Interview mistakes: Part 3

Today I continue my discussion of Dave Kerben’s article on job interview mistakes with a category I call: “I am a professional!”

Trashing your former boss or employer. If you work long enough, you’re going to have a bad boss. Get over it. The important thing is not how someone took advantage of you or mistreated you or disrespected you, it’s how you handle it. Complain all you want to your friends and family, but in a professional setting, focus on what you learned and what you can do, not what others have done to incur your displeasure.

Over-selling yourself. Kerpen says, “it’s normal to feel the need to ‘sell’ yourself,” and I agree. That’s part of your job in the interview. But you also have to take a breath and find out more about the organization. While they work on seeing if you fit in, you need to learn enough to see if you feel that you would fit in. The way I talk to my students about it is to say that you want to sound confident, not arrogant. You do that by answering questions clearly and thoughtfully, and also asking thoughtful questions that demonstrate both your knowledge of the organization and the interest you have in it. (See my book’s Tip 42: Learn how to interview for more advice about interviewing)

Dressing inappropriately. Kerpen’s focus here was on “underdressing”—shorts, T-shirts, sandals. But there are other ways to dress inappropriately, and you need to be sure you look professional. Regardless of the job, if it’s in a professional environment, you need to look the part—even if the people who work there every day dress casually, you need to show your respect for the organization and the process by dressing up a bit. There’s an old saying that is especially true in an interview setting: You can’t make a second first impression! (For some guidelines about what to wear, see Appendix L: Dressing for the interview.)

Crying. The employer who reported on this called crying “the kiss of death.” While I’m not sure I agree, I do find it hard to imagine a situation that would cause you to cry in an interview. If you’re going through a tough time personally, and you know that you are emotionally on edge, you may want to consider getting some professional counseling before putting yourself through the rigors of the job interview process.

Not taking ownership of mistakes. Being able to recognize, take responsibility for, and learn from your mistakes is a crucial sign of maturity and professionalism. Some employers will specifically ask about past problems so that they can learn how you handled them. Blaming others is never a good way to respond. Instead, do your best to explain what happened, how it worked out (or how it would have worked out better if you had done something different), and what you learned about how to avoid that problem in the future (or handle it better next time).

Wearing a costume. Okay, I did not expect to see this one on the list of mistakes. Apparently, there’s someone out there who thinks that wearing a Jedi robe is a good way to dress for an interview. It’s not.