Acing the interview is the first step to getting your dream job. Confidence is key, but so is knowing how to sidestep interview pitfalls that can knock you out of the running.
Interviewing can be a bit like a choreographed dance, said Jim D’Amico, global talent acquisition leader at Texas-based Celanese and the board president of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals.
The hiring manager is focused on answering one question — how can this candidate better our bottom line? “Can they make money for us, can they save money for us, can they improve a process for us,” he said, adding that candidates should be addressing a company’s specific need during their interview.
And remember that this is your chance to see if the job and the company is a good fit for you. “An interview is a two-way street,” D’Amico said, “and a candidate’s evaluating an opportunity just like we are evaluating the candidate.”
Part of your job hunt prep work should be learning to spot potential interview hazards and how to avoid them.
Bombing Standard Interview Questions
There are a few questions that you will be asked time and time again. One of them, is the always fear-inducing, “What is your biggest weakness?”
Julie Robb, now a product administrator in Oklahoma, fielded a version of this question on the fly during a job interview for a tech writing job.
“I was once asked in an interview, ‘What would you say was your biggest failing as an employee?’ Without thinking, I said, ‘I’m always late coming back from lunch,’” she said.
She didn’t get the job.
It’s a question that trips up a lot of people, but what hiring managers are looking for is an example of how you took a challenge or a mistake and turned it around.
“It’s not so much how you failed or what you did,” D’Amico said, “but what you learned from it and how you’ve grown. And I think that’s the opportunity that question gives you.”
Extra brownie points: Make sure to have a list of questions prepared for when the interviewer inevitably asks “Do you have any questions for me?” Saying “no” shows a lack of interest on your part.
Read more: How to Choose Between Competing Job Offers
Not Doing Your Homework
Showing up to an interview ill-prepared is the biggest and most common faux pas that D’Amico sees. “There’s no reason that you should come to an interview with us and not know, at least at this point, who we are and what we do,” he said.
Potential candidates should spend time on the company’s website and career sites like Glassdoor to gain any insights they can about the company, its culture, and its priorities. And on the most basic of levels, know what kind of job you are interviewing for.
“[A] candidate told me he wanted to work in finance because he really, really loves money,” said Lisa Heacox, who was working in investment operations for a small, California retirement firm. But the job posted, she said, wasn’t a finance job.
Extra brownie points: Take the time to research your interviewer — look up their background and see if you have anything in common that you can use to create a relationship.
This can be a loaded mistake that will cost you the job before you’ve ever really been considered. What to wear also includes not just fit, but style. Your interview prep should include research on what type of dress is worn by employees at the company.
“I always tell people, ‘Dress like you already work there,’ he said. “It sets an immediate precedent.”
A suit, which is the old standby, is still fine for banks, law firms, and the upper echelon of corporate America. But many places have traded in suits for business casual. To find out how your potential co-workers dress, scour the Internet for company photos or reach out to someone who works there and ask.
Extra brownie points: Don’t wear perfume and don’t smoke right before you walk in to meet the interviewer.
Making Salary Demands
How much the job pays may be first and foremost on your mind, but exercise restraint in the interview and don’t ask right away.
“Turning the discussion around to compensation too early is a faux pas,” said D’Amico, who has interviewed candidates who make money demands right off the bat. “Interviewing is a lot like poker. You don’t want to tip your hand too early.”
As a candidate, he said, you retain more power in negotiation after you get the company to decide they want you.
“It’s a lot harder for them to say no to you,” he said, “ when they’ve decided you’re the person they want to go with.”
Extra brownie points: Wait for the company to talk salary, even if that means you don’t discuss money during your interview. This indicates you are focused on the job itself, not what the company can do for you.
How to Bounce Back
If you don’t get the job, you can still get something out of the experience. Asking your interviewer for feedback shows maturity and a willingness to learn. You may also impress the interviewer so much that you are referred for another opening in the same industry.
“You should always follow up if it’s a no,” said D’Amico “And not so much to try to necessarily change somebody’s mind immediately, but to get coaching on what to do differently next time.”
Sarah Netter is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.