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2/28/16 - These are the Biggest Mistakes People Make During Interviews


According to a new poll, half of employers say they can size up a candidate within the first five minutes of an interview and determine whether they’d be a good fit for the job.

What happens during those first five minutes doesn’t have much to do with what the job seeker says. Indeed, as many interviews start with pleasantries or small talk, it’s often something the candidate does rather than says that’s a deal breaker. That said, there are plenty of ways for a job seeker to stick his foot in his mouth during the interview.

What to watch out for if you’re among the thousands of workers looking to change jobs in 2016? A brand new Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder surveyed 2,595 hiring and human resource managers, the majority of whom work in the private sector, reveal the biggest job interview faux pas candidates have made, and how their body language blew any chance they had to move forward in the interview process.

Let’s start with the overt mistakes. Survey respondents listed five factors that immediately nixed the candidate from their talent pool.

White Lies. Sixty-nine percent said that if they caught a job seeker lying about something, it was a deal breaker. Honesty can encompass everything from where you went to school or whether you’ve been fired, to the more subtle, such as a disingenuous response to the question; "What is your greatest weakness?"

For the latter, Russell Reynolds, Jr., author of Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer, recommends eschewing the tried-but-not-quite-true, "I’m very hard on myself," and offering a response that shows self-reflection. "Be confident in the fact that this weakness does not make you any less of a great candidate, and show that you are working on this weakness and tell the recruiter how," he suggests.

Texting, Arrogance, And Swearing. The majority (68%) of hiring managers found that when a candidate interrupts the interview to take a call or text, it was irritating enough to be a major strike against them, while 60% reported that candidates appearing arrogant or entitled was enough to disqualify them. Half of hiring managers surveyed said that inappropriate attire and swearing were equal deal breakers.

Wearing The Wrong Thing. Keeping tabs on your tongue if you frequently deploy the F-bomb should be a given going into an interview, but clothing is a bit trickier. Traditional advice to dress for the job you want doesn’t necessarily translate to some company cultures. That’s not carte blanche to don a hoodie and sandals, either. It is important to offer visual cues that you do have it together, and one way to do that is the way you dress. Not only will it send subliminal vibes to your prospective associate, but science says certain clothing can also boost your confidence.

"Preparing for an interview takes a lot more than Googling answers to common interview questions," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, in a statement. "Candidates have to make a great first impression appearance-wise, have a solid understanding of the target company, know exactly how to convey that they’re the perfect fit for the job, and control their body language."

Body language can signal confidence or spell disaster if a candidate isn’t aware of how their physical presence is being received. And experience isn’t enough to save you if you’re not paying attention to visual cues.

Hiring managers polled in the survey found 10 body language traits that derailed candidates’ chances of getting the job. Most (67%) agreed that failure to make eye contact was the biggest problem, and not smiling was cited by 39% as problematic. Other questionable physical behaviors they cited include:

Playing with something on the table
Having bad posture
Fidgeting too much in their seats
Crossing their arms over their chests
Playing with their hair or touching their faces
Having a weak handshake
Using too many hand gestures
Having a handshake that was too strong
It’s easy to picture a nervous candidate fidgeting and failing to look their interviewer in the eye, but the survey respondents did recall some truly out of the ordinary things that people did while they were being interviewed. Among the weirdest:

Candidate took a family photo off of interviewer’s desk and put it into her purse.
Candidate started screaming that the interview was taking too long.
Candidate said her main job was being a psychic/medium and tried to read interviewer’s palm, despite interviewer’s attempts to decline the offer.
When asked what his/her ideal job was, candidate said, "Painter of birdhouses." (Company was hiring for a data entry clerk.)
Candidate sang her responses to questions.
Candidate put lotion on his/her feet during the interview.
Candidate started feeling interviewer’s chest to find a heartbeat so they could "connect heart to heart."
Candidate had a pet bird in his/her shirt.
Candidate took phone interview in the bathroom—and flushed.

Studies show that interviews don’t necessarily prompt the best hiring decisions. One indicates that it’s because the interviewer is often trying to make sense of anything the interviewee says, and tangential information can weaken the value of quality information.

Until we find a better substitute, CareerBuilder’s Haefner advises researching the company before the interview to learn about its services, customers, and competitors. "That will give you an edge in understanding and addressing the company's needs," she says.

In addition to doing the homework, do some role playing. The CareerBuilder survey found the following questions to be among the most commonly asked:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want this job?
Why did you leave your last job?
What is your greatest strength and greatest weakness?
Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it.
Keep in mind that an interview with a prospective employer is no place to bash the previous one, no matter what the circumstance was that caused you to leave. "Know why you’ve made the decision to move on from your past employers, and communicate that to your interviewer should he or she ask," said Jason Niad, managing director at Execu|Search, a recruitment firm headquartered in New York, in a recent interview with Fast Company.

Talking through this particular part of the interview can be tough, and it’s normal to cross arms and look at the floor. Keep the body language in check and maintain an upbeat voice. After all, "Working in multiple jobs in multiple companies can be a great way to develop a wide range of both technical and soft skills," said Niad.

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation.