20 Surefire Ways to Blow an Interview

March 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm 9 comments

In the past, I’ve written several blog articles with advice, tips and tricks on how to succeed at interviews. I’ve covered Phone Interviews [“Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips”], Face-to-Face Interviews [“Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips.”] and even Skype interviews [“Skype Interview Tips: Welcome to the Future!”]. Over the years I’ve prepared and coached many hundreds of candidates for each of those types of interviews, stressing positive approaches and techniques. And yet … I’m still constantly amazed at how often people defy basic common sense, and totally blow their chances of landing a job by doing (or failing to do) and saying (or failing to say) things that I thought were pretty basic.

So, at the risk of re-stating things that may seem obvious to most intelligent job-seekers, what follows is a list of 20 things that are pretty much guaranteed to blow any interview. I’ve personally observed each and every one of the following things happen with job-seekers I’ve worked with at one time or another. Take this list and some the comments that follow each item with a huge grain of salt, and hopefully laugh a little and also learn from it! If you recognize anything on this list from personal experiences … well, now at least you’ll know why you are reading this blog instead of working at your job!

1. Arrive late (or too early). Don’t call ahead if you are not on time.
Keeping an interviewer waiting, and failing to call if you have an unexpected delay is probably the number one no-no any interviewee can commit. And showing up more than 10 minutes early just shows desperation.

2. Dress casually. Wear lots of cologne or perfume, and tons of jewelry. Facial piercings are especially impressive.
I’ve never heard of anyone being passed over for a job because they dressed too nicely for an interview. On the other hand, I’ve personally run out of interview rooms gasping for air after meeting people who smell like they just visited the free sample spritzer counter at a local Macy’s.

3. Shake hands weakly — like a limp fish.
Bad first impressions are hard to shake (please excuse the expression) … and a bad handshake is guaranteed to create a bad first impression! The worst is the “fish” handshake – a completely limp hand. That’s just creepy! Almost as bad is gripping someone around their fingers instead of fully locking hands at the base of the thumb.

4. Appear disinterested — act like a zombie, and do not smile or make eye contact.
This is one of the most often-stated issues that decision-makers site as a reason for not hiring someone: they simply didn’t seem enthusiastic or even interested in the job.

5. Don’t research the company you are interviewing for — just wing it!
Not knowing everything you can possibly learn about a company before you walk in the door is just plain stupid.

6. Badmouth your past bosses and companies. Blame your job misfortunes on others. Wear that chip on your shoulder proudly. Complain about everything.
This is another one of the most often-stated things that decision-makers site as a reason for not hiring someone. It’s just like your mother said: “If you can’t find something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all!” If you bad-mouth another company or person, the interviewer will wonder what you’ll be saying about them or their company after you leave.

7. Be arrogant, overconfident and rude — especially to the receptionist!
Failing to respect and befriend the receptionist is huge. Those gatekeepers often pass their impressions on to the hiring manager … and can easily veto any job-seeker’s efforts.

8. Lie and exaggerate about your qualifications, your education, your experiences, and your prior salary.
It worked for the CEO of Yahoo, didn’t it? Those things will inevitably be caught in a background check, but hey … at least you’ll pass the audition, right?! Saying or doing whatever it takes to get to the next level works so well for political candidates, so why not for other types of job-seekers also?!

9. Leave your phone on, and answer any calls, emails and text messages you receive — any one might be another job offer. In fact, wear a Bluetooth earpiece during the interview!
I’ve actually seen this happen!

10. Chew gum, bring a drink and snacks with you. Smoke a cigarette just before the interview to make sure you smell like tobacco.
Believe it or not, chewing gum is another one of those things that comes up at the top of most surveys for reasons given by decision-makers on why they don’t hire people!

11. Fail to answer questions directly, and go off on irrelevant tangents.
Politicians get away this this all the time … so why not try it!

12. Talk a lot, and don’t listen. Interrupt frequently.
This is a classic symptom of nervousness. Job-seekers sometimes feel that they must aggressively “sell themselves” to the person they are meeting with, and forget that good listening skills are critical for interviews. People who dominate every conversation are generally not good listeners, and invariably turn people off.

13. Describe your past jobs’ responsibilities instead of your achievements.
This also applies to résumé writing and it’s one of my own personal pet peeves (along with receiving “functional” résumés instead of chronological résumés.) The least effective résumés are filled with job descriptions and fail to list any accomplishments. Same for interviews. Don’t tell me what you were responsible for. Tell me what you accomplished! Why should I hire you over the next guy???

14. Offer too much personal information.
Politics, religion, sexual orientation … all great topics for a first date — but not a job interview!

15. Bring up the salary issue early in the conversation.
This is what you REALLY want to know, right? What does this job pay?! You know you want to ask it immediately, right?! You don’t want to waste your time interviewing with multiple people only to find out at the end of the process that they can’t even come close to what you need to pay your bills, right?!

16. Refuse to answer salary questions when specifically asked.
Some advisors tell job-seekers to avoid revealing their exact salary history or requirements when directly asked. I say playing that game is a surefire way to be immediately eliminated from consideration. [For more details on this topic, read: “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question.”]

17. Don’t ask good business-related questions. Instead, say that you don’t have any questions since they’ve all been answered during the interview. Better yet, inquire about things like vacation time, benefits, and other perks.
Again, those are the things you REALLY want to know about, right?!

18. Fail to connect with your interviewer on a personal level.
People skills are highly over-rated, right? [To learn about one of the most valuable interviewing techniques related to connecting on a personal level, read: “Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique.”]

19. Don’t ask for the job.
You’re too good for that! They should just recognize your value in the job market, and beg you to come to work for them, right?!

20. Don’t follow up.
You’ve already done your part and sold yourself during the interview. Now it’s their turn! Besides, playing hard-to-get is much more fun. If they really want you, let them pursue you! If they don’t, then they’re not worth working for, right?

Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenny Chesnik  |  March 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    What a fantastic article and so true! Thank you!

  • 2. Carolyn  |  March 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    This was a great article and very helpful for my next career discussion with a potential employer.

  • 3. James Walker  |  September 11, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    #1, half wrong, being too early is not desperation in fact I’m often told to be 15 minutes early. You can’t control traffic and sometimes you arrive before you planned. I’ve tried hanging out in the car, walking around the grounds etc but in the end you still end up early especially if it’s Phoenix, and the summer and it’s 110F outstide.

    #16 Is really none of their business. Why let them lowball you if the job potentially pays more. One of the primary reasons people move on is pay so why risk it? If they’d be honest and give at least a range up front there’d be no need for the question. The financials could be safely saved for the actual job offer.

    BTW this also apples to #15. If I don’t know what the job pays and you don’t want to offer it up then any question of rate is off the table till a real offer comes up. Perhaps that’s as it should be if we’re all NOT just prostituting ourselves.

    #18 falls into the category of schmooze. Friendly and approachable is one thing but I’m really not interested in the birth of the manager’s upcoming child. Interviews are like night clubs, very superficial and usually full of lies.

    On second thought, perhaps it’s better to treat it like prostitution.

    • 4. Michael Spiro  |  September 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      You are certainly entitled to your opinions. All I can say is that we fundamentally disagree on pretty much all of the points you made. Hey … whatever works for you.

      • 5. James Walker  |  September 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm

        All I can say is that it seems you hold a fairly ridgid and dangerously outmoded point of view. It’s a commodity business and candidates are just cattle to many in your industry. I don’t moo…

  • 6. Tim Woods  |  October 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    While James’ response was a bit brusque, he actually brought up a number of very good points. Many people go into recruiting not because they want to help companies find the best candidates, but because they are lured by the incredibly good money you can make.

    In fact, to prove that point, I went for a job interview to be a recruiter. The first question out of the hiring manager’s mouth was not what were my qualifications but how much money did I want to make and how many calls can I make in an hour. Needless to say, I quickly learned that being a recruiter may not be the best career choice for me at least.

    The fact is that the principal difference between average recruiters and good ones is that average recruiters tend to forget the human element in the hiring equation, not from the hiring manager’s side, but from the side of the candidate.

    No candidate in their right mind would do most of those things listed above. If anything, the reason why most candidates don’t get jobs is because they simply were unable to connect with the interviewer in a meaningful way.

    Recruiters need to realize since they are usually the ones who share the bad news with their candidates that they will undoubtedly deal with a candidate now and then who is not just disappointed, but very frustrated. That is truly the time when you as a recruiter need to use you people skills to calm that person down because the person you just disappointed today may be your dream candidate tomorrow.

    Unfortunately, recruiters have been taught that people are disposable. As a candidate, I can safely say I am a person who wants to find a job, has the passion and drive to excel at a job if given a chance, but sometimes need that extra assurance that things will work out in the end.

    Maybe you should write an article about the 20 ways recruiters blow it with candidates. It may actually be very useful, not just for recruiters but for candidates as well.

    • 7. Michael Spiro  |  October 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm


      James’ comments were not just “brusque.” They were dripping in negativity and cynicism, and (in my opinion) were simply filled with bad advice for most job-seekers. He projects an attitude I’ve certainly seen before with candidates that I’ve found to be very difficult to work with … and are usually unlikely to succeed in interviews. While he is certainly entitled to his opinions (and I would never censor his right to express them — even in my blog!), as a recruiter I would never choose to work with someone like that.

      On the other hand, I agree with almost everything you wrote in your comments, Tim. Recruiting is, essentially, a sales position. I’m not at all surprised by your recruiter job interview story. Many recruiting agencies are run by old-school sales managers who hire and assess their recruiters based on typical sales metrics: number of phone calls per day, number of minutes of “connect” time each day, number of new “send-outs” (interviews) per week, number of placements per month, revenue earned per quarter, etc. Those are the easily measured factors that are used to evaluate recruiters in the staffing industry. And yes, they totally ignore the “human” factor that separates average recruiters from good ones.

      Unfortunately, sometimes the recruiters who meet and exceed those metrics (and actually make the most money in our industry) are also not very nice people. Yes, there are recruiters out there who lie, cheat, deceive, bait & switch, promise things they cannot deliver, and will pretty much do or say anything to get a placement and get paid. I’ve met some of those people, and their sleaze factor can be quite astounding! Unfortunately, those bad recruiters tend to give the entire profession a negative reputation. How can you tell the difference? Just like with any other business relationship, time will reveal the traits of a person worth working with: honesty, integrity, sincerely, responsiveness, timely follow-through, etc. Good recruiters treat everyone with respect, and care about the people they work with. They try to do the right thing, and look out for everyone’s best interest – their own, their client’s and their candidate’s.


      • 8. jwalk6  |  October 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        Gosh Michael, and just where do you think that negativity and cynicism that’s apparently dripping all over your floor came from?

        Before you say “Troll” I’ll stop you short. It comes from 20 years of dealing with your industry which except for a handful of examples I found populated by glorified clerks. I’ve dealt with so many in your field that I know their pitch before they make it and know when they have a real relationship with a hiring manager or not. So I’ve become sensitive to any hint of ego from those in your profession. Most recruiters have no more status than a car salesman and deservedly so, their function is almost the same.

        Perhaps you’re different, Perhaps not. Maybe you’re the greatest recruiter in the country or maybe you’re just the most sensitive to your profession’s reputation.

        What I can tell you is that I’m not operating in a vacuum and much of your advice runs counter the the way the job market works. Perhaps if you’re placing attorneys and CPA’s that’s not the case.

        Then we have the reply from Tim Woods which was thoughtful but you chose to attack that too.

        Lighten up, it’s not about you, it’s about your reader. If you can’t tolerate a contrary position don’t publish to the Internet.

      • 9. Michael Spiro  |  October 29, 2012 at 5:57 pm

        Firstly — I did not “attack” Tim. To the contrary — I AGREED with pretty much everything he said! (Did you read past the first paragraph in my reply?)

        Secondly, I can certainly tolerate contrary positions, as evidenced by the fact that I published both of your highly negative and cynical comments instead of simply deleting them. Although I do think that your resorting to name-calling (“glorified clerks” “car salesman”) does not exactly elevate your writings to the level of a professional critique worthy of serious consideration.

        And finally, I stand by the advice cataloged in my blog articles. I can’t imagine what job market you are living in, but the thousands of regular readers and overwhelmingly positive comments I receive every week make me think that my words are hitting home and actually helping lots of job-seekers in the real world that they are living in. I don’t claim to be the greatest or the most sensitive recruiter … I’m just a guy with some opinions. However, my 14 years of experience in the staffing industry has shown me that my ideas have merit to most people, and do actually produce positive results. And yes — I agree it’s not about me, but rather it’s about the readers I hope I’m helping.

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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn

 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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