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Interview Tips: 5 Mistakes that will Ruin your Interview

This article was originally published by Zonotho on 15 March 2021, and later republished on Careers24 on 04 September 2022.

Have you ever walked out of an interview hoping you’ve aced it only to be told that you were unsuccessful? Maybe you did something wrong. And unfortunately, the interviewers don’t always tell you. There are many unspoken rules that can make or break an interview. Here are just a few:

Before the Interview

1. Don’t be Late

We all know being late is bad, but sometimes it’s outside of our control. What matters more is how you handle the situation. If you anticipate being late, inform the interviewers. Rather than have them wonder if you’re ever going to show up, it’s better to manage their expectations.
I once had a candidate who was late, and the longer we waited the more we kept thinking of all the work piling up while waiting for him. He already created a bad impression, and we hadn’t even met him yet!
He eventually did show, but pretended as if nothing happened, leaving us to wonder if he even cared that he made us wait. When you apologise, it shows that you’re sorry, that you can take accountability and that you respect people’s time.

2. Don’t be Rude to Staff

Watch how you treat people. It’s easy to be polite to interviewers when you want them to hire you, but how you treat the receptionist, cleaning staff or security guard says a lot more about your character and even your fit for the company.
Months after he was hired, a friend of mine was told by his senior that one of the reasons they hired him was because he remembered the receptionist’s name when he came for the second interview and was friendly to her. When they see someone treat their staff badly, it puts them off. Being polite to the receptionist was a simple gesture. But in doing so he inadvertently promoted himself and gained respect from his seniors, even before getting the job.

During the Interview

3. Don’t Undersell Yourself

I once sat in an interview listening to a candidate telling me that he had “very little experience” and that he “hoped he could do the job”. After a while, I started hoping the candidate could do it too. This candidate downplayed his abilities throughout the interview. I saw potential and tried so hard to probe him on his strengths. The hiring manager however, had already lost interest and by the end of the interview even I started to doubt his abilities.
Don’t undersell yourself – you’re doing a disservice to yourself. Interviewers can sense your confidence (or lack thereof), and it influences their perception of you. If you don’t believe in your abilities, you can’t expect other people to either, and you reduce your chances of being hired.
If you aren’t experienced, it’s ok to be honest, but mention your enthusiasm to learn and work hard until you gain the experience.

4. Don’t Go in Without Researching the Company

We all have access to the Internet, and it takes a few minutes to Google what the company does. If you have acquaintances working at the company, ask them for a description. And if you still don’t understand, do NOT guess.
You can imagine our disappointment when a candidate told us how well we’re doing in the Engineering industry – when actually we were in healthcare. He clearly didn’t do his homework and as expected, didn’t go through to the next round. If it’s unclear, be upfront about it, but demonstrate that you made an effort to understand and tell them you’d like to learn more.

5. Don’t Badmouth Employers

Badmouthing your previous employers – The best way to ensure that you don’t get the job. I once listened to a candidate spend the first 20 minutes of a 60-minute interview talking about how horrible his boss was. It made me wonder what he’d say about us if we had hired him. After listening for that long, it became clear that there was more to the story and then we started to question whether it was really the boss that was the problem…
It doesn’t matter how difficult it is, lambasting your boss or company to interviewers – people you’re meeting for the very first time – is a bad way to make a good impression. You come across as a complainer, or in this case, someone who is probably instigating the conflict. And honestly, no one wants someone like that to be part of their team.

These are just some of the unspoken “don’ts” of interviews. As talented as you might be, there are things you could do that will automatically disqualify you and leave a bad impression. Your interview starts even before the interview questions do, so if you’ve made any of these mistakes, pay attention to them and your future interviews might turn out very different.