Seven Deadly Sins committed in interviews — Joyce’s Career Tip of the Week

This is the big week! Many employers attending the career fair will be conducting first-round interviews during the days immediately following the fairs. While preparing for interviews, take care to make certain that you will not do any of the following:

1. Arriving late or, even worse, not showing up!

Employers carefully choose interviewees out of many applicants. Being selected for an interview should be regarded as an honor — not to mention this is your first opportunity to demonstrate that you can, in fact, follow directions. Show respect for the person interviewing you by being prepared and on time. In the event that you have to cancel (only for some horrific emergency), be sure to call the Career Center or the company and keep them informed.

2. Being rude to the receptionist

The interview actually begins as soon as someone at the company can see you. Do not underestimate the influence of the person working in the reception area. Very often, their opinion can influence a hiring manager — one way or another. Treat everyone with dignity and respect and this will payoff for you in dividends. You’ll never lose points for being too gracious to your future coworkers.

3. Distracting or offending the recruiter with nonverbal behavior

Your body language can speak louder than your words. Tapping on a desk, playing with hair or a pen, chanting affirmations, inappropriate facial expressions, lack of enthusiasm, not making eye contact, slouching, wild hand gestures and chewing gum are all things that can take away from your presentation. Be aware of your nonverbal communication by practicing — in front of a mirror, with a friend or with someone from the Career Center.

4. Answering questions without giving specifics

Briefly describe a situation, clarify your role, explain your actions and give the results. Be detailed, but stop short of describing what you were wearing, the temperature on the thermostat and the variety of smoothie options you had at breakfast that morning. Look at the list of qualities most desired by college employers. (Study the list of action words describing skills.) Take time to think of and write out some examples when preparing for the interview. Choose your examples from a variety of sources – class projects, work, student organizations, travel, hobbies, etc. The key to doing well on questions is to be very specific in describing actions and results.

5. Making something up because you don’t have a legitimate answer

Students have asked me about this. What if you don’t have an experience to illustrate the situation they’ve requested? Tell the truth. Perhaps they will give you a different question. Or, if you have to give a hypothetical situation of what you think you would do, they should know that is what you are doing.

I’ve been told by recruiters that students will try to make up answers to technical questions rather than admitting that they do not know the answer. In a technical interview, the interviewer is observing how you think and problem solve. Talk about your understanding of the question and what it is that is confusing you. Interviews are meant to be a conversation, not an oral exam. If the job is going to require you to work in a team, the hiring manager needs to see how you go about communicating your thoughts to others. They are also looking at your ability to listen and to ask appropriate questions. Additionally, no one likes a know-it-all. There is an admirable quality in admitting you do not know everything.

6. Speaking poorly about former employers and blaming others

Interviewers frequently ask questions about how you’ve handled challenging situations and relationships. You might be asked about a time when you made a mistake, a time you were in a team with someone who was uncooperative or to talk about a project that failed or a difficult supervisor. Challenging situations and relationships as well as making mistakes are a part of every career. Hiring managers are looking to see how you handle these. This is a time to show your maturity and emphasize what you have learned. Making an occasional mistake is to be expected, but not to learn from them is a problem. Everyone makes mistakes, but an inability to own the mistake means someone else had to shoulder the blame and this action can breed resentment among your colleagues, which can ultimately lead to severe morale problems with the staff. An inability to come up with even one example is a big red flag to hiring managers.

7. Having no questions for the interviewer

This will be interpreted as a lack of interest and reflect poorly on your researching skills. Have questions that are about the position and the company. This is a chance for you to show your enthusiasm and your talent. Share your ideas for how you would like to contribute and make the organization more competitive. The questions should not be about salary or benefits.

A little review:

  • Be sure to dress professionally (yes, this means a suit)
  • Bring copies of your well crafted résumé
  • Prepare by researching the company and be able to articulate what you can do for them
  • Know your strengths and have an idea of your desired career path
  • Greet the employer with a smile and a firm handshake
  • Finally, if you have not left your cell phone in your car, make sure that it is turned off and out of sight!


Joyce Donahue is a career counselor in the Fulton Schools Career Center. She is a nationally certified career counselor and holds “Master Career Counselor” membership status in the National Career Development Association.