get him to stop communicating. He would barely let us talk, let alone ask a question. We would ask him a question and he would start to answer before we even finished asking. Then he would ramble…and ramble and ramble. We had one hour scheduled for the interview, and at the end of the hour I think we asked him a total of 3 or 4 questions. We normally have about 30.

Needless to say we didn’t hire him. We also developed a way to communicate to each other (we often do paired interviews) that we don’t like the candidate. As the candidate, you should definitely talk more than the interviewer, but stay focused on answering the question and be wary of the amount of time the interview is scheduled for. If there is time at the end of the interview, you can always ask questions and elaborate on previous answers.

Tell Jokes, Discuss Politics, or Religion

While this doesn’t happen often, it does happen. I had one guy a year or so ago that while waiting for my manager to come into the room, started telling me inappropriate jokes. Some of them were sexual in nature, but most were female blond jokes. I was trying not to rude, but I didn’t appreciate them one bit. About the time I was getting ready to say something to him, my manager walked in. She’s blond. I have never seen a guy turn so pale in my life. I told him that based on our short conversation, I didn’t think he was a good fit for the position and escorted him to the door. All the while he was apologizing all over himself.

Another candidate we interviewed asked me if I was religious during the interview. First off, having these kinds of discussion is a HUGE HR no-no. Second, it’s just plain inappropriate for a job interview. Anyway, I asked him why he wanted to know. He proceeded to tell me about his particular religious association, about their beliefs and how Christians were such a huge problem. Of course me being Christian, I had obvious issues with his comments, but held my tongue. Again, I didn’t proceed with the interview. If he is willing to bring these kinds of discussion up in an interview I can only imagine what issues he would cause in the workplace. I have enough to deal with without adding a huge HR issue to my team.

Avoid telling jokes all together as you never know the person’s perspective your talking to. Avoid politics and religion as they really aren’t appropriate in most professional environments and they cause a great deal of controversy. Also, they just aren’t pertinent in an interview. I’m talking to you because of your credentials and experience, not because of your religious or political perspective.

Dress too casually

This is another one that doesn’t happen to often, but I’ve had candidates arrive too casually dressed. First, let me state that I don’t hire people based on how they dress. That isn’t important to me. I do expect you to look decent and adhere to the corporate dress policy (which is at a minimum jeans and a polo shirt).

I don’t think showing up in jeans and a t-shirt is appropriate for an interview though, at least not where I work. The far safer option is to overdress a little more than usual. For example, in my normal job I wear khaki slacks, casual dress shoes, and either a polo or button down shirt. For an interview I would wear the same but add a sport coat. You can’t go wrong with a suit and tie.

At at previous employer who required people to wear suits, we had a candidate show up in shorts. HR didn’t even bring him upstairs. The best option is to ask the company about their dress code before the interview and either meet or exceed the dress code.

Dressing too casually shows lack of respect for the companies policies and lack of interest in the job. After all, if I can’t get you follow the dress code, what success am I going to have in making you follow other even more important company policies. Managers have enough work to do dealing with their good employees without having to manage a rebel.

Arrive Late

If I have to explain this one too much, you probably have larger issues need  to consider, but arriving late (without a really good reason) will make me trash your resume in a heart beat. During the normal business day, I probably have 1-2 hours at my desk to get work done. The rest of my time is spent in meetings either with my employees, my management, or with my business area. I also like to leave at a reasonable hour to spend time with family in the evening. Don’t disrespect me and waste my time by being late.

Inevitably things will occur such as traffic jams, car problems, family emergencies, etc. Keep the contact number for the HR person or manager you are interviewing with handy. If something happens and you are going to be late, call them immediately to let them know. Even better, leave extra early. Personally, I would rather wait in the parking lot for 30 minutes than be 5 minutes late.

Also, if for some reason you can’t make the interview due to misunderstanding the time, or some other crazy reason, call the company to explain and make an effort to reschedule. I had scheduled a phone screen with a candidate a month or two ago. I dialed in at the agreed upon time and waited on the phone for a good 15 minutes and they joined the conference call. They also never called to explain why they didn’t call in. They didn’t get the job.

Use profanity

I know this is a very personal thing and some people are okay with it and some people aren’t. Profanity is just inappropriate in an interview. You don’t know what what the interviewers thoughts are about profanity so just don’t risk it. To me, use of profanity just shows you aren’t intelligent enough to find more appropriate words to express how you feel. Just don’t do it…at all.

Chew Gum

I had a candidate one time come into the interview chewing gum. At first I had no problem with it, but as we proceeded through the interview it became more and more distracting. I got so distracted with their gum chewing I had a hard time focusing on what they were saying. To make matters worse, chewing gum was their nervous habit, so as the questions became tougher, the gum chewing became more aggressive.

It’s perfectly fine to have a mint or gum before an interview, but remove it before meeting the interviewer. Chewing gum in an interview just looks unprofessional.

Smoke a cigarette right before the interview

As a non-smoker, there is nothing worse than having to sit in a small interview room with someone who just finished smoking a cigarette. I know, you smokers can’t smell it, but us non-smokers can. Personally, I have asthma and wouldn’t even be able to stay in the room with you. I’m fine with people who smoke, but be aware of the effect it may have on the interviewer.

If you do need to smoke before an interview, smoke outside so the smoke doesn’t get in your clothes as much. Wash your hands, and chew some strong gum or a mint before interviewing. Don’t forget though, spit it out before the interview!

Have no questions for the interviewer

Nothing says I’m not interested in the the job more than having no questions to ask. At the very least I expect candidates to ask about the working environment, the type of equipment they’ll have, dress code, culture, etc. I also like it when a candidate asks how they did and whether I feel they would be a good fit for the job. Be warned though, you may not get the answer you want. So if you aren’t going to be okay with the answer, don’t ask.

I would come prepared with at least 3-5 questions. Visit the companies web-site and look at recent news items and ask about how a particular news item is going to impact work in the area. Ask about how the department you are interviewing fits into the larger corporate picture. These are just a few examples, but put some thought into it up front. Asking questions will go a long way in showing the interviewer you are sincerely interested in the job and the company.

When multiple interviewers ask you the same question, give the same answer

A pretty common interview strategy is to have the candidate interview with multiple managers or team members. Often the interviewers will ask the same or similar questions either through coincidence or strategy. It amazes me at the number of candidates who don’t think we’ll compare answers after the interview is over.

When interviewing make sure you keep your answers consistent. Don’t make the mistake of changing your answers based on what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Keep your answers honest and consistent and be assured they will be compared later.

One of the questions we ask is for the candidate to rate themselves on a scale from 1-10 on how well they know a technology. You might be surprised at the number of candidates that rate themselves higher to non-technical interviewers and lower to technical interviewers. Needless to say, people that do this don’t get hired. It’s an integrity issue.

How about you? Have some tips for do’s or don’ts when interviewing? Have a funny story to share? Add a comment!


46 Responses (including trackbacks) to “10 Things not to do during an interview”

  1. MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators Says:

    All good points. I recently have had the opportunity to start interviewing candidates for jobs at my company, and one thing I have found particularly helpful is a list of questions for ANY candidate, regardless of the job type, that is found in the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker. Some really interesting questions that ferret out some interesting information. Check it out if you have the chance…

  2. Kristen Says:

    I had a disasterous phone interview last summer for a job. A company (that I had applied to many months before) suddenly called to set up an interview. I was at the beach with my entire family and had no access to a computer or much privacy. On top of that, the company gave me a specific date and time for the interview (the very next day)! There was no option to wait until I was home and more prepared. I should have just declined the interview because it was awful, and I felt so stupid. I tried to explain my situation to the interviewers, but I think I just made it worse.
    Fortunately, the next week I had an in-person interview with another company. I was much more prepared and got the job!

  3. The Restaurant Blogger Says:

    As a restaurant manaager I have interviewed a number of applicants. Many of them remind me of similar situations you have faced. Lateness is really a problem among the younger staff. If your going to be late, all we ask is to call ahead of time. I also have had applicants come in dress so casually in sweat pants and a t-shirt and you wonder if they are really serious about the job. One time, i had a guy come in for a baker position. He wrote he was a baker for several years, so the rest of the managers and I were excited as we desparately needed a new baker. When asked about his experience, he said he only baked at home from the box. Then he had the nerve to argue with us that it was no different than making everything from sractch. Unbelievable! So my advice to anyone is to be prepared, come on time, dress professionally, and make sure what you write on your resume is really true.

  4. Mrs. Micah Says:

    I almost never do religion, politics, or almost any humor until I know someone pretty well. I can work with people who have differences of opinion as long as they respect me as a coworker. In the same way, I need to respect them.

    Other good points, too. :)

  5. Make Friends, Earn Money Says:

    An excellent list. As an ex interviewer and recruiter I would also add don’t gossip about your previous employer or talk about how bad they were. This shows that you have a negative attitude and employers don’t like negativity.

  6. greenmint Says:

    Along with not using profanity, I would add – don’t use words that you don’t really know the meaning of, or make words up. I have a sort of silly habit of making up my own words for things, which amuses my friends, but makes me sound absolutely moronic in an interview. The woman I was interviewing with was older, and just looked at me like I had 2 heads when I said something about the “medicalyness” of something. I can’t really blame her, in retrospect!

  7. Jagdu Says:

    SEriously chewing gum and smoking?!?! Who are these people and have they ever had a real job?

  8. glblguy Says:

    @greenmint – you made me laugh out loud!

    @Jagdu – Oh, those are just a few, I have more saved for a future post. You’d be amazed.

  9. Patrick Says:

    Great tips! I’ll be writing an article about interviewing soon. Expect a trackback. ;)

  10. Christine Says:

    Great pointers! I make a habit of bringing a small bottle of water into an interview with me. Whenever I get nervous in an interview, my mouth gets dry and it gets really annoying. I am sure it happens to other people too.

  11. Dan Says:

    For #10, I think you mean “*don’t* give the same answer”…

    Sorry, the electrical engineer / small business owner in me can’t overlook the details…

  12. glblguy Says:

    @Dan – Actually, I think it’s correct, since the title of the article is 10 things NOT to do, so all of the items are listed in a positive manner. Right? Boolean algebra always gave me a headache…

  13. anon Says:

    FYI: I just read an article in Scientific American Mind that could apply to item number ten:

    “…the degree to which psychology students think of themselves as “scientific” or “artistic” has been shown to vary considerably depending on whether they compare themselves with drama students or with physical scientists. In comparison with physical scientists they are more inclined to stereotype themselves as artistic, but in comparison with people who work in the theater they are more inclined to stereotype themselves as scientific. Psychology students should experience stereotype threat if they are asked to perform a scientific task when compared with physicists or an artistic task when compared with artists, but they should experience stereotype lift if asked to perform an artistic task when compared with physicists or a scientific task when compared with artists.”

    I would say this could be a valid explanation as to why some of your candidates rate themselves higher to non-technical interviewers and lower to technical interviewers.

    the rest of the article can be found here:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=how-stereotyping-yourself-contributes-to-success

  14. fathersez Says:

    This article is most timely for me and my daughter. She is due to attend her second interview this Saturday and I am sure she’ll appreciate this piece of good advice, as I do.

    Thanks

  15. CindyS Says:

    You could add, Don’t kiss the interviewer. We had an older gentleman do this and it just sends the wrong message. All kinds of wrong messages…

  16. Randall Says:

    Great article, I agree with every point except the question one. I don’t necessarily have questions at the end of the interview, as I either ask them during the interview, or I save them for the second interview.

    Of course I work as a consultant, so I’ve survived pretty horrible working conditions. Fringe benefits aren’t that important or relevant during the first interview, nor is discussions about compensation, benefits or bonuses until later on.

  17. Shanti @ Antishay Says:

    This is a great post! I love it. I have always been a good interviewee and your list is something I’ve already adhered to in my life :)

    To clear things up, Dan above is correct, and I thought the same thing when I read it. The list is 10 things NOT to do. Your point is “When multiple interviewers ask you the same question, give the same answer.” That means that you’re telling people NOT to give the same answer to all the same questions, when in fact you’re trying to say that they SHOULD give the same answer. See? AKhdbfks it’s even difficult to explain it, but the point should be in the negative – “When multiple interviewers ask you the same question, give a different answer to each one” or something to that effect.

    I would add one caveat to the dressing well point that you made. It is important to dress the part, as well. Going beyond the dress code, when you’re going to an interview, you’ll want to dress to fit in with the crowd. I always dress to the nines, even in daily life, so when I interviewed at a shipping yard once (even though I was going for an office job), I looked ridiculous in heels and a skirt suit touring the ship yard with all the guys in jeans and hardhats and stuff :) This point is equally valid when interviewing for many more casual positions – you don’t want to dress so nice that you make the interviewer feel shoddy. Although your point to simply dress professional can be put in the light of “don’t go overboard either,” so it works :)

  18. glblguy Says:

    @Dan and @Shanti – After a few minor brain cramps, I see what you are saying. I’ll fix it :-) Now where is that Advil…thanks!

  19. Frugal Dad Says:

    I can’t remember ever hiring anyone who said “no” to the “Do you have any questions?” line. To me it shows a lack of preparation, and a general lack of interest.

  20. Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net Says:

    My husband has a few to add:

    When asked why you are the right candidate for the job, don’t say, “I don’t know”.

    When asked what kind of equipment you know how to operate, don’t say, “A pop machine.”

    Don’t go to a job interview unless it’s a job you’re prepared to take. (my husband was offered a job on the spot for a job he really didn’t want).

    Great article! Jim was laughing at all the funny stories, and thanking God that the job interview process is behind him!

  21. Jeff Says:

    I’ve been interviewing people for the last two weeks. The dress code one really hit home to me. I’ve been interviewing via phone with a colleague interviewing in person. On woman spoke well, answered questions well, had some related experience… we had her as one of the final two candidates — both talented, though in different aspects of a multi-faceted job — and her dress and presentation (makeup, etc) just ended up being a sign post that we couldn’t ignore any longer. It showed she was disorganized and didn’t understand the culture of the company for which she was interviewing. It would be inaccurate to say that her clothes were what lost the job for her, but they were a factor in that they pointed to larger issues.

    She also started asking about benefits way too early. Don’t ask the functional manager about benefits. Just don’t. That’s an HR thing.

  22. deepali Says:

    Despite the hyperventilating problem, I apparently interview rather well. But the part about my asking questions always stumps me. I feel stupid asking some of the questions that seem “obvious”… but sometimes the interview is so thorough that I honestly have nothing else to ask.

  23. ChristianPF Says:

    Great post,
    I particularly love your stories – I have always wanted to interview people solely for the purpose of experiencing some of the off the wall stuff that I hear about!!

  24. Writer's Coin Says:

    Great tips. I like the one about having questions ready. I find that most people that don’t have some kind of question or doubt are probably too much of a yes person. So unless you want that type of candidate…

  25. Living Off Dividends & Passive Income Says:

    the one question I really hate is “tell me about yourself”. i have no idea whether its just an ice breaker or how much info they really want.

    the most embarrassing moment came when an interviewer at a very well known company asked why i wanted to work there. i should’ve said “because you guys rock”, but instead i stared blankly wondering how to answer that question. After a really long uncomfortable silence I just wanted to leave.

  26. john Says:

    I always go on interviews for companies or positions I do not want to take. This allows me to practice and relax my nerves when I am on an interview for a job that I really do want.

  27. Coach Phil Says:

    Going into detail and elaborating on questions asked by an interviewer is definitely something that you SHOULD do on an interview. Speak clearly and confidently and don’t just answer with a simple yes or no. Provide as much information as possible, but be prepared not to give TOO much information, especially about certain topics.

  28. Liz Says:

    I agree with anon on the quibble with your last point. If a very technically-oriented person asks me about my technical skills, I am going to evaluate them differently than if asked by someone with a non-technical orientation. If you are a tech person, you would probably rate me as a one or a two on the technical chart from one to ten. But at my last job, I frequently served as technical support for the extremely non-technically minded staff–to them I was probably an eight. This seems to me to be a problematic area in your interviewing, maybe designed to throw people off. In your shoes I would clarify this point to interviewees, and have the non-technical person say to the interviewee to rate their skills in technical aspects of that particular job, somehow to phrase the question in a way that makes it clear that you expect the answer to be the same as the answer they will give to the tech staff.

  29. Toots Says:

    What do u say when asked where do u c yourself in five years., and also i couldn’t answer the question that i was asked and just said im sorry but i really didn’t prepare for this interview. I do not know what happened and walked out.I cried all the way home. I even had my resume with me ,cover letter and didn’t think to look at them and or go over the question that i read and written down that i should ask the employer and how to answer them.

  30. Rob Says:

    When attending an interview the most important aspect is being laid back and relaxed, it helps you to react to the situations put forward and be your best, there is nothing worse than leaving an interview thinking you could of said something better.

    There is an advert on recently where the guy starts screaming and pretends to get chucked out of the office, so all the other potential employees run away, then his mate is the only one left, brilliant advert.

  31. Christi Emerson Says:

    I strongly disagree with John who said he went to interviews for jobs that he had no intention of taking just so he could get experience with interviews. That is not only dishonest, but it is a huge waste of the interviewer’s time. If you want to practice your skills, do it with a friend or family member, not in a real-life situation.

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