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Why you’re bad at job interviews, and how to fix it

November 28, 2022 - 13 min read

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Good vs. bad interviews: what’s the difference?

What not to do during an interview

It doesn’t end with “no”

Keep your chin up

Job interviews are such an integral part of American life it’s easy to forget they were only invented 100 years ago. You can thank Thomas Edison for that — he created a written test in 1921 to evaluate candidates’ knowledge, sealing the fate of anxious job seekers for the next 100 years.

If you’re one of those job-seekers, you’re already familiar with the process. During your job search, you may have applied to 50 different companies, tailoring your CV and cover letter to match each job description. Only two recruiters invited you to perform a skills test. And only one of those led to a job interview. 

When you finally met the hiring manager, you probably felt a lot of pressure to make a great first impression. Only 1 in 6 job applications leads to an interview, so you don’t want to waste this opportunity. It might be your dream job. And if you’re unemployed, you probably need the money to pay your bills and protect your financial wellness

But there are countless ways to derail your application during the interview process. If you show up overconfident and underprepared, you can expect your interviewer to pick a different candidate. Even small mistakes like forgetting to follow up within two weeks hamper your chances of landing a job offer.

If you’re bad at job interviews, it’s easy to feel disheartened about your prospects. But here’s the good news: you can improve. Interviewing is a skill like anything else, and you can build confidence as an interviewee with hard work, practice, and preparation.

Here’s what you need to know.

Good vs. bad interviews: what’s the difference?

On paper, you might be the perfect candidate for a particular job. You have the education, skills, and years of experience. But poor interview skills torpedo your chances. Here are some red flags indicating your interview went poorly:

  1. The interview was cut short. Some conversations are quick, especially if it’s a preliminary video or phone interview with an HR manager. But when you meet your prospective boss, your discussion should last an average of 20–40 minutes. If they end the interview quickly, it’s likely because they made their decision, and you’re not part of it.
  2. There was no effort to sell you on the company. Companies are looking for the best person to fill a role. If they’re excited about you, they’ll share details about their organization and what they’re working on. On the flip side, a lack of enthusiasm could be a sign of indifference about sharing the company’s future — not what you want when hoping for a job offer.
  3. The interviewer said they had concerns. Any doubts during the hiring process could spell trouble for you. If they mention their concerns during the interview, you can ease their worries with a well-crafted response, but you’ll be facing an uphill battle. 
  4. They never asked about your availability. Depending on your stage in the interview process, your potential employer may ask about your preferred start date. This shows they care about onboarding you quickly. If they don’t ask this question, they may have ruled you out or chosen to keep you as a backup in case their first choice falls through.

All of these signs are open to some degree of interpretation. A short conversation could simply mean your interviewer had an urgent meeting to attend. But, more likely than not, you probably failed to show why you’re the best person for the job.

If you don’t get a callback, remember to be kind to yourself. Take this as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and change your approach. You earned the interview because you’re qualified for the role; now, you have to keep up the momentum to avoid giving the wrong impression about your skills, personality, and work ethic.

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What not to do during an interview

It’s within your power to improve your interviewing skills. Let’s take a look at some common mistakes and what you can do about them.

1. Little to no interview preparation

Interviewers can tell when you’re unprepared. You may not know the company’s core mission or have inadequate answers to common interview questions like “Why are you leaving your current job?” or “How do you define success?”

If you show up to an interview without simple prep work, how can they trust you with more important meetings when you’re hired? 

What to do about it: You should learn as much about the company as you can before entering the interview. Read their mission statement, review their client lists, and explore what they share on LinkedIn and other social media. This will give you a window into their company culture and what they value in their team members.

You should also ensure you know your work experience inside and out. They can ask you about anything you wrote in your CV and cover letter — so you make sure you can support your claims with strong examples and success stories. 

Business-woman-using-cellphone-in-office-bad-at-job-interviews

Once you’re prepared, wipe “I don’t know” from your vocabulary. Even if you have limited knowledge on a topic, you can say, “I would have to look into it more, but based on what I know...”

2. Coming across as inattentive or unfocused

This is an important meeting. If you frequently break eye contact, slouch in your seat, and make the interviewer repeat themselves, you risk appearing disengaged and disrespectful. 

What to do about it: Work on your body language. Good posture, frequent head nods, and strong eye contact show that you’re absorbing what the interviewer is saying. 

You should also use specific examples when answering questions. Skipping the details suggests you’re avoiding the question, prompting the interviewer to probe further. Save them trouble by volunteering information and offering examples that support your claims.

If they ask about your experience improving client relationships, a bad response would be: “I dealt with many clients in my previous jobs and managed those relationships well.” This is too vague and says little about your capacity to work with their clients. 

A better answer would be: “In my last job, one of our clients was unhappy with the product we created for them. To remedy the situation, I spent an afternoon listening to all of their concerns. I gave this feedback to my product team, who implemented the solutions within a week. Our client was so happy with the work that they recommended us to the rest of their network.”

Happy-businesswoman-shaking-hand-with-colleague-at-work-place-bad-at-job-interviews

3. Appearing too nervous

It’s normal to be nervous about giving a good interview, but you risk appearing unconfident if it gets the best of you. Employers want employees who have faith in themselves and their own abilities, so you have to project confidence despite feeling anxious.

What to do about it: The best solution for calming nerves is preparation. You want to reduce as much uncertainty as possible, so you can enter the interview feeling sure of yourself. Here’s what you can do:

  • If you’re interviewing online, test the video link, your webcam, and your microphone to make sure they work
  • If your interview is face-to-face and in person, visit your meeting location the day before so you know the route
  • Ask a friend or family member to conduct a practice interview and rehearse your answers
  • Look up your interviewers and visualize yourself speaking to them in an interview situation
  • Practice mindful breathing to calm your mind

4. Not following up on time

Your interview doesn’t end after you hang up the video call or leave the conference room. It’s customary to send a thank-you note within 24 hours and a follow-up email after two weeks if you haven’t heard anything. Failing to do so may impact whether you advance in the interview process.

What to do about it: Set a reminder in your phone or calendar to send your notes. These messages will put you top-of-mind as your interviewer considers the candidates. Plus, it shows you’re organized, eager, and still interested in the role.

5. Not asking smart questions

Before ending the interview, your hiring manager will ask whether you have questions for them. Ideally, you’ll evaluate the company as much as they’re evaluating you. This should lead to great questions to ensure you’re the right fit for each other

A-financial-advisor-meeting-with-clients-bad-at-job-interviews

But if you have nothing to ask about, you risk appearing apathetic. Your employer may wonder if you care enough to understand the scope of your commitment to each other. 

What to do about it: You should know what’s important to you in a job. Perhaps you value work-life balance, teamwork, or professional development. Ask about these things at the end of your interview. It will give you a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the job while showing your employer you care about having a good work experience.

It doesn’t end with “no”

When interviewing for a new job, it’s possible to do everything right and still fail. Usually, this is for reasons out of your control. Despite giving perfect interview answers, following up on time, and getting along with your interviewers, you may have lost out because you’re overqualified, they promoted someone internally, or they scrapped the position altogether. 

No matter the case, it’s always good practice to ask your interviewer for feedback. They can tell you why they didn’t hire you and potentially provide valuable career advice. By the end, you’ll have a valuable new connection in the industry despite not landing the role and areas to focus on improving for next time.

Human-Resources-manager-recruiting-on-video-call-bad-at-job-interviews

Keep your chin up

From the first interview question to the final job offer, the hiring process is more of a marathon than a sprint. It requires patience, optimism, and a can-do attitude — valuable traits in all facets of life.

Even if you’re bad at job interviews now, you won’t stay this way forever. Your next interview is a chance to mobilize a new skillset that involves preparation, attentiveness, and building confidence. This will help you step out of your way to land the job of your dreams.

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Published November 28, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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