11 Things Never to Do in an Interview, According to HR Professionals
You got your résumé into tip-top shape, and you landed the interview. Here’s what NOT to do next.
You finally found the right role to apply for, got your résumé into tip-top shape, and landed the interview. Well done! Now, it’s time to seal the deal.
Job interviews can be nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned employees, and without the right preparation, you might end up saying something that could hurt your chances at a role without even knowing it. To help you avoid these potential pitfalls, I turned to the people who have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of interviews: HR professionals, who generously shared their pet peeves and horror stories so you can avoid becoming one of them. Here are 11 things you should always avoid in a job interview.
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Bad-Mouthing Your Former Employer
Out of everyone I heard from, this was by far the most unanimous piece of advice: Never, ever speak negatively about your former (or current) company, coworkers, or work situation in an interview. “This is an instant deal-breaker for most hiring managers, as it shows that you may not be able to handle difficult situations in a professional manner,” says Linda Shaffer, the Chief People and Operations Officer at Checkr. Instead, find the positive where possible. “As you reflect on your experiences, focus on what you’ve learned and what you hope to accomplish in future endeavors, and keep your tone neutral to positive,” says Maria Shahroz, an HR Manager at Kuhlmann. “This is especially important to keep in mind when discussing your reasons for leaving.”
Showing Up Late
You don’t have to work in HR to know that showing up late for a job interview is a bad look. “It’s one of my biggest pet peeves,” says Shaffer. “Showing up late shows a lack of respect for the interviewer’s time.”
Relying on Clichés
Nobody likes corporate jargon—including hiring managers. “Employing clichés in an interview will get you nowhere, as will using résumé keywords that make hiring managers’ eyes glaze over,” says Shahroz. “Rather than relying on jargon, discuss your talents and abilities in terms of real-world examples.”
Giving Rote Answers
Your job interview is a chance to elaborate on your skills and experience, and Maxine Johnson, a Senior HR Manager in the healthcare industry, notes that too-short answers can be a drawback for recruiters: “Saying, ‘I’m a hard worker,’ or, ‘I’m organized,’ or, ‘I’m a strategic thinker’…these are great qualities, but these answers don’t give the interviewer much insight. I recommend giving an example or two that demonstrates how you’re a hard worker, organized, and so on.”
Directing the Interviewer to Your Résumé
Many respondents emphasized that you should never answer a question with, “It’s on my résumé.” “Even if the answer is there, they are either looking for you to provide a different answer or elaborate,” says Tracey Beveridge, the HR Director at Personnel Checks.
Not Doing Your Homework
From all the responses I read, one thing was incredibly clear: If you don’t do your research on the company you’re interviewing for, the person interviewing you will know it. “There is, in my experience, very little that a recruiter dislikes more than a candidate who knows next to nothing about the business they ‘want’ to work for,” says Christina Russo, the Creative and HR Director of Community Kitchen. “Do your research and learn as much as you can about the company so that you’re ready to answer the questions that the recruiter can (and will) ask you.” You should also prepare some informed questions that demonstrate that you’ve familiarized yourself with the company and role. Beveridge sums it up: “Why should they be interested in you if you’re not interested in them?”
Saying, “I don’t know”
Even if you don’t know the answer to a question, you can use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths. “Competent candidates often know how to steer the conversation toward a more favorable topic instead of being apologetic about their lack of knowledge,” says Anjela Mangrum, Founder and President of Mangrum Career Solutions. “Instead of simply answering, ‘I don’t know,’ try showing them why that shouldn’t be a concern. Perhaps you have some other form of valuable knowledge or a proven ability to learn new things quickly.”
It’s great to show that you’re a team player, but several recruiters mentioned that saying, “I’ll do anything” can come off as more desperate than passionate. Instead, focus on your superpowers and talk about the areas where your skills can make the biggest difference.
Arguing with the Interviewer
On the flip side, many respondents also told me that they’d turned down candidates who came off as arrogant or disrespectful. “One unforgettable interview candidate from my early years as a recruiter was a 40-something engineer applying for a mid-level position that required testing some technical knowledge,” shares Mangrum. “After giving the wrong answer to a relatively simple question, he had the audacity to argue that his response was acceptable and call me a ‘newbie who didn’t know any better.’ If this behavior isn’t an interview DON’T, I don’t know what is.”
Not Dressing the Part
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for candidates to dress professionally during an interview—even if it’s over Zoom,” says Soni Cottman, a Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Reputation. Job interviews can be tricky to dress for, but luckily, we have you covered with advice on virtual interview outfits, actually comfortable workwear, and mix-and-match capsule wardrobes.
Hiding Your Authentic Self
One of M.M.LaFleur’s company values is “Bring your whole self to work”—and this mentality applies to the interview process, too. “A great organization values authenticity, diversity, and inclusion,” says Johnson. “The things you bring to the table as YOU will be valuable to any company. If they can’t accept you as a person, then they do not deserve you as an employee.”