10 Ways Candidates Bomb Their Interviews

thA few weeks ago I penned a piece entitled: “F@!*ing Recruiters! The Top 10 Reasons Candidates Hate Them So Much!” I promised to follow up with a piece on candidates and the biggest mistakes they make when interviewing. The following is based on feedback I’ve received time and time again from talent acquisition specialists and hiring managers that I have worked with.

  1. “I felt like the candidate was interviewing me, firing question upon question, without giving me a chance to understand what he could bring to the table. It was a turn off.” It’s true that interviewing is a two-way process. However, candidates can’t go into an interview so confident that they come off cocky. There’s a difference between asking questions about the position or the company’s growth strategies, vs. a line of questions that indicate you are not convinced of the company’s value proposition. Hiring managers and talent acquisition specialists want to know that you are sitting across from them because you are excited about potentially being part of that company’s human fabric. While you clearly want to make sure that the company and opportunity is right for you, you’ve got to continuously sell yourself along the way.
  2. “She didn’t ask any questions and was totally disengaged throughout the meeting.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, hiring managers and recruiting specialists do not like when you come to an interview apathetic. I recommend that you come with a prepared list of questions based on thoughtful research and also ask questions that come up as you ebb and flow through your discussion. Remember, an interview should be like a tennis match. Sometimes you serve up the questions, other times you’re on the return of serve side. Fair play will assure you don’t get knocked out in round one.
  3. “She knew nothing about our company. Didn’t bother to do a lick of research.” This is probably the #1 complaint. I even had one CEO tell me a story about a candidate who didn’t know how to properly pronounce her company name! Sometimes people go into an interview on a wing and a prayer, thinking they can charm their way through. Not a good strategy. Look at the company website, conduct a Google search to see what others are writing about them, and read all press releases put out in the past year.
  4. “He cursed and was unpolished.” Not much to say about this except, don’t do it. Some interviewers want you to let your guard down and find a level of comfort with the process. But that doesn’t mean you can let your potty mouths loose. Keep it real without the gutter talk. Be polished and professional.
  5. “He came in late and didn’t even apologize.” If you know that it will take 15 minutes to get to your interview location, leave 15 minutes early. It’s not good when you come in a hot mess, all sweaty and frazzled. Or, when you run late and don’t make any efforts to atone for it. Give yourself extra time for late subway trains and taxi tie-ups. Have a few moments to stop in the restroom, clean yourself up and calm down so you can look fresh and prepared for your conversation. And, make sure that you have the interviewer’s phone number so that if you are stuck in some crazy traffic, you can call and give him the heads up.
  6. “He was chewing gum, had too much cologne on, wore too much bling, or looked like he just rolled out of bed.” Basically, you don’t want to stand out due to anything having to do with the five senses. Don’t talk too loudly or mumble. Dress neatly and respectfully. Take a shower, brush your teeth and don’t smoke a cigarette just before walking in. Oh, and use a firm handshake. No dead fishes please.
  7. “He didn’t send a ‘thank you’ note.” With email, there’s just no reason that a “thank you” note should not be delivered the same day that you interviewed. Enthusiasm is half the battle in getting a job. If you forget to send a thoughtful “thank you,” there’s no strike 1, 2 or 3. You’re just automatically out.
  8. The “thank you” note she sent was filled with typos and grammatical errors.” A “thank you” is a direct reflection of your commitment and ability to communicate effectively in written form. It’s also a prime opportunity for you to “sell” yourself yet again. Typos and grammatical errors show a lack of effort and a sense of complacency. If you’re going to be that sloppy during the interview process, how sloppy will you be with your everyday work?
  9. “She was so negative!” Also one of the biggest complaints I hear. Even if you have had a bad experience with a company, you need to keep it positive. Negativity is the biggest turn-off and will end your candidacy. Focus on what you learned from a toxic environment, not what you hated about it. If you can’t figure out the growth you experienced from something bad, then you’re not ready to interview yet. Practice with a friend or interview coach and learn how to deliver a “glass half full” approach to difficult questions.
  10. “He couldn’t answer a question directly and rambled on and on.” Make sure to focus on the question at hand and answer it without going off in different tangents. In our world of sound bites and bits, do you really think anyone is listening to you if you’re talking for three minutes straight? They’re not. While you want to backup your answers with examples of success whenever possible, try to keep your responses to 1 minute in length. Again, practice with a friend, family member or career coach who you know will be honest with you and tell you when you’ve lost your way.


If you look in the mirror and see any of these attributes in yourself, I hope you’ll revise your strategy. Most of these are easy fixes. Do your homework. Come prepared. Facilitate a back and forth dialogue. Ask strategic questions. Execute smart follow-up. …Carpe Diem.

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