How to overcome the scariest job interview mistakes

These job interview tips will help you avoid frightful missteps.

Oh no. You’ve been fielding interview questions from a hiring manager, and you suddenly realize you flubbed an answer. The interviewer knows that everyone is human—so you can move on and pretend you didn’t just accidentally bomb on one of the most common interview questions, right?

Wrong. It’s better to acknowledge when your interview skills fall flat and address it somehow, says Heather Neisen, director of account services at Enliven, LLC in Nashville. “If you catch yourself in a lie or you get tongue-tied, it may sound cliche, but honesty is the best policy. Start over and explain.” Countless things can go wrong in a job interview, no matter how much interview preparation you engage in, so be ready to address these four common mistakes with our pointers.

You’re running late

You know that being late to an interview can leave a poor first impression, so you should plan your route and leave extra travel time. But sometimes unpredictable traffic or personal emergencies can’t be avoided, and you find yourself late for the interview.

What do you do?

Call to let the interviewer know. “Do not wait until you are there and make excuses,” says Peter Studner, author of Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers & Career Changers. “Your smartphone is your best friend for such occasions.”

If you fear you’re not going to make it within a reasonable timeframe—generally 30 minutes after your scheduled meeting—it’s best to call ahead and find out if you can reschedule or push the interview later. Don’t leave them waiting and wondering if you will show.

You’re stumped by a question

Interview questions and answers are the nuts and bolts of the screening process. Suddenly, the interviewer asks something you’re not prepared for, and your brain begins to reel as you try to think of what to say. The worst answer at that point is, “Um, I don’t know”—but you hear yourself say it anyway.

What do you do?

“Preparation and practice will not only help prevent some slip-ups but also help you recover more quickly,” Studner says. If you catch yourself saying, “I don’t know,” remember your preparation and search through your mental files for a reasonable answer or explanation. “A candidate should be armed with dates, names and metrics concerning his history as well as his accomplishments.”

If you’re not thinking quickly enough, and the interviewer has moved on, don’t be afraid to return to the point later in the conversation.

If you’re quick enough to realize your mistake during the interview, it’s appropriate to bring it up before the end of the conversation. Ask to come back to that point, say you want to clarify your response, and that you’d like to share another example.

Your smartphone buzzes beeps or rings loudly

You always turn your cell phone off during a movie, and you scold your friends when their phones ring during dinner, but you forgot to turn yours off for your job interview. Suddenly, emerging from your coat pocket is the theme song from Ghostbusters—and then the room falls eerily silent.

What do you do?

Apologize, make light of the situation if appropriate, and move on, says Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Connecticut-based Magas Media Consultants. “Be honest, be upfront, be prompt, be true to yourself.”

“If you don’t address it, it becomes the elephant in the room and overshadows what you did right in the interview,” Magas adds.

You fear you gave a “wrong” answer

You leave the interview and then realize you may have made a mistake or were somehow misunderstood. You ask yourself over and over again, “Did it sound like I was badmouthing my co-workers?” “Did I seem like I wasn’t excited about this position?” You know you aren’t getting any sleep tonight while you ponder what you might have said wrong.

What do you do?

First, suggest evaluating whether you even made a mistake. “You won’t answer every question perfectly, but if you were direct and got your main points across then following up may seem like overkill,” she says.

If you decide you need to clarify something, you can use your thank-you letter to the interviewer as an opportunity to explain anything you think may have been misunderstood. “If a candidate feels like they were bashing their previous employer or was nervous, they can often follow up and just say thank you for the interview and apologize for the faux pas,” Neisen says. “That’s appreciated.”  

Additionally, if you think you didn’t show your genuine interest in the job, you can ask a respected colleague or client to send a letter of endorsement on your behalf, Kiner suggests. It may be an added boost to your thank-you letter explaining that this is the job you are most interested in.

Conquer your fears

The good news: Nobody is perfect. Hiring managers know this. So while there are plenty of ways you can screw up an interview, there are just as many ways you can smooth things over. You’ll have an easier time if you feel adequately prepared for the interview. Need some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get interview insights, career advice, and other useful job search tips sent directly to your inbox. You’ll learn what to say and how to say it—as well as what not to say. Sign up for free today, and put your job interview nightmares to rest.

Job Interview Answers Not to Use

In many cases, an interview is a necessary evil that stands between you and your dream job. So, it is not unreasonable to assume that you will say whatever you believe the interviewer wants to hear to secure said position. To wit, as a hiring manager, I have sat through countless interviews throughout my career and have heard my fair share of overblown and unconvincing responses. And, as such, I have witnessed a great many candidates ruin their chances by dropping the ball during the interview. 

Now, I fully admit that many interviewers share equal blame by offering up pithy and meaningless questions that are very difficult to answer convincingly. However, most candidates should be well prepared to answer these types of questions as they have become so commonplace. For instance, there is no elegant way to answer “why do you want this job?” without over-selling your desire or coming up with a pre-rehearsed line that you read on the internet. So, rather than allow you to fumble your way through your next interview, here are some common answers that I hear during interviews and why to stay away from them.

I’m looking for a new challenge

When I hear this, I simply assume that you are concealing the real reason why you are looking for something new.

Tip: Be as honest you can be about why you are looking (without coming across as petty or bitter).

I’m a great team player

You should always refrain from making such simple and qualitative statements. To me, this comes across as insincere and lazy.

Tip: Walk your interviewer through some previous experiences where your collaboration with other colleagues was instrumental to your project’s success. Show, don’t tell.

You won’t regret hiring me

I am always struck when I hear something along these lines during an interview. I understand that you are on edge and likely feeling insecure, but exhibiting such a lack of confidence can be unappealing.

Tip: always remember that they need you as much as you need them.

I am the perfect candidate

That may very well be the case but most interviewers would prefer to determine that for themselves. Additionally, this can make you look presumptuous and over-confident – especially considering that there many things about the position that you may know nothing about.

Tip: Tone down the rhetoric and lay out your case in a meaningful and organized way. If you are indeed the perfect candidate, the interviewer will recognize this without you mentioning it.

I’m a workaholic

While you may indeed be a hard-worker, identifying yourself in such a way can appear troubling to a recruiter.

Tip: Refer to examples of how your hard work has yielded positive results throughout your career. Avoid labelling yourself in any way during an interview.

I don’t have any salary expectations

To me, this is always puzzling as the likeliest reason why you are interviewing for the position is to get paid. And yes, your interviewer is fully aware of this.

Tip: Be assertive and explain that you have a reasonable expectation of what your skills are worth and are willing to have an honest discussion about it.

I don’t like to be micromanaged

Depending on how this is said, it can come across as a subtle threat to the hiring manager.

Tip: Don’t focus on what you don’t like in a manager – even if you are expressly asked. Spin the question around to focus on the positive attributes you look for in a supervisor.



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