Menlo Park, Calif. — July 18
There are many ways to stand out in a job interview, but bringing an exotic bird instead of a briefcase to the meeting probably isn’t the best option.
Robert Half, a specialized staffing firm, frequently conducts surveys of hiring managers and workers, asking them to recount the biggest interview blunders they’ve witnessed or heard of. The following examples represent the most memorable mistakes collected from these polls over the years:
• “A job applicant came in for an interview with a cockatoo on his shoulder.”
• “The candidate sent his sister to interview in his place.”
• “One candidate sang all of her responses to interview questions.”
• “When asked by the hiring manager if he had any questions for him, the candidate replied by telling a knock-knock joke.”
• “One candidate handcuffed himself to the desk during the interview.”
The surveys were developed by Robert Half and conducted by an independent research firm. They include responses from senior executives, human resources managers and employed professionals in the U.S. and Canada who were interviewed over the years, starting in 2002.
Although these blunders are extreme, even small mistakes during the job interview can cause professionals to miss out on opportunities.
“For most job candidates, an interview mistake is subtle — for example, they may appear unenthusiastic or too nervous to let their personalities shine through,” said Brett Good, a senior district president for Robert Half. “Job seekers should remember hiring managers aren’t just assessing their qualifications but also looking for signs of outstanding people skills and good judgment.”
People skills — or lack thereof — got the following job seekers into trouble:
• “When asked by the hiring manager why she was leaving her current job, the applicant said, ‘My manager is a jerk. All managers are jerks.’”
• “I interviewed someone who had a jawbreaker in her mouth during the entire interview.”
Putting the cart before the horse by issuing demands about salary, benefits or perks is also an unwise move. These applicants should have focused on the employer’s needs:
• “One individual said we had nice benefits, which was good because he was going to need to take a lot of leave in the next year.”
• “The applicant told me he really was not interested in the position, but he liked that we allowed for a lot of time off.”
Hiring managers appreciate authenticity, but common sense should prevail. These job hopefuls were a bit too candid:
• “An individual applied for a customer service job, and when asked what he might not like about the job, he said, ‘dealing with people.’”
• “One prospect told me all of the reasons he shouldn’t be hired.”
• “The candidate said she would really prefer a job offer from our competitor.”
If nothing else, employers expect interviewees to dress professionally. While the right attire alone won’t seal the deal, the wrong outfit can sink your chances. Here are a few examples of what not to wear:
• “An applicant wore the uniform from his former employer.”
• “The candidate arrived in a cat suit.”
• “A person came to the interview in pajamas with slippers.”
Finally, exhibiting dishonesty is the ultimate interview error:
• “After being complimented on his choice of college and the GPA he achieved, the candidate replied, ‘I’m glad that got your attention. I didn’t really go there.’”
Robert Half offers advice on avoiding four common interview mistakes:
1. Going on and on and on. While you certainly don’t want to give a series of one-word responses, be careful not to ramble. Be thorough, yet succinct. Don’t over-answer or attempt to fill dead air between questions.
2. Poor posture. It’s not just what you say but how you say it. Slouching, constantly shifting in your chair, crossing your arms or wearing a tense expression can signal nervousness or disinterest.
3. Ranting and raving. It’s important to be tactful and diplomatic. Criticizing former employers only makes you look bad. Even a mildly sarcastic quip can raise red flags. When in doubt, take the high road.
4. Throwing in the towel. Don’t act dejected if you feel the interview is going poorly. If you fumble a response, maintain your composure and move on. Showing that you can swiftly recover after a setback might actually work in your favor.