interview mistakes you avoid at job interviews

The path to professional growth is often marked by the daunting experience of job interviews. Even those with a wealth of experience, laden with charisma and confidence, can find themselves momentarily disoriented in the heat of an interview.

The tension is real; there's a sense that, in this pressured environment, a single misstep could dismantle the fortress of our carefully crafted self-presentation.

To that end, here is a checklist to help you navigate the treacherous waters of job interviews. This checklist not only sharpens your awareness of potential pitfalls but empowers you to steer clear of them, placing control firmly in your hands.

Ensuring your preparedness for a successful interview means taking note of not just the glaring errors, but also those subtle ones that might sneak past unnoticed.

With judicious preparation and a keen eye, you can prevent the recurrence of common interview missteps. Here are 18 such blunders that, despite being commonly committed, are often overlooked. These seemingly innocuous errors can undermine your aspirations if they go unchecked.

Related: 8 questions to ask your recruiter before your job interview

18 common job interview mistakes and how to avoid them

1. Going in without any research

Never go into an interview without research

Always be prepared. You might have all the skills to do the job, but do you know how your potential employer operates? Study the ‘About Us’ link on the company website and read their mission statement – memorise them and find opportunities to mention these values in the interview. 

And don’t stop there. Use Google to see when they are mentioned or if they make any company announcements to give you a better understanding of the type of business they are. Find out what was said in the news about the company and what you learn can come in handy during the interview.

Find out about their competition and major players in the market. That way, you can ask smart questions in the interview, such as how they see the business differentiating itself from its peers and competitors.

Furthermore, try to research the hiring manager or recruiter. A quick search on Google will suffice. You may be able to find some common interests or ask an initial question about their experience that interests you – this plays well in establishing rapport at the very start of your interview.

Related: 8 guaranteed ways to stand out during the hiring process

2. Getting too personal

While friendliness and humour never hurt at a job interview, you need to avoid being too casual. Remember, your interviewer could become your manager (or your recruiter will be passing on their feedback to your potential future employer), so always keep it professional.

3. Speaking negatively about current or previous employers

When the interviewer asks about your reason for leaving your current or previous employer, it is not an invitation for you to complain or criticise your previous employer.

Keep a straight face, stay focused and simply say that you believe you have progressed as far as you could in your current role.

This is not the time or place to vent your frustration about your past employer – no matter how ineffectual or bad the situation was. It would be a grave interview mistake to make to do so.

Related: How to use the STAR technique to excel in job interviews

4. Dressing inappropriately

The dress code at any job interview is too look sharp and groomed.

You want to leave a good impression, and the goal is to look neat and polished; pay attention to your hair, iron your clothes and keep your fingernails short. Manicures are optional.

It’s all about first impressions. While smart casual might be becoming more of a trend, professional attire is still considered the most appropriate business etiquette for interviews.

If you are applying for a creative role, you may have some leeway in the way you dress depending on your role. You may still wear a shirt and tie, but feel free to throw in stylish, colourful socks, or coloured frames.

With virtual interviews, it can be tempting to only dress the upper half of your body. The answer is don’t – you want to concentrate on your interview and not want to have to worry about whether the interviewer would accidentally see what you're wearing on the lower half.

5. Poor body language

Feeling disinterested will result in you also looking disinterested. Think about how you come across if your arms are crossed, either while you’re waiting or during the entire interview.

Eye contact, good posture, a cheerful demeanour and a firm handshake will get you a long way in an interview. After all, this is what you’ll be bringing to the company, if successful.

Related: 15 ways to prepare and succeed at virtual job interviews

6. Unclear answers and rambling

Take a few seconds to think about the interview question before responding. Ensure you don’t go off on tangents or end abruptly without rounding out your answer back to what was asked. Also, avoid mumbling or speaking too fast. And don’t end up interrupting the interviewer.

The interviewer shouldn’t have to ask you to repeat an answer or strain to hear what you’re saying. If need be, practise a few questions with a friend or into a recording app on your phone to hear how you really sound.

Since most employers are conducting job interviews online now, you can keep your notes next to your computer screen to help guide you during the interview. This way, you will not miss out on the important points you want to highlight or address.

7. Not getting the tone right

Depending on the company and the position, the tone of language used during the interview should be adjusted. Using overly casual language in a formal setting or vice versa, can impede rapport building and create a disconnect with the interviewer.

8. Displaying low or too much energy

 A lack of enthusiasm or overly enthusiastic behaviour can deter potential employers. The key is to show genuine interest and maintain a balanced energy level throughout the interview. Excess enthusiasm can be as off-putting as a lack of interest. Genuine interest in the role, matched with a well-moderated level of excitement, signifies your potential as an enthusiastic yet composed employee. This balance is a key characteristic that potential employers look for.

9. Making the interview all about yourself

While it's important to share your achievements and skills, making the interview solely about yourself can hinder your chances of getting hired. A balanced conversation, highlighting both past achievements and prospective value addition to the employer, creates a lasting impression and depicts your team-centric approach.

10. Fidgeting with your mobile phone and other distractions

Put your phone on silent and don't even look at it during job interviews

Our mobile phones have pretty much become an extension of us – not just for phone calls and texts anymore – so they can be difficult to put away. Once you have arrived at your interview location, it’s time to lock your phone (ensure it’s on silent and not on vibrate) and place it in your bag. There is no reason for you to take your phone out during the interview, so keep it out of sight.

In addition to being distracted by your phone, you might also overlook things during the interview process, such as fidgeting with your hair, chewing on gum, chewing on nails, and constantly sniffing or coughing (you should not be attending an interview if you are unwell), or tapping your shoes.

11. Having zero questions to ask

Employers want to gauge your interest level, so you should prepare some questions ahead of time – it can be about the specifics of the role, something about the company you learned through research or even the current team you’ll be working with, if successful.

It doesn’t hurt to write or print these questions out to take them with you to the interview, so you don’t forget to ask. You’ll make a great first impression by showing an added level of engagement through the questions you ask.

Equally, the answers may help you better understand the role and whether it’s the right fit for you. So don’t pass up this opportunity to ask about the company culture and performance markers the role you're interviewing for is expected to accomplish within, say, three months.

Related: What to expect in your second interview

12. Lying on your CV and at the interview

Be honest from the start to the end of the interview. Anything written on your resume or CV could be discussed at an interview, so any fabrications about your work or education record will damage your chances.

If working with a recruiter, it will be noted in your file, and you will not be offered any more roles or opportunities through that agency.

13. Arriving late

It goes without saying that you must never arrive late at job interviews

Unless you have an emergency or very good reason for running late and have called ahead to notify or reschedule, turning up late for a job interview will not sit well with the interviewer.

Plan ahead in terms of your travel arrangements on the day – does your train line experience delays from time to time? It might be worth catching one or two trains earlier than what you were planning to take, giving you plenty of time to arrive and focus on final preparation while you wait to be called in.

Alternatively, in this age of virtual job interviews, ensure you test your technology and the video conferencing program that will be used to conduct the online call. You don’t want to turn up late because you didn’t realise the platform takes five minutes to download and launch.

14. Sitting down before being invited or trying to run the meeting

It’s common courtesy to wait until you’re shown a seat to sit down in the interview room. In this scenario, the interviewer or recruiter will take the lead and direct the interview so follow their instructions from the moment you shake their hand.

Once you’re seated, avoid slouching in your chair or putting your feet anywhere but firmly on the ground.

At the same time, do not try to control or run the meeting. Hiring managers will have certain points they need to get through with you within that period of time.

Related: 10 key considerations for your CV

15. Discussing money or time off

Unless an offer is put on the table or they have raised remuneration at the interview, it’s not recommended that you discuss money or request annual leave for an upcoming holiday. This is because the impression you are giving is that you’re more fixated on pay and travel rather than the job itself.

It’s best to leave this for later interview rounds so that you first impress the hiring manager or recruiter with your capabilities and suitability for the role. Most employers understand when it comes to hiring new staff, knowing that they will have salary expectations, have already booked a holiday, or requested time off from their current role.

Equally, it’s important to make a judgement call in being transparent. For example, if you know the role will commence in June and you’re required to attend a conference, you should probably mention that you will be interstate or unavailable due to a wedding, for example. Or if there was no salary listed in the job advertisement and you were advised it will be given at the interview, enquire then and there.

Related: Hong Kong Salary Guide 2023: Are you paid right?

16. Swearing and using offensive language or gestures

No matter how frustrating a job interview get (and it shouldn't be), keep your composure and speakly calmly

This might seem like a no-brainer, but let’s face it, most of us are used to throwing swear words into our conversations with friends and these days, we don’t even realise it. It’s incredibly important to keep reminding yourself that the job interview is a formal and professional setting.

Thinking about what you’re going to say or just taking an extra moment before you speak will slow your brain down and should help decrease the chances of an accidental swear.

17. No follow-up or thank-you email

Regardless of how you went, first and foremost, it’s courteous to email the person who interviewed you (or the recruiter) within a few hours of finishing your first interview. Not only is it good manners, but it also keeps you at the top of mind for hiring managers.

In addition, this is your chance to reiterate your interest in the role. You’ll stand out more if you mention one or two key discussion points from the interview, as it demonstrates your engagement with what was touched on.

Otherwise, if you’ve decided it’s not for you, ask them to get in touch when a similar or more suitable role comes up.

18. Not showing up

The practice of “ghosting” isn’t just for those dating. It’s still common for candidates not to show up to an interview after a change of mind, or other reasons. It’s incredibly important to contact the hiring manager or recruiter ahead of time so that the interview can be cancelled and no one wastes their time.

In addition to being apologetic, clearly state why you no longer want to pursue the role. If you decide not to show up on the day of the interview, it will be noted that you were a no-show.

Essentially, you’ve now hurt your chances to be considered for any roles with that company, or if you used a recruiter, it’s highly unlikely you will be put forward for any of their upcoming roles for the many clients and companies they hire for.

There may be some leeway for more serious reasons, such as accidents or family emergencies, so at your earliest convenience, do let the hiring manager or your recruiter know – they will be understanding and can guide you on the next steps.

Ready to apply for a new role? Check out our current opportunities, submit your CV or get in touch with a specialist Page Personnel recruitment consultant today.