It can be very difficult to know how best to impress a manager during the hiring process. One of the most effective ways to tackle this stressful aspect of the real world is to know what NOT to do.
Whether you're new to the working world or you're a seasoned professional, there are several mistakes that you want to avoid so as not to appear unprofessional or unqualified before, during or after an interview.
Even if you’re a stellar candidate on paper, you can suddenly find yourself in the “no” pile by making a basic mistake during the hiring process. Here are some of the most common deal breakers for employers and how to avoid them.
1. You didn’t do your research on the company
While you might be able to sell yourself to an interviewer with ease, you also want to show why you’re a great fit for that specific company. The best way to answer “Why our company?” is by doing some research before the interview to prove that you know a lot about them.
If you don't do your research, the hiring manager might conclude that 1) you’re really not interested in this position, 2) you’re interested in their industry but it doesn’t matter to you which company you work for, or 3) you’re desperate for employment and didn’t take the time to make sure whether this company is really the right fit.
Annie Lee, who works as Human Resources and Office Manager for Seedling USA, Inc., pinpoints this as her biggest deal breaker. She says, “A lot of times, a candidate will be great on paper and have a great interview, but can’t tell me what their favorite product is or understand our company’s mission. They don’t have to have purchased the product before, but they should have a basic knowledge of the company, product, and mission.”
Blair Brandt, the CEO of Next Step Realty, also sees this as a major deal breaker when hiring for his company, noticing that talented younger candidates too often don’t do their homework and ask more questions than they answer.
To avoid this, he says, “Look at every page of their [company’s] website. Read their four to five most recent media press releases to understand updated news. Scroll through their social media, because you’ll see what they’ve been up to. Interview people involved in the business, like a former client or employee.”
It's important to do your homework and show your potential employer that you know what it takes to succeed in that company. Make sure to really examine the product, whether it's tangible or intangible. If you're interviewing at an internet company, go through all of the websites they manage and read them. If you're interviewing at a magazine publisher, buy a copy of their latest issue and read through it.
2. Lack of enthusiasm for the role or company
Though it helps to know a lot of facts about the company, if you can’t express your enthusiasm for working there, then the hiring manager will question why you’re there in the first place.
Brandt completely agrees with this notion. “You can’t come into an interview and be like, ‘I have this other [company] I’m kind of interested in…’” he says. “If you’re not enthusiastic about our mission statement, it’s a waste of time.”
In expressing your enthusiasm, it’s also important to make sure that you’re projecting those feelings onto your interviewer so that they feel equally excited about you. Brandt says, “People want to be flattered… Make people feel important and desirable, and that they’re doing something cool with their day. The fact that [candidates] are so enthusiastic makes their day. You can’t do that without research.”
Brandt adds that you should think outside of the box during your interview. In addition to doing research, make sure you come prepared with not just questions, but suggestions based on what you find in your research, in order to show your interest in the job. “You want to add value. Don’t just survive the interview—prosper in the interview. Don’t just do the bare requirements—go above and beyond.”
Once you feel confident about what the company stands for on a base level and the details of the position, make sure that your confidence translates in the interview. One easy trick that people tend to forget is to be expressive with your non-verbal communication. Don't fold your arms and close yourself off, but rather, be open and warm. Don't forget to smile as well! Some additional tips include practicing your interview with friends or family members, sending a detailed thank-you note following the interview and highlighting a specific story about the company that struck a chord with you.
3. Your outfit is unprofessional
Now is not the time to take fashion risks. You want your interviewer to be impressed with your resume, not your outfit!
A hiring manager’s first impression of a candidate is their appearance as soon as they walk through the door. A poor outfit choice can instantly sour the vibe of the interview, even before it starts.
A good rule of thumb is, when in doubt, err on the more conservative and dressy side with your outfit. A black tailored suit never goes out of style! At the same time, in doing research on a company, you should consider the industry and look at how employees there dress on a regular basis. If you’re interviewing at a very casual tech start-up and you’re wearing a full suit, you will look completely out of place.
To avoid this, take the general attire of the office and dress it up a couple notches to appear the most professional when meeting with the hiring manager. Some of the best ways to find out about a company's dress code are to look on their website for team pictures, look up pictures of the company on social media and gloss over job review sites like Glassdoor.
4. You have a questionable online presence
Those pictures from spring break in Cabo could come back to haunt you, even AFTER college! Since practically everyone has some type of online presence, the majority of HR professionals and hiring managers are undoubtedly Googling you. Even if you interview well in person, a single inappropriate picture on Instagram could instantly change a "yes" to a "no."
Before you even start your job hunt, it's a good idea to take some time to clean up your social media profiles. A helpful tip is to do the "Grandma Test." Ask yourself, "Would I be OK with my grandma seeing this picture?" If the answer is "no," you might want to consider deleting it.
Saniya Waghray, a Walt Disney Studios Associate, says, "Googling a name is so easy, and if the first thing that comes up is a not-so-flattering picture that you forgot to make private on Facebook, you can bet that, even if you land the job, it'll impact the relationship you have with your boss moving forward."
Keep in mind that even if all of your accounts are in private mode, that doesn't mean that employers can't dig up information on you. Once you release information online, it stays there. Not to mention, people can share your information, thus making it public.
At the same time, you shouldn't privatize every one of your online profiles. In some cases, it's just as much a red flag to find unprofessional photos of you online as it is for a hiring manager to try Googling you and finding themselves in a digital ghost town. It might seem like you're trying to hide something. Especially if you're applying for a job that requires being digitally savvy, you want your online presence to reflect your personal brand. Some pieces of yourself should be easy to find, such as a LinkedIn profile, personal website or online portfolio.
5. Typos, typos, typos
A single typo on your resume can stand out more than all of your shining internships and accomplishments. Even if you get past the first HR person, you may find yourself in the final round of interviews and your hiring manager suddenly finds a typo after, or worse, DURING the interview. Don't let this happen!
It’s important to be mindful of spelling in any industry, but especially in the editorial world. Kristen Harris, the Editor-in-Chief of Promolta Blog, experienced this frustration when hiring candidates for remote internships and analyzing their resumes and writing samples.
She says, “When hiring my interns, who write weekly posts for the blog, my biggest deal breaker was poor spelling or grammar, especially on a resume. Not only does it show me that you don’t care enough to double-check your resume, and therefore your own work, but it also shows that you aren’t really interested in an internship where your main goal is to write.”
Make sure to have several pairs of eyes examine both your resume and cover letter before they are submitted. In addition to misspellings, make sure that things like your verb tenses and dates are all correct and make sense. These days, your LinkedIn profile is almost as important as your physical resume, so make sure that your profile—and any online presence—is free of typos, too.
6. Not bringing any copies of your resume
This is one of the cardinal sins of Interviewing 101. Even though your hiring manager likely has your resume on their computer and may print out a copy to bring to your interview, it’s never a guarantee. Or perhaps it’s been a couple weeks since they last looked over your resume, or maybe they haven’t seen it at all.
When you don't come with copies of your resume, your interviewer will get the impression that you’re not prepared, or worse, that you’re not serious enough about the role you applied for.
Jackie Gata, who works for the Atlar Air Training Center, recalls seeing this mistake in person, and says, “One particular interview I was a part of, the [candidate] didn’t bring any copies of his resume. The HR woman had to leave during the middle of the interview to go and print copies on her own, during a very busy day, so she only ended up being in the interview for about five minutes. We even discussed it after he left, and he was not hired.” This mistake is a big turn-off and wastes time for the interviewer, both literally and figuratively.
A piece of advice is to bring not only one, but several copies of your resume with you in a folio. This will come in handy because 1) you’ll have a copy for yourself to act as notes to fall back on, and 2) even if you’re only anticipating speaking with one person, they may bring in a couple colleagues to speak with you as well, so this way you’ll have enough resumes to go around. You’re better safe than sorry, after all!
Depending on the company, an interview may not be the only piece of paper necessary to bring. It's sometimes important to also share a portfolio and work samples, especially for more creative roles like design and photography.
7. Being late to the interview
It's safe to say that every employer considers this one of their top deal breakers in the hiring process. Even if you have a legitimate excuse for being late, it's nearly impossible to dig yourself out of the hole that is a negative first impression. If you're late to the interview, why shouldn't the hiring manager believe that you won't be punctual when you start the job?
If you're driving to the interview location, make sure to use Google Maps or a GPS to figure out the distance beforehand and give yourself sufficient extra time to get there in case of an extreme traffic jam or poor weather conditions. If you arrive too early, you can wait in your car and study your resume or wait in a nearby coffee shop. You don't want to enter the building too early and annoy the gatekeeper, and ultimately your interviewer, so a general rule of thumb is to arrive no more than five to ten minutes early—and certainly not late at all.
8. Your resume is too good to be true
We all want our resumes to reflect the best possible versions of ourselves, but at what point can you take it too far?
It's never a good idea to exaggerate or downright lie on a resume because you can easily be caught. It may be tempting to add a month onto an internship, make a job title sound better than it really is or raise your sales numbers, but you're better off being as truthful as possible. Plus, your hiring manager may ask for references, and one benefit for them in doing so is to verify your work history. You don't want your title or description of a job to be drastically different than what your prior manager claims.
If you feel the need to make several tweaks to your resume in order to beef it up, then perhaps that's a sign that you should take the steps necessary to increase its value before applying for a job that may be a stretch, such as more schooling or an additional internship right out of college.
Interviews aren’t easy for anyone, and you certainly don’t want to become paranoid and worry that every part of you is being scrutinized. At the same time, by avoiding these common deal breakers, you will be more prepared and ready to land the job you want, so that you can let your skills shine.