Male hiring manager with a disappointed facial expression interviewing a male candidate for a job.

Landing an interview for a job you want is no small feat. The last thing you want to do is squander the opportunity by making an avoidable error. Before interview day, review this list of common interview mistakes and how to avoid them so you can present yourself as the polished, qualified professional you are. 

Common interview mistakes and what to do instead

1. Arriving late

Being tardy to an interview will create a negative impression before you’ve even had a chance to say ‘hello.’ If you’re running a few minutes behind, apologize profusely and thank the interviewer for waiting. If your lateness significantly cuts your interview time, it’s a good idea to ask to reschedule rather than make the hiring manager wait and start the interview without them feeling peeved. 

How to avoid it: Plan your commute in advance, giving yourself plenty of time to spare. If it’s somewhere you’re unfamiliar with, it’s a good idea to drive the route (or use public transit, etc.) a day or two ahead of time so you know exactly where you’re going on the big day. 

2. Dressing inappropriately

Business professional is the style of dress recommended for most interview settings. This would consist of a suit in a dark color, a blouse for women or a button-down shirt with a tie for men, and dress shoes. This attire is suitable for both in-person and video interviews. 

90% of the time, mistakes with interview attire come from the candidate being too casual. But dressing too formally is also a possibility, albeit a rare one. Business casual may be appropriate if you’re interviewing for a job with an especially casual dress code. 

How to avoid it: Research the company beforehand to learn about its dress code. If they have a physical location, you may be able to get a read on this simply by observing employees going to work. Remember the old adage ‘dress for the job you want’ and take your cues from what existing staff members wear when deciding how to dress for your interview

3. Failing to research the company

One of the most common interview questions is ‘What do you know about this company?’ so you want to be sure you’re armed with an intelligent answer. Beyond that, it’s wise to have a solid understanding of what your prospective employer does so you can make an informed decision about working there. 

How to avoid it: Take the time to research the company for your job interview. Learn about their products and how they market themselves. Check out the company’s current events, like upcoming projects and business dealings. Social media, news outlets, and the company’s website are useful research tools. 

4. Not learning about your interviewer

You probably speak to your boss differently than you speak to your best friend, right? Audience matters during a conversation, and a job interview is no different. So, in addition to learning about the company, you also want to do a little digging about the person you’ll be speaking with so you can tailor your answers and tone appropriately. 

How to avoid it: When the interview is being scheduled, ask who your interviewer will be. Use Google and LinkedIn to learn their job title, role at the company, and background. Then, have some topics in mind that will be particularly relevant to this person. 

For example, if you learn your interviewer once held the job you’re interviewing for, you can ask them questions about the daily activities of the job. You can speak more about your technical capabilities if your interviewer has a technical background. 

5. Neglecting to do your homework about the role

It’s easy to get so caught up in the excitement of an interview that you lose focus on the reason you’re there: the job. While you’ll be doing a lot of talking about yourself during the interview, you want your statements to clarify how your capabilities are relevant to this role. You also want to be prepared if the interviewer asks about your expectations for your job duties. 

How to avoid it: Review the job description carefully and make notes of the core job duties. Think about connecting your skills to these duties, and plan on discussing them in your answers. 

6. Being unprepared for common questions

There’s no way to know for certain what an interviewer will ask until you’re actually in the room with them, but it’s almost a sure thing that they’re going to use one or more of the most common interview questions like ‘Why are you qualified for this job?’ or ‘What’s your biggest strength?’ If you get tripped up by these run-of-the-mill questions, it doesn’t make you look very poised. 

How to avoid it: Outline your answers to the most common interview questions. You don’t have to write a full-on script for your answers, but creating some high-level talking points is a good idea. Once you get going, you’ll find that these talking points can be applied to answer various questions. 

Check out our bank of sample interview questions and answers to ensure you are prepared before the big day!

7. Dominating the conversation

Yes, you’re the one being interviewed, so you’ll probably be doing most of the talking. But there’s a difference between answering questions sufficiently and making the interviewer’s eyes glaze over by dominating the conversation. Try to keep your answer detailed but succinct when responding to a question. Be mindful not to ramble, meandering off-topic to other things, or telling drawn-out stories. 

How to avoid it: Rehearse your answers ahead of time. Recording yourself on video can be helpful. You probably want to trim down your answer if you’re talking for over a minute or two. 

8. Letting one misstep throw you off course

From getting tongue-tied to losing your train of thought, making a common interview mistake is frustrating, but one awkward moment in an entire conversation isn’t going to tank your candidacy. In fact, your interviewer may be even more impressed if you can recover from a misstep gracefully. 

How to avoid it: When you slip up, stop to take a breath and collect your thoughts. Say, “Sorry about that,” or “Let me try that again,” then get back on track.

9. Badmouthing current or former employers

You’re looking to leave your job for a reason, which might not be very positive. An interviewer will probably ask why you’re job searching but tempting as it may be to give them the full run-down, it’s always a no-no to speak negatively about your current position, boss, or company. 

How to avoid it: Strategize how you’ll talk about your reasons for leaving your job, citing factors that focus primarily on yourself and your growth. Usually, this can be done by giving negative statements a slight tweak. For example, instead of saying you’re in a dead-end job, you might say something like, “I’m looking for advancement opportunities beyond what’s currently available at my company.” 

10. Zoning out

During an interview, it’s common for it to feel like your mind is going a mile a minute. While the interviewer is talking, you’re subconsciously reviewing the answer you just gave and thinking about what you will say next. But stay focused! You want to avoid an embarrassing moment like saying, “…huh?” because you weren’t paying attention and missed the question. 

How to avoid it: Keep your attention on the present moment. Listen to the interviewer’s words and save your analysis for after the conversation concludes. 

11. Oversharing

As the interviewer works to learn more about you, the conversation might veer toward personal topics like your hobbies outside of work. While it’s fine to share information that helps convey your personality, like your love for white water rafting or your volunteer work with the local homeless shelter, you shouldn’t share overly intimate details. 

How to avoid it: Follow the same norms you would during a conversation with a stranger, like someone you just met while standing in line. While you might share that you, too, are a Yankees fan, you probably wouldn’t tell them that you’re going through a messy divorce or are struggling to cover your monthly bills on your current salary. Stick to G-rated, non-sensitive topics that are unlikely to cause bias. 

12. Using the wrong body language

This is a sneaky interview mistake you might not even realize you’re guilty of. Your body language speaks volumes about your confidence level and engagement in the conversation. Slouching, frowning, crossing your arms, failing to make eye contact, and sighing heavily can all give a negative impression. 

How to avoid it: Practice positive body language. Sit upright in your seat with your eyes focused mostly on the interviewer. Use a smile or a neutral expression. Keep your hands folded or placed comfortably in your lap. Use nonverbal cues like nodding to demonstrate that you’re listening while the interviewer speaks. 

13. Asking about salary too early

Salary is a funny interview subject. It’s a topic you must talk about at some point, but bringing it up at the wrong moment or in the wrong way can hurt your chances of getting the job. 

How to avoid it: Generally, it’s best to wait until you’re in the final stages of the hiring process to discuss pay in-depth. 

14. Being unprepared to talk salary

In the same breath, we’ll say that you SHOULD be prepared to talk about salary if the interviewer brings it up. It’s not uncommon for a hiring manager to ask questions like, “What are your salary expectations?” to ensure you and the company are within the same range. 

How to avoid it: Prepare to discuss your salary requirements diplomatically. This can be a simple statement like, “Based on my qualifications and my research on similar roles in the area, I think a reasonable salary would be somewhere around X.” If you would rather not show your cards first, you can try an alternate tack like, “I’m very interested in the position and am open to being flexible to make it work. Can you give me an idea of the salary range you had in mind?”

Utilize our salary data tool to search average compensation by position title and location to empower you to take control of your income.

15. Not thinking like a salesperson

Even if you’re feeling a sense of rapport with your interviewer, you must keep in mind that this isn’t just any casual conversation. At the end of the day, it’s a sales pitch for yourself, and the candidate who makes the strongest case will win. Thus, it’s important to highlight your accomplishments concretely.

How to avoid it: Develop several concise statements demonstrating different capabilities. For example, you might think of one scenario that speaks to your technical skills, one to your soft skills, one for overcoming a challenge, and so on. Keep these in your back pocket and work them into your answers for applicable questions in the interview. 

16. Not Preparing questions for the hiring manager

The last question in an interview is almost always, “What questions do you have for me?” Not only do you risk looking disinterested if you say nothing, but this is an important opportunity to address any uncertainty you still have about the job. 

How to avoid it: In the days leading up to the interview, make a list of questions that come to mind and keep them handy on interview day. During the interview, keep an ear out for any topics of interest that come up that you’d like to hear more about and ask about those.

17. Failing to follow post-interview etiquette

Even after you’ve nailed the interview, your work isn’t done. Hiring managers have certain expectations for the days after the interview, and following them will help cement your chance of getting an offer. 

How to avoid it: Start by writing a follow-up email after your interview. A good rule of thumb is to do it within 24 hours of your interview.

If you haven’t heard anything back about two weeks later, now’s the time to follow up. Send a short message reiterating your interest in the position and asking if there’s any update.

While a job interview has a lot of potential for faux pas, it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re cool and collected under pressure. With the right preparation to avoid these common mistakes, you’ll make an impressive presentation and move one step closer to the words you want to hear: “You’re hired!”

Enroll in Coursea’s Advanced Interview Techniques course for additional interview tips and advice.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn