When applying and interviewing for jobs, we all make mistakes with embarrassing interview slip-ups and unintentional social gaffes. But some are worse than others, whether showing up a half-hour late for an interview or needling the interviewer about upcoming vacation time when you haven’t yet been offered the job.
Whether it’s due to social-skills challenges or sheer ineptitude, here’s a quick checklist of what not to do when applying for a position and going on an interview. After all, you don’t want to be memorable for all the wrong reasons — and lose the job as a result.
“Follow instructions,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of the online job search site FlexJobs. “I’ve hired for hundreds of positions and can usually eliminate about a third of applicants because they didn’t follow the instructions in the job description.” That includes not writing a personalized cover letter demonstrating the applicant’s interest in the company and job.
Some applicants skip the cover letter or send a generic cover letter. “Not following instructions tells employers that you either can’t or don’t pay attention to details, were too rushed or disorganized when applying, or just didn’t care enough to follow instructions,” Fell says.
Your skin-baring selfie photo, political joke or snarky celeb observation might make friends laugh, but oversharing on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t impress potential employers.
“Our weakening sense of privacy is the job seeker’s Achilles’ heel and the employer’s windfall,” says Michael Haaren, co-founder of RatRaceRebellion.com, a site focused on work-at-home options and projects. Even these require an appropriate online resume.
“In the past, hirers had to send investigators door to door to get the information that Google gives for free in five seconds,” he says. “Pretend you’ve got a blind crush on your first date. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want him or her to see. Assume hiring managers are terminally stodgy.”
Late interview arrival is a hiring complaint heard by Paul Chittenden, co-founder of JobKaster, a job search app that helps seekers find local jobs. “I don’t care if you have to show up an hour or two early, but the first impression is paramount,” he says, and late interviewees create a bad impression.
But arriving more than 10 minutes early can inconvenience the interviewer. While waiting, review your talking points, resume and the company background info in your car or nearby. “Make sure you are prepared. If you feel fully prepared, then by all means, play on your phone or read a book,” he says.
Consultant Barry Maher, author of the book “Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business,” recently was involved in an interview where the interviewee’s first three questions, in order:
“How much vacation time do I get?”
“How long do I have to be here before I’m eligible for a vacation?”
“How long before I start to accrue additional weeks of vacation?”
This applicant gave the impression that he couldn’t wait to spend time off the clock. Instead, Maher says, prep questions like: “What would the perfect employee for this job look like for you?” or “In the best of all possible worlds, what would you like me to accomplish for you in three months, in a year, in five years?”
Speaking ill of your previous employer bodes poorly for your job prospects. Business etiquette trainer Arden Clise interviewed someone for an open position and asked what he did and didn’t like about his last job.
“He talked at great length about how terrible his last boss was and that he was let go,” Clise says. “I don’t want to hire anyone who is so negative.”
If you parted ways with an employer or manager over professional or personal conflict, don’t dwell, blame or trash talk.
“Even if your last employer was awful, it’s very important to only focus on the positive things about the company, so you convey a positive, team-player attitude,” Clise says.
“It is very off-putting if a candidate arrives and tells my assistant they are here for an interview with ‘Mr. Kaplan’ when my bio and picture are on the website,” says Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of LexION Capital Management in New York City.
Incorrect personal titles are only the start. “I have had interviewees who don’t know that LexION Capital is an asset management firm, which we are. Or they come in thinking we are a hedge fund, which we are not,” she says.
These facts can be found on the company website, so not researching the company basics makes a poor impression, Kaplan says.
“Job seekers should do their homework and find out what the going rate is for the type of work that they do, but it is not considered appropriate for job seekers to ask what the job pays during the interview,” says Cheryl Palmer, a career coach in the Washington, D.C., area.
So when is it OK to ask? When the company makes an offer. “You know that they want you, and that is when you are in the best position to negotiate,” she says. “The basic rule of thumb with salary negotiation is that the first person who mentions salary loses.”
Boasting and interrupting are signs of someone who’s difficult to work with, says Mark Goulston, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based coach and author of “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.”
But a listening response indicates that you heard the interviewer, what they said made sense, and you’re considering it, Goulston says. Use conversation deepeners like, “Say more about …” “Really …” and “Hmmm …” he suggests.
Build off the last thing the interviewer said instead of focusing on your monologue or your memorized elevator pitch. Doing so indicates you’re a good communicator and interested in your employer’s needs and concerns, Goulston says.
Etiquette consultant Clise once worked at a credit union, where a branch manager interviewed a young man with bad interview manners.
“He answered his phone not once, not twice, but three times during the interview,” she says. “Each time he said it was important. Obviously getting a job wasn’t as important as his phone calls.”
He didn’t get the job.
On an interview, silence your phone and put it away so you’re not tempted by the buzz. If you forget to do so and it rings, apologize and quickly turn it off. The same goes for any type of distraction, Clise says.
“A pet peeve of mine is when candidates follow up in a very short amount of time because they’re getting antsy or they follow up after a month, which is way too much time,” says Cherrice Bryant, executive search consultant with The Oliver Group in Louisville, Ky.
“I am very specific when I tell candidates to mark their calendars for a certain time frame to follow up with me, and it unnerves me when they don’t,” she says.
Listen carefully to how you’re instructed to follow up, and follow those directions or ask about the next steps in the process. If you don’t hear anything for a month or so, one follow-up email is appropriate, Bryant says.