The Top 10 Job Interview Deal-Breakers | Blog

While many people are working hard on building and maintaining a solid personal brand, I think it goes without saying that it doesn’t make one bit of a difference how great you look online if you screw up your job interview. There is simply nothing out there that can repair or make up for significant blunders that might take place.

I have interviewed some thousands of candidates over the years. So with all those situations in mind and having talked with many other hiring managers, I have come up with this list of top 10 job interview deal breakers – things you can say or do during your interview that will likely cause you to immediately lose your candidacy for the position:

  1. Showing up late and not mentioning a thing about it. (ex:. “I am so sorry I am late, there was an accident on the highway…. “) Being late can be okay if its just a few minutes (less than 5) and you immediately apologize.  But it’s much better if you call first – and have a good excuse.
  2. Not bringing items that were requested of you (ex: job application, work samples, etc) Is this how you will operate at work too?
  3. Improper dress attire. I have had many candidates ask me, over the phone or on email, how they should dress. I really don’t mind that question, it sure beats showing up in a t-shirt. And always iron your clothes!
  4. Lack of professionalism: chewing gum, checking your phone, using swear words, being rude, lack of eye contact or appearing bored, getting visibly frustrated or irritated when answering questions.
  5. Scheduling the interview during lunch and then abruptly ending it so you can get back to work. If you are a strong candidate and the company is interested in you, it’s not reasonable to think that you can have a full interview in 30 minutes  – one that allows you to fit the interview and drive time in within a one hour lunch.
  6. Not giving specific examples when asked. This is by far the most common blunder. If a hiring manager asks you for a specific example of something (ex: how you handled a difficult customer) do not respond, “oh, there are just so many times – I can’t really pick out just one but that was regular part of my job. I was always commended for how well I handled difficult issues and my manager said that was my top strength”.  Try something like this instead: “I had a customer who called in and she was very angry… and she said….  and this is what I said…. And then I did this… and this is how it was resolved….”
  7. When asked the question, “have you had a chance to review our website?” with, “no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet”.  If you hadn’t, I hope you learned about the company some other way because you really need to have done your research on the company.  This will help you mold your answers to the interview questions and make them relevant to the company. It will also help you ask good questions. If you didn’t even look at the website then it will be assumed that you really don’t care if you work there – that you just want a job –anywhere.
  8. Getting caught in a lie.  Yes, this happens a lot. Many people will go into great detail when going over their work history or when answering questions and if you aren’t telling the truth – it will likely be very apparent.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to say to a candidate, “okay, I am confused. Earlier you had mentioned …… but now you are saying…?”  or “You are saying you did this after college…. but your resume says this…..?” Not good!
  9. Mentioning in the interview that another company has made you a job offer so you will need to know if you will be offered the job within 2-3 days. If you have other things going on, great! But keep it to yourself, because the company will not rush to make a decision in your time requirements, and you will just end up disqualifying yourself.
  10. When asked if you have any questions, you pull out a list that focuses squarely in on “what’s in it for me?” Asking questions only about vacation time, sick time, benefits, pay, etc. is not an acceptable thing to do. You need to be focusing in on the company and what you can offer and not on yourself.  Having no questions is not a deal breaker, but it’s close. However, there are times that can be overlooked. Especially if you had talked with someone else in the company and that person answered your questions ahead of time. But always try to ask questions. It shows you are interested in the job and the company.

I do want to mention one other one that didn’t make my list but makes many other lists.

Should you talk negatively about your past job or past manager? Generally, do not do this. But I have learned that some people really had some interesting and relevant experiences in past jobs and talking about them, in the right context – more factual and less emotional – can be okay.

If a past negative job experience must come up just state the facts and the situation using specific examples (“The company was bought out by another company.  The new President came in and cut everyone’s salaries and moved people into different positions”) without saying things like “I hated working there after that” or “he was just terrible! Everyone hated him!”  You must address this in an ultra-professional manner.

Acing a job interview is really a skill. You need to have a general idea of what employers want and need to hear, but because everyone is so different, there is a wide range of what works and what does not.  However, if you steer clear of doing these interview deal-breakers, you will significantly decrease your chances of being tossed out in the first round of the process.

Jessica Simko is a seasoned senior level Human Resources professional with over 15 years of experience in all facets of Human Resources Management. She is a Career Coach and Consultant specializing in helping all levels of career professionals create, build, and maintain a strong career brand in the corporate work culture. She strives to help people connect their passions with their jobs and then to leverage their brand to maximize their potential throughout their careers. She offers a wide variety of career branding articles and tips at Career Branding Guide where she also offers coaching and consulting services based on the Career Branding Guide model. Feel free to connect with her on:

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