In a survey of more than 2,000 bosses, 33 percent said they knew within the first 30 seconds whether they would hire someone. Your window to make a positive impression is tiny, and there seem to be dozens—if not hundreds—of ways to bomb an interview. Everyone who has been on the other side of the hiring desk has a few horror stories, including candidates who showed up hours late, brought a photo album of all the cats they’d ever owned, or even fell asleep mid-interview. Most blunders, however, area a lot more subtle. You may not even realize you’re making them…until it’s too late.
Unless you want to end up as a story that human resources professionals tell to scare each other around the campfire, here are three things not to do in your interview.
Show up late…or too early. Being late to an interview is a cardinal sin. It shows a potential boss that you don’t value her time and indicates issues with tardiness. If tardiness is unavoidable, you may still be able to recover. Call, explain the situation as succinctly as possible—if you’re already running late, don’t try her patience by rambling about the terrible traffic or family emergency—and ask if it’s still all right to come in. Be aware that you may have to cut your interview short or reschedule for another day.
Being very early is almost as bad as being late. Most hiring managers agree that 10-15 minutes early is the ideal time to arrive for an interview. Any earlier than this can come off as pushy or simply a sign of poor time management skills. When you arrive more than 15 minutes before your scheduled time, you’ll either sit awkwardly in the lobby, making everyone feel uncomfortable, or make your potential boss feel as if he needs to juggle his schedule to accommodate you.
Fail to Give Good Answers. Many interview questions are designed to test your ability to think on your feet, rather than an honest interest in where you see yourself in five years or what kind of tree you’d like to be. Deer-in-the-headlights silence, rambling, overly personal or contradictory answers will undermine your chances of landing the job.
Prepare beforehand by reviewing this list of the 50 most common interview questions and planning your answers. You should also do your homework about the company where you’ll be interviewing. The more you know about the company, its products or services, and corporate culture, the better you’ll be able to rattle off answers to even the most bizarre interview questions.
Come on Too Strong. Self-confidence is good; arrogance is bad. Your potential boss may find it off-putting if you act as though your employment is a done deal. Even joking—asking to try out your new desk chair while you’re touring the office, for example—can backfire.
Similarly, desperation is a surefire way to turn off an employer. If you seem too overeager for the position, the hiring manager may wonder if she wants to bring someone quite so desperate on board. Let her know how enthusiastic you are about joining the company, but try not too come off as creepy. And never, ever beg.
Finally, you can drive an employer away by calling or emailing too often after an interview. Conventional wisdom encourages job seekers to follow up and be persistent; however, there’s a fine line between persistence and pestering. Send a professional thank-you note or email (don’t forget to proofread!) within a day of interviewing. Follow that up with a brief phone call or second email close to the date your interviewer said he’d be making a decision.