Who among us has not walked out of an interview and minutes or even hours later realised that there were things we should not have said or done during the interview?
Sometimes, these are genuine slip-ups and interviewers empathise with you, having themselves been on the other side once. However, there are some unforgivable mistakes that are akin to shooting yourself and your prospects in the foot.
Nerves are often blamed for some such gaffes, but sometimes it also boils down to poor social skills or lack of sincere preparation. The good news is that these lacunae can be overcome with a little effort and some insight.
The results of a 2012 survey of hiring managers and human resource teams revealed some surprising truths about the most common interview slip-ups.
Here, we shall make use of this insider information to help you prepare yourself for the worst. We’ll tell you not only how to avoid a faux pas, but also how to recover once the milk has been spilt. Read on for more.
1. WRONG ATTIRE
The survey showed that the number one mistake that a majority of job seekers seemed to make was failing to dress appropriately. A potential employee should be presentable and dressed in accordance with the norms of the company and the job they are interviewing for. In a corporate setting, that means conservative formals.
When interviewing for a position as a nurse, for instance, make sure your appearance reflects your commitment towards hygiene. Remove piercings if you have to. Dress should also be age-appropriate and relatively modest. As a rule, heavy makeup hardly ever creates a good impression.
Now, assuming that despite due diligence on your part, you end up at the interview dishevelled after a long commute or discover that no other interviewee seems to have a neck tattoo with controversial imagery, here’s what you can do. If you have a few minutes, slip into the washroom and calmly reset as best as you can. If your tattoo is likely to ruffle feathers, use concealer or band-aid or even your long hair to hide it.
If you’re already in the interview room and realise that some aspect of your attire is off, we suggest taking a seat quickly and adjusting your position in such a way as to hide the offending garment or accessory. If your interviewers aren’t taking you seriously because of your appearance, make sure that you dazzle them with your knowledge and your confidence.
The last thing you should do is appear self-conscious. Speak confidently and engage them with your intellect. Judiciously introduce your professional successes into the conversation so as to bring the focus squarely back on your talents.
2. LACK OF PREPARATION
Your interviewer lays out a hypothetical work scenario and asks you how you would handle it. If you find yourself unable to field the question because of lack of experience, that’s quite acceptable. But if you’re unable to answer simply because you couldn’t bother to be prepared, it reflects poorly on you as a potential employee.
This can be avoided by taking the time to thoroughly study the company’s work and philosophy. What areas do they specialise in and what are their weaknesses?
Knowing this can help you position yourself as just the person they are in dire need of. If research is not your forte, invest in a professional research and writing service who will do it for you and even produce a report for you to read.
Regardless, if you find your mind going blank at a question you were just asked, do not fear. Never say “I don’t know”. Ask for a minute to think. Ask a few relevant questions to play for time and gain insight into the problem. In your mind, break down the components of the problem.
For instance, the task may involve public relations, logistics and technical components. Split the problem into its parts and do this out loud. This demonstrates that you have a rational, methodical approach towards problem solving. Now pick one aspect that you have experience with and describe how you would address it.
Next, choose one that is relatively new and admit that it is unfamiliar but that you think it could be handled in such-and-such manner. This tells the interviewers that you are honest, self-critical and also willing to learn.
3. COMPLAINING ABOUT PREVIOUS EMPLOYERS
It is never a good idea to cast your past employers in poor light. While there is a fair chance that you may be right, it is equally plausible that you were partly to blame for your bad experiences. Putting the blame on someone else makes you look like the sort of person who refuses to recognise their own failures and creates an environment of discord in the workplace.
Having made this mistake, the good news is that it is definitely possible to turn the situation around to your advantage. You can do this by talking sincerely about how you empathise with the past employer and their difficulties.
Highlight their redeeming qualities and explain what you learned from working with them. Talk about the mitigating circumstances and underline what you did to help make the situation better.
If you were partly responsible for the friction, admit it without sounding insincere. This will show your interview panel that you are capable of self-reflexivity and know how to take responsibility for problems.
These were some general scenarios to give you a sense of how to handle a wide range of possibilities. Of course, if you end up being late to the interview or let slip a prejudiced remark, there’s no going back from that. Simply acknowledge your mistake, apologise sincerely and carry on.
The worst thing you could do at such moments is to let your confidence completely slip away. In fact, you should do the exact opposite. Give yourself a mental pep-talk and move on without letting your mind dwell on your blunder.
How gracefully you recover from a mistake tells your interviewers how well you will hold up under pressure. Of course, one should strive not to be under-prepared or dishonest but such occasions do occur and the right way to deal with them is to treat them as opportunities to show your mettle and make a lasting positive impression.