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What Can Go Wrong With a Job Interview?

Help with your employment search: job interview problems

Job interviews are human interactions and because humans are imperfect, the real answer to the question posed in the title is: almost anything.

In addition, the interviewer is rarely an expert in how to conduct interviews, nor how to evaluate them, and can actually not be very good at this at all.

Having said that, interviews of one form or another are the accepted way to advance the recruitment process beyond the 'CV' stage, so your best course of action, whatever your reservations, is to make sure you perform as well as you can.

In this article, we highlight specific errors that are often made by candidates, all of which are easily avoidable if you prepare in advance.

Basic ignorance

Ignorance, that is, of your would-be employers. A popular starter goes along the lines of: 'Tell us what you know about the business'. If you fall at this first obstacle then the chances of you crossing the finishing line decrease rapidly. It is important to do your homework and get the key facts about the company. You do not need to memorise reams of detail, but maybe half an hour spent studying the company website should be enough for you to establish sufficient basic information about the company.

The objective here is to demonstrate just how serious you are about getting the job. It tells the interviewer that you are serious about the position.

Bad timekeeping

Whatever you do, please get to the interview on time. Plan your journey well in advance and aim to arrive early: five or ten minutes before the interview is the usual standard. You will then have time to gather your thoughts, check your notes and take a few calming deep breaths. If you are behind time, you will have to sprint from the car park or train station, and if you are actually late, you have created a big problem for yourself even before the interview has begun.

Dressing in an inappropriate fashion

Whether you believe that no book should be judged by its cover, the simple fact is that a failure to dress in the right manner will create a negative impression. You may have a terrific personality, and skills to die for, but people do judge on appearance, especially with job interviews. So, make a good first impression: in an office environment, this invariably means a clean, well-presented, conservative business look.

Being negative

When you are asked about your previous (or perhaps present) employers, resist the temptation to speak in a derogatory manner, whatever your experiences may have been. This is inappropriate behaviour for a job interview, and actually places you, not your previous employers, in a bad light.

Instead, concentrate on the positives and tell the interviewer what you liked about your old job and what you learned. Remember, you will be working for these people if all goes well, so you do not want them to think that you might be a negative or disruptive influence.

Going into autopilot

The chances are that this is not the first time that you have been to a job interview. In fact you may have a good idea about the sort of questions you will be asked, and have already mentally prepared some answers.

If this is the case, there are two dangers here. Firstly, by appearing to be too slick, too polished, you will automatically appear less engaging, and this is very likely to count against you. Secondly, if you assume too much, you are unlikely to listen as well, and therefore miss details you would otherwise pick up; in this case, you may actually inadvertently answer the wrong question.

Talking too much

An interview can be a stressful experience, and it is easy to be nervous and over-eager to please. One way this can manifest itself is by talking too much (even if you think what you say is interesting): by going into too much detail, going off at a tengent, or even over-use of business jargon.

Of course, this must be balanced by not being too short with your answers: being concise and informative is the key. As a general rule of thumb, for most questions, an answer lasting ten to fifteen seconds is sufficient. If the question requires a full response (e.g. 'Tell me about yourself') then your answer should last between thirty seconds and a minute at most.

The key here, as with every aspect of your interview, is to come across as a competent, prepared, keen and friendly human being.

Bad non-verbal communication

You would not dream of using bad language in your interview so you shouldn't use bad body language either. Remember that you are selling yourself, so take every opportunity to make a positive impression. Avoid displays of excessive languor or relaxation because it makes it look as if you don't really care. You should also steer clear of the classic defensive body postures, with crossed arms, crossed legs and head down. Aim for a keen, sat-up-straight approach, with perhaps a slight lean forward. Make eye contact with the interviewer, smile and make sure your handshake is firm and confident.

Excessive modesty

Modesty is a virtue, but too much of it in a job interview is a real handicap. Remember that you are selling a product (yourself) against unknown competition, so you must emphasise the virtues (benefits) if you want to close the deal. So sell your good points without being arrogant and boastful, and as always, steer a path between two extremes and come across as a confident, assertive person.

Not asking questions

No matter how confident or positive you are, a job interview is something of an ordeal and it is only natural to want it over. So when the classic roundup question arrives: 'Is there anything that you would like to ask me?', you must not fall into the trap of saying that it is all quite clear. However relieved you may feel, be prepared to ask a couple of thoughtful questions at the end of the interview. They will sound all the better if they are sincere enquiries, and even better if they relate to the subject matter covered in the interview. Examples might be asking the interviewer if he or she thinks you would fit in at this company, or if you are missing any skills in your CV. Alternatively, you could ask what it is like to work for this company or whether there are opportunities for employees to gain new skills. At all times, keep your questions positive.

Not following up

The interview can seem like the end of the process, but there is something else you can do that will improve your chances quite considerably, namely to send a follow up e-mail to your interviewer. Keep it short and sincere and thank him or her for their time, reiterate how impressed you were by the company, and reaffirm your desire to work for them. Conclude your message by saying that if they want more information then they should not hesitate to contact you. Our cynical British view of this behaviour is to call it 'apple polishing', but really it is only politeness. It is also another way for you to stand out from the crowd and to further illustrate just what a valuable asset you will be.


Bearing these examples in mind should stand you in good stead for making your interview as smooth and impressive as possible. Be presentable, friendly and knowledgeable and you will be at your best. However, if something does go wrong, just rise above it and remember that your preparation has put you in such a strong position that the rest of your performance will enable you to leave it behind.


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