Congratulations, your well-crafted resume and cover letter got you that coveted interview! You know the basic do’s and don’ts – don’t be late, do dress appropriately, etc. However, even highly qualified candidates often make mistakes that cost them the job.

Here is a list of six common but frequently overlooked mistakes people make in interview situations.  Although some may appear to be “minor,” they are not insignificant to a prospective employer.  In fact, each one listed is based on real candidate experiences that doomed their chances of a job offer.

  1. Treat everyone you encounter as if they are the decision-maker. From the minute you leave your house for an interview, show kindness and respect.   The person you cut off in traffic because you were running late may be the one sitting across from you in the interview an hour later!  The administrative assistants and receptionists in the lobby may be the hiring manager’s eyes and ears. A cordial “Good morning, how are you?” goes a long way to creating a positive impression. 
  2. Don’t talk on your cell phone while you are waiting in the reception area.  The receptionist hears everything and may report overheard conversations that seemed questionable, unprofessional, or showed poor judgment.  You might not think anything you say is inappropriate, but what matters is what the receptionist and hiring manager think.  Your personal life should not be on display.  No one should hear that you are angry with your spouse or having a health issue, that your childcare arrangements aren’t working out, or that you grounded your teenager for bad behavior. Silence your cellphone and put it away before you walk into the office so that it won’t be a distraction before or during the interview.
  3. Don’t bring your own coffee or water bottle.  Walking in with your own drink looks casual and unprofessional. If the interviewer offers you coffee or water, it is probably safer to accept water if you need it.  Coffee requires more effort on their part to prepare, makes a bigger mess if you spill, and has been known to – how should we say this – prompt the need for a bathroom break, especially if your gut is already nervous. 
  4. Be organized and prepared.   An employer presumes you are putting your best foot forward during an interview.  They will make assumptions about your work habits based on your performance during the conversation.  Make sure you have necessary documents with you, completed accurately, and easily accessible. If you didn’t bring copies of your resume or can’t find it among a pile of papers, how do they know you will be prepared in an important client meeting?  If you leave sections of an employment application blank, they may wonder whether you have something to hide or simply can’t follow directions. They expect answers to their questions without having to chase them down.  
  5. Ask questions about the job and the company, not just about the salary, benefits, or when you’ll hear about their decision.  You need the interviewer to know that you are interested in the company and what it does.  If you ask only about things that directly profit you, then you are not presenting yourself as someone who wants to be part of the team and who would be invested in helping the company achieve its goals. 
  6. Don’t negotiate the terms of the job before it’s offered.  The interview is not the time to ask about schedule accommodations so you can pick your children up from school by a certain time each day.  It is reasonable to ask if the position has set hours or offers some flexibility. If it is the latter, when offered the job you might say “I remember you said there could be some flexibility in the schedule.  Would you be open to my start time being 30 minutes earlier?”   Now is also not the time to negotiate salary.  If it has not been previously stated, you can inquire about a salary range for the position, but don’t jump in to assert your needs – “I’m looking for at least $60,000 and I think my credentials are worth it.”  If you have really impressed them and they want you, once an offer is extended you might say, “I’m very excited about the position and your offer. I know that I’d be the right fit for the team and will bring a lot of value to the company. I’m wondering if we can explore a slightly higher starting salary based upon the industry average for similar positions and the experience I bring.”

Remember, your resume may have gotten you invited on the metaphorical “first date” with the company, but often it is the interview that determines whether this will become a long and productive relationship.

The JCS Career Center offers comprehensive employment services to help job seekers of all abilities and skill levels find and maintain employment or change their career. Services include career coaching, career assessments, resumes, interview preparation, and connections to employers who are hiring. For more information, call 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbalt.org.