10 Things not to do during an 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.
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.
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.
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!