Everyone makes mistakes once in a while. No matter how long you’ve been in the workforce or how much you’ve honed your interview skills, you’ll still make the occasional mistake. And when you’re looking for a job, some of those mistakes can be fatal.
Here are five common mistakes candidates make during the interview process and lessons you can learn from each:
1. Writing the wrong company name on your correspondence. Job seekers spend countless hours interviewing before finding the right position, so it's natural to use some of the same content from a previous follow-up letter. That’s fine—it saves you time. But double-check that you’ve addressed the letter to the company you’re interviewing with. It's also wise to double-check the spelling of the interviewer's name.
Lesson: A lack of attention to detail could cost you the job. As a job candidate, you must convince the prospective employer that you truly want to work for their company, not any company.
2. Showing up to the interview too early or too late. For your first interview, it’s more important than ever to show up on time. Not the day before or the day after you’re supposed to be there. The general rule of thumb is to show up early, but not too early. Any more than 10 minutes before your scheduled time is too early. It’s smart to give yourself extra time to get there, but if you arrive more than 10 minutes before, pass that time by walking around the block or collecting yourself in a coffee shop.
Lesson: The interview is the first impression. Showing up late or too early is an indicator of how you’ll act in the future. It also shows you don’t respect the other person's time.
3. Brown-nosing. Most people love a sincere compliment, but be careful about what you say and how you say it. Compliments can easily be taken out of context or seem disingenuous.
Lesson: Don't be overly friendly with the interviewers. An interview is an opportunity to show the company how you fit the position. Yes, you want to get on the interviewer’s good side, but do that through showing how you’re qualified, not by throwing around compliments.
4. Not dressing the part. Unless you have specific insight into what the company expects a candidate to wear to the interview, you should lean toward conservative. A casual dress environment might mean you don't need to wear a traditional suit, but it certainly doesn't mean you should go in your weekend or nightclub wear. Other details include clean fingernails, washed hair, and shined shoes. If you wear perfume or cologne, wear less than normal or skip it altogether.
Lesson: A decision on whether or not to move forward with a candidate is often made during the first few minutes of an interview. Don't give the interviewer a reason to be distracted by your appearance. Show them how well you’ll represent yourself within the company and represent the image of the company to the public.
5. Not making yourself available for an interview during business hours. Standard hours are between 8 a.m. to 5:30 pm. Working job seekers tend to get nervous about being out of the office or taking calls during the day. You have to find a way around it. Some companies are willing to have an interview later in the afternoon or right after your shift ends, but asking a company (or a recruiter) to have a phone interview with you in the late evening is disrespectful of their personal time.
Lesson: Be prepared to be creative about your job search if you’re working full time. You might need to take a vacation or personal day for an interview if you’re serious about making a change.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.