I have a weird specialty. I do interviews. Specifically, I make them happen. I’ve been setting them up, preparing people, and dealing with the fallout from ones that have gone awry for over a decade. And boy, do they go awry. A lot.
I’ve set up interviews as a TV producer and as a conference producer, and now I do it here at The Hired Guns. If you go on a job interview through The Hired Guns, you and I will work together. I’ll call you, prep you, send you a confirmation email, and make sure you’re ready to dazzle. But sometimes, no matter how prepared and enthusiastic people are, no matter how ready they are to absolutely nail it, they can still undermine all their hard work by making the simplest mistakes.
These aren’t “interview fails.” They’re not major catastrophes or colossal meltdowns. But they are things that will weaken your chances. They’re also things you probably have no idea that you’re doing.
1. Picking the Last Available Interview Time
You might think that being the last person they meet will make you the first person they’ll remember. But unless your name is Mariano Rivera, you probably aren’t the closer that you think you are.
When it comes to interviews, the early birds usually get the worm. For hiring managers, interviewing can be a grueling process that happens on top of the rest of their work. If they click with someone in the early rounds, they may just glaze over with other candidates, simply because they want to make a hire and get the interviewing process off their plate as soon as possible.
I’m not saying that being the first or second interview guarantees you’ll get the job, or that you’ll ruin your chances if the only time you can meet is a later date. But if you’re given a choice, go early.
(If you’re out of town, but want the job really badly, see if an initial phone interview can be arranged. It will show the potential employer that you are interested and will keep the seat warm for when you return.)
2. Cancelling Your Interview When Your Current Job Needs You
Interviewing for a new job when you are currently employed — especially if you have a demanding job or a demanding boss — isn’t easy. But which do you want more: the job you have or this exciting new prospect? Yes, things come up, but you probably know your place pretty well and can plan accordingly. If crises at your current job often mean you are stuck working late, plan a morning interview. If your boss is an early riser who tends to surprise you with 8am meetings, schedule an interview later in the day.
If this is your dream job, just make the interview happen. Someone else wants that job as badly as you do and is doing everything they can to make their interview.
3. Telling Your Interviewer What’s Wrong with the Company in the Hopes of Dazzling Them
You’ve seen this episode. The renegade comes in, tells the prospective client/employer all that’s wrong with the place and how he’s going to shake things up. The client has an epiphany and realizes they’ve been wrong all along and begs the renegade to save the day.
That’s how it works on TV. In reality, doing this will make you look like a big jerk.
For all you know, the person interviewing you spent the last year putting the strategy that you’re in the process of torching into place. This will not get you a job.
Instead, present your ideas and the challenges that you see the company/industry facing without denigrating what they’re currently doing. In fact, don’t trash talk at all during your interview. It’s tacky.
4. Not Doing Your Homework
Knowing the position you’re interviewing for like the back of your hand is great, but it isn’t enough. You have to know the company, too. Know the big issues facing the company and the industry. Make sure you are up on the terminology and the big events that will affect your job and the company itself in the future. Google is your friend here. After the interview, you have permission to go back to just following Amanda Bynes on Twitter and looking at cat videos.
5. Not Doing Your Homework: GPS Edition
If you are working with me, I promise I’ll give you the correct address and the cross streets for your interview. But you also have to be a grown up and figure out the best and fastest way to get there. This means not deciding to drive into Midtown when the UN General Assembly or the President is in town. (Actually, “Don’t drive into Midtown” is a good rule of thumb for all occasions.)
Know what subway or bus to take and the stop where you’re getting off. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask for help or information on this beforehand. If it’s raining, plan for extra travel time. Some people are forgiving if you are running late. Others are not. Now is not the time to find out which one your potential employer is.
6. Embarrassing Yourself
Once, during the second of round of interviews for a job I was perfect for, the receptionist asked if I wanted a glass of water. It was summer and it was hot, so I said yes.
The interview was going well. I was charming. I was animated. I knocked a glass of water straight into the lap of my interviewer. He looked like he wet his pants.
I did not get the job.
A few years ago, a colleague and I interviewed someone with great credentials. He was nice. He was smart. He also had something hanging from his nose during the entire interview. As my tough-as-nails colleague said, “Ol’ booger boy never stood a chance.”
Do a cross-check before takeoff. Blow your nose, check your teeth, pop a mint, have a glass of water. If you are prone to sweating when you get nervous, wear lighter clothes. Turn your cell phone off, ESPECIALLY if you have a ridiculous ring tone. Sure, you know all of this stuff, but do you actually do all of this stuff? Make them remember you for your work and your personality, not something embarrassing.
The Bottom line
The job market may be picking back up, but competition remains fierce. Employers can still afford to split hairs when it comes to who they want to hire. You don’t want anything standing in the way of you and that job, especially if it’s something that you can prevent.