Published on Feb. 24, 2021
Over the years I have conducted lots of interviews and spoken with many recruiters who shared stories of some major interview gaffes. Here are some anecdotes that provide some helpful lessons on things to avoid:
The Virtual Dud
One employer shared that she was conducting an early morning Zoom interview with a Mizzou student who was talking to her from his dimly lit res hall room. A few minutes into the conversation she heard a buzzing noise that got louder and louder. Shortly afterwards she saw movement in the background and realized that the the interviewee’s roommate was snoring from his bed in full view of the camera! Needless to say that is pretty much all she recalls from the interview.
Lesson: Maybe you wouldn’t broadcast your interview while your roommate loudly snores behind you but have you thought about your virtual background and how you appear on camera? Are you projecting a professional image? Consider your lighting, what’s hanging on your walls, the cleanliness of your space, etc. Make sure your virtual interview leaves a favorable impression.
The Nervous Nelly
After a long day of interviewing, I asked an employer whether he had some strong candidates. He replied he had two standouts and one student who he was pulling for but nerves got the best of her. The recruiter said that just moments are after sitting down, the student started to break out in hives. She had on a scoop neck blouse and it was hard not to notice the red splotches breaking out everywhere.
Lesson: A collared, button up blouse would have really helped this student out… but the bigger issue is about managing nerves. It’s okay to be nervous for an interview but you need to find ways to control them so they don’t rise to a level of tremendous anxiety or full panic. While this student may have had a more severe reaction, the reality is that we all have nervous habits. Some folks talk too fast or too softly, some play with their hair or tap their feet, and others might sweat – a lot! The best thing is to practice so you feel comfortable answering questions and engaging others. Confidence is key to managing interview stress!
The Meek Mouse
One of my student employees, a very shy and introverted person, interviewed for a competitive internship. Afterwards I asked her how it went and she explained it was a little awkward. The employer accidentally addressed her by her middle name (which appeared on her resume) and she didn’t correct her. Towards the end of the interview the employer realized her gaffe and apologized, but seemed puzzled the student didn’t speak up. My student worker didn’t get a second round interview and her inability to address the issue likely affected that decision.
Lesson: Interviews are your chance to show your personality and to proudly highlight all of your skills, attributes and experiences – it’s not a time to be timid! Instead, you need to confidently express who you are. And if an employer makes a mistake, politely but directly address it. (e.g., “It’s nice to meet you as well! Actually, Ellen is my middle name. My first name is Sascha so you are welcome to call me that!”)
The Text Addict
I was conducting an interview with a candidate for a full-time job at a not-for-profit I volunteered at and over the lunch portion of the interview, I caught the applicant looking at his cell phone several times during the meal. It was incredibly rude and a huge turn off for all of us on the selection committee. He thought he was being discreet but it was clear he had his cell phone balanced on his leg. He left the impression that he would rather be somewhere else and wasn’t taking the job seriously.
Lesson: Cell phones can be a major distraction or disruption even if you aren’t glued to your device. Alarms can go off or silent settings can get turned off in a pocket. It’s best to completely power off devices or not bring them with you. If there is a reason you need to have a device and get a notification (young child or family member with emergency needs) alert the employer at the start of the interview. And when to comes to good manners, be mindful of other behaviors that can be annoying like interrupting or finishing sentences, not answering questions, etc.
Many years ago I was asking a student a common interview question about a time when he had to effectively manage conflict. The student then proceeded to talk about how awful his coworkers were, how he tried to “get back” at them and then shared some pretty harsh words about the failures of his “lazy” supervisor. Needless to say, the interview ended on a rather negative and sour note. (And no surprise, the student was not made a job offer).
Lesson: We all have bad experiences with people that are difficult to work with. But interviews are meant to showcase how you effectively respond to different and challenging situations. It’s an opportunities to show maturity, self-awareness and professionalism. This student didn’t reflect very much or take any proactive steps to positively remedy the situation. Had he done that, he could have alternatively said, “I had some colleagues that were difficult to work with and not very motivated. Despite my efforts to engage them and my supervisor, I realized I could only control my work and did my very best to serve customers. I’m looking forward to joining a team that shares those same values.”