Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seven Surefire Ways to Botch a Job Interview

In prior lives, as a hiring manager, I've interviewed scores of job applicants. And in the course of interviews, I've seen (how shall I say?) certain recurrent antipatterns of behavior that are usually a pretty good tipoff that the person in question "isn't right for the job."

Here are seven things I don't want to see during an interview. Committing only one or two of these transgressions might not cost you the job, but if a pattern starts to emerge, believe me, I'll notice it; and you won't be asked back.

1. Be late.
This indicates lack of commitment to deadlines. Arriving 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time is at least a small clue that you know how to underpromise and overdeliver. If you got stuck in traffic, that's fine, it doesn't penalize you (especially if you call ahead to let someone know you'll be late). Otherwise? Don't waste your hiring manager's time. Don't be late.

2. Be unprepared.
Did you leave samples of prior work at home? (Yes, I can look them up online, but it's a nice courtesy to be offered hard copies of previous work, whether printed or on CD, DVD, flash drive, etc.) Did you forget to bring an extra copy of your resume? Again, these sorts of small details aren't going to be a showstopper in and of themselves, but taken together with other items in this list, it can reveal a pattern of inattention to "little things." Sustained inattention to "little things" kills a business. Don't act like you don't know that.

3. Avoid eye direct eye contact.
If you can't look me in the eye when answering questions, I'm going to get the impression, subconsciously at least, that you're hiding something, or that you're ashamed of something, anxious to leave, easily distracted by your surroundings, etc. (or that you just don't like me). Stay focused. I'm your center of attention. Look me in the eye.

4. Say bad things about a previous employer, or be unable to explain why you left a previous job.
If I'm interviewing you, rest assured, I am going to ask you about your previous work experience. That means I'll definitely ask why you left your previous jobs (yes, all of them). Be careful how you answer. If you left a job because a previous employer treated people poorly, provide concrete details; explain the exact circumstances. But be careful. If you say something negative about a previous job, a previous manager, or a company, I'll assume that you may someday say something negative about me or my company. I'll question your loyalty before you even begin working. That's not good.

5. Fail to ask good questions about the job.
If you're seriously interested in the job, you'll have questions. By all means, ask! I want to know what's important to you (work conditions? people? hours? pay? the quality and nature of the assignments?), and I'll get some indication of that in the kind of questions you choose to ask. Plus, asking questions shows that you're inquisitive, thoughtful, and not merely interested in superficial matters -- or just being employed again.

6. Ask a lot of questions about flextime, days off, bonus plan, stock options, and job perks (and show concerns around how much overtime you might need to work).
I need somebody who's a hard worker and committed to helping a team meet difficult deadlines. Don't make me think you're focused on not working hard. It's okay to ask questions about perks and benefits (it's expected, actually), but save them until the end and for gosh sakes, don't make it look like perks, benefits, and compensation are near the top of your list of priorities. I'll wonder about your work ethic.

7. Come to the interview not having gone to the company's web site and not knowing a thing about the company.
Before coming to an interview, do a little homework. Visit the company web site (be prepared to critique it later, if asked), learn the company's history, and try to understand the company's positioning in the market and current strategies. I want to know that you're self-motivated, able to do a little research on your own, and keenly interested in this particular job, at this particular company. If you come to the interview not knowing what the company does, it shows me you don't care about the big picture. Maybe you don't care about anything. Maybe you're just plain lazy. Next.

There are plenty more ways to show an interviewer that you aren't the right person for the job, but these are a few of my favorites. And yes, I've interviewed candidates who flunked on all counts. It's amazing how many job candidates come to an interview well dressed but unprepared, unaware of what the company does, unable to ask questions that aren't related to perks and benefits, and unable to say good things about prior employers.

I want to know that you're a hard worker and a highly focused, self-motivated individual who is detail-oriented, yet also tries to understand the big picture. Is that so much to ask?


  1. 4 is a pain - is there ever any positive reason for leaving a previous job? Especially if you're going for an interview with a potential new employer and are still employed by your previous one. I believe I've cocked up at least one interview because I handled this badly, but I'm still unsure what to say as whatever I come up with is either negative or a lie. :(

    5 and 6 require a delicate balance, or else they contradict each other.

    1. Tks very much for your post.

      Avoid surprises — interviews need preparation. Some questions come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. We've gathered together the most common questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start.

      You also find all interview questions at link at the end of this post.

      Source: Download Ebook: Ultimate Guide To Job Interview Questions Answers:

      Best rgs

  2. Chris

    as to 4, yes there are good reasons - e.g. got a better offer at next place (better yet if because the work was more interesting as opposed to just more money), was headhunted (i have been), or even ... (and this is also true in my case) I was perfectly happy where i was but my wife got a excellent career position and we had to move cities (she's an academic so career opportunities must be grasped). on the other hand, there are ways to cushion a negative experience. for example: didn't feel i was a right fit for the company; wasn't technically challenged enough; the commute was too long. depending where you were and where you are interviewing of course. there are also so-so type excuses like: company lost its biggest client and i could see the writing on the wall; the venture capital pulled out (both of these have happened to me!).

    on the other hand, i also think it's a given that there are plenty of companies whose management culture is much less than desirable. i think the point is, how you make that point, whether your answer is of the nature "they were imbeciles focussed on stupid KPIs so i left" or whether it's more like "i was considering my approach to agile development had reached a certain stage in my career which necessitated a move to another company which would allow my career path to grow and to personally learn more about agile practices in a highly encouraging professional environment".

    (and for the record, i've had to give answers where that had to be followed up with ... 'but the company I subsequently chose turned out to have a different reality from the initial perception therefore I am now looking for another opportunity with an esteemed company such as yours') ;-)


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  3. grunties9:30 AM

    I have mild Asperger's, and just can't do eye contact like other people. Will you ask me about the lack of eye contact, or jump straight into the assumption that I'm a shifty character?

  4. "(and show concerns around how much overtime you might need to work)"

    That advice right there is a good way to kill any interest I might have in working for your company. Overtime is a signal that management screwed up. Either they didn't plan/manage time properly, or they failed to pushback against/take responsibility with their management. Either way, I don't want to work for a company where my boss is going to make me pay for his mistakes with unpaid overtime. If it's paid, that's a different story. Then management is taking responsibility.

    I love my job and work very hard so I only have to work 40 hours a week to get the job done. That should be good enough for anyone.

  5. Anonymous11:57 AM

    1. Sorry, but people notice things like eye contact. Maybe it's not fair, but that is how people work. I'm not good at it, but I can focus and do it for the time of an interview.

    2. Regarding a good reason to move, how about...relocating to be closer to family. You may like your current job and be working with a great company, but if you got married and want to be closer to "the grandparents" that would be a keen reason to look for a new job.

  6. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Is overtime really considered normal nowadays?

    I agree about other points but being concerned about overtime is very natural in my opinion.

    Another thing that irritates me is that often programming job candidates are required to "be able to work in stressful situations". I can't see why should programming work be stressful. If it is then it's a problem of the company and why to advertise this problem in job description?

  7. Anonymous1:48 PM

    i do all of these and i still get great this is really just another point of view!

  8. Anonymous3:41 PM

    For some of the other ways to guarantee failure in an interview, see "11 Things Interviewers Hate" at
    Most candidates never think about #11 but it is a powerful, subconscious force that can negatively influence the interviewer.

  9. grunties: If you have mild Asperger's, you simply say you have mild Asperger's, and we go on with the interview. If you don't tell me you have mild Asperger's, I'm not going to know that and might jump to the wrong conclusion. It's up to you to inform me of something like that. I can't be expected to guess it. Good point, though, thank you for bringing it up.

  10. noah: When I say "(and show concerns around how much overtime you might need to work)" I'm talking about the interviewee volunteering such information without being asked. I would never ask someone to work overtime, and don't believe in it. If the interviewee brings it up without asking, and seems overly concerned about it, it doesn't blow the interview, it just makes me want to probe a little deeper to be sure the person is highly motivated and confident is his or her ability to do the described work in the time allotted. Sorry if I gave the impression that overtime is important. It is not, and in fact I'm of the opinion that overtime is just plain unnecessary and wrong -- it indicates poor project planning.

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  12. Tks very much for your post.

    Avoid surprises — interviews need preparation. Some questions come up time and time again — usually about you, your experience and the job itself. We've gathered together the most common questions so you can get your preparation off to a flying start.

    You also find all interview questions at link at the end of this post.

    Source: Download Ebook: Ultimate Guide To Job Interview Questions Answers:

    Best rgs

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