The following list of interview Boo Boos popped up on the internet. It didn’t come from any peer-reviewed journal; however, it resonated with me and will probably ring true for you also.
Sometimes, it’s worth going back to basics when it comes to job interviews. Hopefully, after a quick quiz at the following key reasons why people fail to win the job, you’ll think ‘easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy’. You’ll know you’re all fine to win that next job.
1. Poor personal appearance
Exactly what does this very subjective judgment mean?
Some years ago, I met with a client’s new HR Director. Her predecessor wore the most formal clothes you could imagine so I duly dolled myself up, only to be greeted by someone looking like she’d been dragged through a bush backwards. I spent the entire meeting feeling very uncomfortable, doing my best to look relaxed and casual, sure that my new contact thought I was far too prim and proper.
In a job interview, if you're reserved in your demeanour and then wear very formal or elegant clothes, you will probably not be hired by a younger interviewer. They will view you as stiff and out of date.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you turn up wearing clothes that are too informal, your interviewer may well feel insulted, may think that you don’t fit into their culture and/or may be worried about introducing you to clients.
Note, by the way, that grooming also feeds into people’s perception of you. It may be time to get that haircut after all.
What to do?
The rule of thumb is: match the level of formality of the interviewer and, if in doubt, go slightly more formal. So, if you can, visit their workplace and note what people are wearing.
If you need to make changes, take yourself off to a business clothing store. Go when it’s quiet so that the staff have more time to spend on you. Explain that you are after an interview outfit and tell them what level of seniority the role sits at.
When it comes to grooming, talk to someone who knows a lot about job interviews, whether it’s a recruiter, an HR Manager or a career specialist.
Then listen to these experts in relation to both clothes and grooming.
2. Lack of interest and enthusiasm
There are two likely causes here. The first is that you are keen and motivated but your voice lets you down. The second is that you have, in fact, lost your drive and motivation.
What to do?
Think of your voice as an instrument and use it to your advantage. Incorporate light and shade when you speak. Change the volume to keep them interested. Vary your speed to highlight important content.
If the issue is that you are not interested in that specific role, you’re not likely to be hired as it will show through. If you’ve had enough of work in general, it’s time to bring in the big guns. Access a specialist – whether it be mental health, life or career expert. Jump in at the first sign of disenchantment, otherwise it may take a long time to get your mojo back.
3. Overly aggressive
I was shocked the other day during an interview preparation session when one of my clients folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. I thought everyone knew this body language error didn’t play out well in any culture!
Speaking of which, research the culture you are interviewing in. A non-Australian executive friend who had spent his adult working life in the US moved to Adelaide. He told me that he blew his first job interview here by being too aggressive. That just doesn’t go down well in Australia. And the irony was that his natural demeanour was not at all pushy
When it comes to good Body Language, I use SOLER’s position as a starting point. It highlights five key elements that form the basis of good communication. Two of these specific areas relate to aggression. First, you should lean forward slightly in your chair towards the other person – still showing a strong stance with your shoulders back, of course. The second is that you should maintain an open body i.e. uncross your arms.
If you are new to the culture, your best bet is to talk to business people at your level and ask their advice on how strong your self-marketing should be.
4. Inability to express information clearly
This is SO common that if I were a betting person, I’d lay odds on you falling into this trap.
Here are just three of the most common problems.
What to do?
In order to present a structured response, write your war stories out using the PAR or STAR model. Practise in the car and in the bathtub. Keep to the structure.
If your issue relates to vocab and/or pronunciation, look up job ads at your level and take note of the key qualities the market place is asking for. Ask a language guru to check that you correctly pronounce key words. Listen for evocative words that others use and make a deliberate effort to adopt them in your everyday language so that you expand your vocabulary.
Finally, keep up to date with current industry issues. Think through your workplace philosophy and make sure that you can enunciate it clearly.
5. Negative attitude about past employers or team members
To me, this is a no-brainer. Yet, you may be asked to describe a situation where you were working in a poorly-functioning team or you may feel that the only way to talk about how you improved something at work is to criticise someone else’s behaviour.
What to do?
If at all possible, button your lips.
When you are specifically asked, move the focus from your boss/organisation to what you did/do very well. If the question asks you about a difficult boss, for example, use minimalist language ‘She sometimes struggled a bit to…’ and switch immediately to outline your actions that solved the problem.
6. Over emphasis on money
I was on an interview panel where a candidate asked whether the salary was negotiable. Afterwards, the decision-maker was adamant in refusing to hire her, believing that the money on offer would not keep her there for long.
Separately, I was also debriefed by a client with whom I had discussed salary negotiation. He reported that he went beyond our ‘list’ to ask for just one more thing. This final request resulted in feedback that he didn’t fit their culture and a withdrawal of the job offer.
What to do?
Of course, negotiate your salary but do so with skill. Take advice from experts, always checking that it is culturally appropriate for the organisation, the industry and the city/country you are interviewing in.
7. No sense of humour
How can you tell if you have no sense of humour? We’re not talking about whether you can crack a good joke or not - an approach that should be avoided at all costs. I think what we mean is whether your content is so heavy and serious, it makes you seem grim.
What to do?
Start with the premise that you need to prove that you have a sense of humour. Judiciously give the occasional light-hearted answer and show self-awareness. Mention other people in your stories and bring them to life so that you appear comfortable with the quirks and personalities of others.
8. Nervousness, lack of confidence and poise
I ban the word ‘quite’ when I work with clients on their interview skills, as it minimises and diminishes everything that comes after. And then there’s ‘um’ which usually pops up when someone hasn’t done their homework and stumbles through an answer. It also seems to emerge when my client is not confident about whether their content is any good or not. In my sessions, once we’ve put both issues to bed, those two words disappear.
What to do?
Get your content vetted by an expert and then practise - out aloud, many times until you’re sick to death of the whole thing.
9. No eye contact with the interviewer
All cultures have rules in relation to eye contact. This particular criticism would relate to a culture where it is expected that the Listener maintains 100% eye contact while the Speaker is talking and where it is the Speaker’s responsibility to maintain eye contact for an appropriate period of time and then break it before again resuming eye contact. This sounds awfully complicated but most of us obey this rule quite easily. Others, for a range of reasons, do not and it’s disastrous to their interview success.
I can remember interviewing someone who spent almost the entire interview looking down at his notes (which couldn’t possibly have helped him as I asked quite unpredictable questions), barely looking at us. I understood that this didn’t necessarily have anything to do with his on-the-job performance but my partner flatly refused to hire him. So sad!
As an aside, I quite often work with people who over-compensate for their discomfort with eye contact. They do NOT break eye contact at all when they are talking and it turns into an uncomfortable staring match. This forces the listener to break the gaze and is almost as bad as no eye contact.
What to do?
Set up a specific interview role-play situation with someone who is discerning and observant. Ask them to assess whether you obey the rules. Make it real and keep it going for 15-20 minutes. If all is well, heave a sigh of relief. If not, get going on your eye contact fix. It can be done.
Odds and Sodds
Of course, one classic reason for missing out on a job is being late for the interview. One of my friends managed to gain the sympathy of the panel when this happened to her and she still won the job – but then, I have some amazing friends.
I’m afraid that punctuality is a life rather than a career skill issue and is outside of my remit. Good luck with that one!
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