When preparing for job interviews, new graduates often focus on technique and presentation—How firmly should I shake the interviewer’s hand?—How many questions should I ask?—How can I word my sentence perfectly to sound more intelligent? While these are all important questions, focusing on these aspects too much can distract you from the most important thing: using common sense.
A sloppy interviewee.Photo by Kayla Burson
Below are five blunders from real job interviews,* and the lessons that job seekers should take away from the candidate's mistake.
Question: “Tell me about a time when you had to defuse a conflict at work.”
Response: The interviewee had a good start, but then started rambling about the conflict and didn’t delve into a solution. In response, the interviewer interrupted him to ask a follow-up question to get him back on track. However, the interviewee then interrupted the interviewer and said “I’m not done!” and continued to describe the conflict, failing to answer the question.
Lesson: NEVER interrupt the interviewer! Not only are you being disrespectful, but you are only hurting yourself. If the interviewer interrupts you, they are most likely doing it for your benefit. Even if you feel that you didn't fully answer the question, it’s better to let it go so you don’t crash-land yourself into the “Do Not Hire” pile.
Question: “Tell me about a time you solved a tough problem. How did you go about it?”
Response: The interviewee told an elaborate story about how he went about buying alcohol for his fraternity—while he was underage.
Lesson: In general, it’s not a smart idea to tell your interviewer about your personal life, especially when it involves illegal activity. Revealing those details makes a potential employer wonder how serious you are about your career, and if you are reliable enough to show up on Monday without a hangover. So lesson number two is to always show good judgment and keep your private life private.
Question: For new graduates, the interviewer will often ask “behavioral” questions. These questions are not about a “right” answer, but to find out how you would think through and tackle realistic problems.
Response: Interviewees will often start talking the moment the interviewer is done asking the question, often speaking without knowing where their train of thought is headed. This creates incoherent and incomplete answers.
Lesson: Give yourself enough time to gather your thoughts before jumping into an answer. Interviewers will often tell you to take your time, but students let their mouths run before their brains even hear the starting gun. Prove to the interviewer that you can think through a problem logically and take your time answering the questions.
Question: “How would you handle a situation where your boss assigns you more work than you feel you can handle?”
Response: The two most popular answers to these questions: “I would ask my boss to give some of it to other people.” OR “I would work more hours.”
Lesson: When is it ever possible to ask for less work? You could never go to your professors and ask them to cancel an assignment because you can’t handle it, so it’s not acceptable in the business world either. Working more hours may seem like a viable option, but you can’t muster that energy with every project. The interviewer is looking for you to be creative and show initiative. Explain how you would determine your priorities and organize your time in that situation.
Question: “Do you have any questions for me?”
Response: “What is your main product?”
Lesson: Asking any general questions about the job or the company shows that you haven’t done your research, which means that you are not actually interested in the position. If you ask a question that can be answered by doing a simple web search, you might as well shred your resume. Do your research and prepare questions beforehand!
A professional and well put-together interviewee.Photo by Kayla Burson
*All of these real interview blunders are from an anonymous employee in a Fortune 500 company's Human Resources department.