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You can find lists of common interview mistakes on every career search website and in every career center across campus. A Google search for “interview mistakes” results in over 10 million hits. Despite the abundance of resources for students eager to learn what NOT to do during an interview, my experience last week conducting interviews for the 2010-2011 CDIs prompted me to devote a blog post to the topic. Here are my Top 5 Interview Mistakes:

1. Not having any questions for the employer. A common final question by the interviewer is “Do you have any questions for us?” One of the worst responses to this question is “No, I don’t think so.” You SHOULD have some questions for the employer! This is the opportunity to show the interviewer that you prepared carefully for the interview and have given significant thought to the job or internship you are applying for. A lack of thoughtful questions for the interviewer sends them the signal that you might not be fully interested in the position. Even if you have had every imaginable question answered by the employer through previous interviews or information sessions, ask something! My favorite go-to question is “Could you please tell me about your own career path and how you got to your current position?” Other appropriate questions for employers include:

  • “What does a typical day working for Company X look like?”
  • “What type of skills do you look for in a candidate for job X?”
  • “Does Company X have any development programs in place for new hires?”
  • “What has been your most rewarding experience working for Company X?”

2. Failure to appropriately answer the questions asked. You’re probably thinking, “Duh!” but more people screw this up than you think. Be a very attentive listener and pay attention closely to what the interviewer is asking. Also, figure out why they are asking the question and be sure to address it in your response. For example, one of the toughest questions I have ever been asked was “Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself and you failed to achieve it.” The employer is not asking you this question in order to learn about a time where you studied hard for an exam and didn’t get the grade you wanted. This is a probing question and the interviewer is likely looking for an answer that identifies some of your weaknesses, but more importantly, how you took those weaknesses and made them stronger or what you learned from the experience.

3. Unprofessional behavior. Again, this seems simple, but people still mess up in this area. Do not slouch in the chair. Sit up straight and make eye contact with the interviewer. Be sure to introduce yourself and shake the hand of the interviewer. Making jokes during the interview is okay, but make sure they are appropriate and are used in moderation. You want to seem relaxed, but not too relaxed. Also, professional dress is extremely important. Always be sure to have a friend or family member look at your outfit before an interview. You may think that you are dressed appropriately, but you may not be able to see the hole in the back of your jacket or your underwear hanging out of your pants.

4. Failure to read social cues. This may not seem like a big deal, but employers want people who can communicate and interact well with others in social settings. Being unable to pick up on social cues may discourage the employer from hiring you or inviting you back for another interview. For example, during a long-winded response to a question, the interviewer might begin to lean forward or get fidgety. You need to be able to recognize this and quickly bring your response to an end. On a similar note, you should be able to read an interviewer after a couple of questions and understand his or her interviewing style. You should take note, and behave and answer questions accordingly. If the interviewer seems to be very straight-laced and “all-business,” you might want to cut out the cute jokes you prepared the night before.

5. Forgetting to send a thank you note. Daryan wrote a great blog detailing the importance of sending a thank you note after an interview, but I still wanted to mention it. So few job applicants fail to follow up with a thank you note that by remembering to do so you put yourself in a great position to be placed ahead of the rest of the applicants. We interviewed 17 candidates for the 2010-2011 CDI position. Only 5 of those 17 followed up with a thank you note. You better believe that we took notice and gave those candidates bonus points.

The great thing about all of these mistakes is that they can be fixed. Do not be discouraged if you are guilty of some of these transgressions (I know I am!). Interviews are just like any other activity—the only way to get better is to practice. If you think you need help with your interview skills, schedule a mock interview appointment with a Career Consultant at the UGA Career Center.