Common Interview Mistakes to Avoid


That resume, those phone calls, and emails have paid off. You’ve landed a meeting with the head honcho, so now what?

Going on an interview can be one of the most stressful parts of the job search, and one of the easiest to botch. Trust me. I have been on more than my share of interviews. I work in television, but my experience and advice can work for any industry.

1. Lying or being too honest

Sounds like crazy talk, right? It isn’t. There is a fine line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t. You never, ever, ever, want to lie in an interview. Don’t embellish. Don’t stretch the truth. Just don’t.

Honesty is the best policy, but too much can sink you just as fast as a lie. Once in Los Angeles, I interviewed for a position, and got asked the dreaded “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question. Without thinking, I blurted out, “hopefully not doing this.” Oops! Maybe the manager took it as ambition to rise above the position, because he hired me. However, I don’t recommend that tactic. It backfired once before.

In an interview in New York, I had to talk with 5 managers. One of them asked a question about my skills, and I told her, “I’m very good at what I do.” She found me refreshing. So I said it to the next one. I may have even said the same thing to the one after that. Umm… hello, dodo. They probably compared notes. It was all true. I am good at my job. But I went a little too far.

2. Showing up late

I cannot tell you how hard it is to fix a fouled first impression. One of my acting agents said something to me that really stuck. He said when it came to auditions, “on time is already late.” I make it a point to get to an interview 15 minutes early. But not any earlier than that.

Executive friends of mine have told me it makes them feel uncomfortable when a job candidate arrives more that 15-20 minutes ahead of schedule. I like to get to the business in time enough to stop at the ladies room to freshen up a little, and most likely come down from the anxiety I have from making all the wrong turns on my way. 15 minutes early is enough to say you aren’t desperate, but you are responsible.

3. Not asking questions/not being prepared

One of the worst things you can do is wing it. Hardly anything that comes out of your mouth is as cool as it is in your head. Write down any possible question you think the interviewer could ask, and come up with at least two answers. Go over them with a friend. You don’t want to be rehearsed, just polished.

When I interviewed with the State Department during a Foreign Service Officer Oral Assessment, I practiced for weeks. I studied like a demon, and went to someone with a silver tongue to help me get through it. I can’t talk about what went on during the Assessment because I signed a confidentiality agreement, but I can say, practice made perfect. I didn’t have a moment of nervousness.

On the flip side, you need to ask questions of your interviewer. Do your homework about the company and the person with whom you are speaking. I can bet they typed your name into a search engine. I suggest you do the same.

4. Badmouthing you current job

As much as you want to leave your job, you can’t talk badly about it or your bosses. It’s tempting, I know. But remember what I said earlier? Too much honesty isn’t good. When you’re preparing for the interview, you need to think about what you will say when they ask you why you want to leave your current job.

Think about this… When you’re on a first date, and the other person spends ages talking about what bitch his ex is, or how her scumbag boyfriend was cheap and mean, what goes through your mind? If you’re like me, you’re saying to yourself, “oh God, how soon can I end this date!?” Imagine if you’re a hiring manager.

Find a way to say what you need to say without really saying it all. It’s tricky. You don’t want to lie, but you don’t want to let it all hang out.

If your bosses are evil trolls with no soul who spend their lives making others miserable, that’s a pretty good reason to leave. But, not something you want to say in an interview. Try, “I’m a positive person, and there are some negative factors at my workplace that make me uncomfortable.” Or, “I want to grow, and am really looking forward to the next step. I feel I’ve learned as much as I can at my current job, and your company has such an amazing reputation, I believe I could go far here.”

If pressed on the conditions, it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not badmouth my bosses or my company. Professional pride is very important to me. I hope you understand.” They usually do. Keep in mind, most industries are very small. You never know who this interviewer knows, and the people you may have in common.

5. Not reading the job description

Know the job description backward and forward. You should be able to relate your experience and qualifications to the description. This is like the ultimate open book test. You know what they want. They’ve told you in a nice, neat paragraph.

One job I applied for, asked for a producer who excels in writing teases. When the executive producer asked me to tell her about myself, I circled back to the job description. I told her I love finding the most interesting stories in my show and trying to come up with unique ways to keep my audience hungry for more.

6. Not dressing to impress

I work in an industry where interview attire runs the gamut. In New York City, it was all about the power suit, or business separates. In Los Angeles I’ve gone to interviews in jeans. My first LA interviewer asked me if I had a funeral later that day because I had on pantyhose! I say all this, because I want you to know your audience.

If you’re going to a bank, you probably want to cover that huge snake tattoo on your arm, wear a tie if you’re a man, and a nice skirt, shirt, and jacket if you’re a woman. If you’re going to a production house or graphic design firm, feel free to let your personality shine.

Try to stay away from loud, obnoxious jewelry, and too much perfume. Unless you’re looking for a job in fashion, leave the trendy stuff at home. Classics are classics for a reason.

In my industry, not many people wear suits and ties, so when I interview, I prefer smart looking dresses that are simple, yet elegant.

No matter what you choose, be comfortable. You don’t want to fidget and readjust your clothing every few minutes. It’s distracting and annoying.

Final Thoughts

A couple of other things to remember: Smile! Your resume got you in the door, but your personality is what will keep you there. No one wants a Debbie Downer on their team. I’m not advocating super-perk, but a little smile can go a long way.

Also, don’t ramble. Say what you need to so you can get your point across, but know when to shut up. I have a problem with that one, and work on it constantly. It can throw you off your game if you think, “darn, I should have stopped talking at least two minutes ago.”

Finally, express your interest. Don’t play coy. Don’t try to make the interviewer guess. Tell them. I told a senior producer once that I was very interested in the job she had available, and she should hire me. That type of boldness won’t work for everyone, but it fits with my personality. Guess what? It worked, and she hired me.

Bottom line, interviews can be exciting, but just have some ground rules first. Good luck!