26+ Biggest Interview Mistakes (To Avoid in 2020)

March 3
21 min read

This just in:

You have made it past the resume selection process. 

Now, the only thing that is standing in the way of you and your dream job is the interview.

This scary process can confuse the best of us and takes years of practice to get right.

But maybe you don’t have the time to learn from your mistakes.

So learn from ours instead. 

Read through our complete guide on how to avoid the biggest mistakes in your job interview, including:

  • Going unprepared
  • Arriving late
  • Arriving early
  • Appearing unpolished
  • And more!

26+ Interview Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Interview Mistake #1 - Going Unprepared

As a candidate, it is highly “unattractive” to not be ready to answer certain questions.

Even worse:

Some candidates show up not knowing anything about the company or the position.

This is highly unprofessional. Trust us, you can't go in there and wing it. Companies want people who are informed about what the company does and know exactly how they can add value.

How to avoid: 

Do your homework.

Go into the company’s website and check out what their values and mission are. Research the industry and find out who the company’s competitors are.

Then, analyze the position you are applying for. What will your main responsibilities be? What do they expect of you? 

The interviewer will definitely ask you to give examples of your achievements. Try to come up with stories and examples that show your abilities before you head into the interview. This guarantees you don’t get stuck or thrown off when they start asking specific questions.

The job interview is like a test: you can slack off, show up, and hope for the best. Or you can prepare and make sure no question will throw you off.

Interview Mistake #2 - Arriving Late

What do they call a person who is late at job interviews?

Unemployed.

Being on-time for interviews is crucial. Showing up late is very irresponsible and cuts precious time from your interview. In the eyes of the interviewer, if you show up late for the interview, you’ll also show up late for the job.

How to avoid: 

Plan the commuting time and how exactly you will get at the office one day before the interview.

On the day of the interview, clear your schedule and focus your attention only on the interview. Don’t make any other plans before the interview.

Make sure you account for traffic time, commuting time, and possible security checks. If you are late because of some external unforeseeable event, don’t overdo it on the excuses. 

Apologize for the time wasted, explain why you were late, and move on with the interview.

On the other hand, if an emergency pops up and you think you'll be too late for the interview, don't be afraid to drop the recruiter an email and ask for the interview to be postponed.

Interview Mistake #3 - Arriving Early

Almost everyone knows you should never be late for a job interview.

But here’s the kicker:

You shouldn’t show up too early, either.

This might make you seem either desperate, or arrogant (the interviewer has a time set aside for you, you can’t just pop in whenever you want).

How to avoid: 

You want to be at the building ten minutes before the start of the interview. This timeframe is appropriate in case there are security checks. Anything more than ten minutes earlier is overkill.

If you happen to arrive earlier, sit in your car for the remaining time. If you commute there, go for a walk around the block to ease your nerves.

Interview Mistake #4 - Appearing Unpolished

Another big interview mistake is looking messy and dressing inappropriately. 

Candidates who haven’t showered, aren’t groomed or show up in sweatpants usually get the boot. You need to take yourself seriously so that the employer takes you seriously.

How to avoid: 

Before you get ready, ask yourself:

If I was going to work for this position instead of an interview, how would I want to look? Then, dress appropriately.

Other than that, here are some other tips on looking as polished at can be:

  • Don’t go out the night before a big interview. 
  • Get up early enough to leave yourself plenty of time to get ready before heading out
  • Make sure you shower and look clean and put-together.
  • For the ladies: Don’t overdo it with the makeup. You’re going in for an interview, not a date!
  • For the gents: Make sure you shave and groom.

Finally, make sure to dress appropriately:

Going in for an interview at Goldman Sachs? You’d better wear a full 3-piece suit! 

Applying for a job at a local diner, though? Go for something more casual. 

Interview Mistake #5 - Displaying Low Energy

Low enthusiasm during the interview is a career killer. If you are not passionate or excited about the job, it’s going to come off in your tone, posture, and body language.

It might look something like this: Disinterested tone, lack of attention, no eye contact, or crumbled posture. The interviewer will spot this immediately and will mentally cross you out.

How to avoid: 

You don’t need to jump up and down or repeat the word “passionate” fifteen times.

Instead, here are some more down-to-earth tips:

  • Get enough sleep the night before. Even if it’s your best friend’s bachelor(ette) party, stay inside at all costs!
  • Into caffeine? Get just the right amount before the interview. Don't overdo it so that you have the jitters, but don't show up with caffeine withdrawal.
  • Use your hands and gestures when explaining yourself. It will make your points come across with passion and energy.
  • Make eye contact, smile, and be friendly.

Interview Mistake #6 - Displaying Too Much Energy

Playing ‘too cool’ for the job never works. But being TOO energetic won’t help, either.

If you show too much excitement, you come off as childish and it may distract from your answers.

It can also lead to the interviewer thinking you are unprofessional or aren’t taking the company too seriously.

How to avoid

Here’s how you can keep your energy levels in check:

  • Don’t overdo it with the coffee or red bull. 
  • Make sure you are breathing throughout the interview and connecting with the interviewer. Match the interviewer’s energy and keep friendly, positive energy. 
  • Maintain your composure. Don’t just spit answers out. Think before you speak.
  • Into meditation? Get out of your head and calm your nervous energy before the interview.

Interview Mistake #7 - Not Getting the Tone Right

Another sin a lot of candidates commit is overplaying or downplaying their language. What do we mean by that? Let me explain...

Depending on what type of position/company you’re applying for, you’d need to tailor your tone and language.

If you are applying at a multinational high-profile law firm, don’t open with “‘Sup, dude?”. This would make you seem totally unprofessional.

Or, on the other hand, if you’re going for an interview at the local supermarket, you don’t have to go in dressed in a suit and speak in “Yes, sir,” “No, Ma'am!’s. The interviewer might think you’re too much of a robot.

How to avoid

When in Rome, do as the Romans. 

Getting this right requires you to be socially aware.

As the interview is starting, pay attention to the HR manager’s tone and body language.

Are they formal, calm, reserved? Do the same.

Are they being friendly and laid back? Reciprocate!

Interview Mistake #8 - Not Paying Attention

Has this happened to you?

Someone is talking about something important. 

Suddenly you are thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch.

While this is (kind of) okay to do when a friend is talking, dozing off during an interview is a big mistake.

You might miss the question the interviewer is asking.

Or, at worst, the interviewer can notice that you’re dozing off and disqualify you.

How to avoid:

Make sure you are listening effectively throughout the entire interview.

Your main focus should be on the interviewer and the question at hand only.

Try clearing your head before you enter the room.

If you find yourself dozing off, take a deep breath and try to remain present.

Interview Mistake #9 - Not Rehearsing in Advance

Most interviewers will ask literally the same questions.

So, there's really no excuses NOT to rehearse and come up with some potential answers.

How to avoid:

With job interviews, preparation is half the battle. If you've memorized all the questions they might ask, you're BOUND to pass the interview with flying colors!

Make sure you go through the most common interview questions and prepare your answers.

Some of these questions include:

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • How did you hear about this position?
  • Why did you decide to apply for this position?
  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • What do you know about this company/organization?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • Do you have any questions for us?
  • Give me an example of how you [+ situation that matches the skills the interviewer is looking for].

Do a mock interview with a friend. See what you are having difficulties answering and adjust your answers accordingly. 

Don’t try to memorize all the answers, though. It might turn around to bite you during the interview if you don’t remember it by heart or if there is a slight variation in the question.

Interview Mistake #10 - Making It All About You

Although what you are looking for in a position is important, the interview isn’t about you.

Rather, the interviewer wants to know how you will add value to the company.

You shouldn’t just go in the interview and start talking about what you want, what kind of salary you’re aiming for, and so on.

Instead, you should focus more on how you’re going to help the company achieve its goals (and THEN talk about what you want).

How to avoid:

Don't brag. Be down to earth and objective about your achievements.

  • Understand what they're looking for, and tailor your answers accordingly. Talk about your achievements and responsibilities that will make you seem like a great fit for the role.
  • Don't go overboard when answering reflective questions like “What are your greatest strengths?” Make your job interview answers brief (2 - 3 minutes max).

Interview Mistake #11 - Sharing Personal Details

Out of nervousness, you might get carried away and start babbling on and on about irrelevant personal details.

It’s okay to bond with the interviewer about your shared passion for golding. Babble on and on about something the interviewer doesn’t care, however, and he/she will dose off or seem bored. 

How to avoid:

Keep your answers relevant and to the point. 

Notice how the interviewer is reacting to what you are saying. They might not care about how many cats you have or how your aunt Martha in Connecticut in doing. But you might end up bonding over books.

Different interviewers have different interests so it’s important to read their reactions well and share details that are relevant to them.

Interview Mistake #12 - Being Too Personal With the Interviewer

Although you might bond about things you have in common, you don’t want to be too personal with the interviewer.

Some candidates start asking really uncomfortable questions. Others might start flirting or behaving inappropriately.

This isn’t a speed date nor bonding over lunch. Don’t ask them about their family, personal life, or career aspirations. 

How to avoid:

Remember that all interviews are done in a professional setting.

Sure, it’s OK to talk with the interviewer and bond over something, but you shouldn’t go overboard with it. It’s OK to talk about something you have in common as long as it’s contextual and the topic just pops up.

What you SHOULDN’T do, though, is specifically try to go in that direction and make the interaction personal.

Interview Mistake #13 - Using Your Phone

This is fairly straightforward, yet, some candidates fail to get it right.

Entering the interview with a phone in your hands or using it during the interview is a huge no-no. It will make you appear distracted and unprofessional.

How to avoid:

This one’s simple enough:

Put your phone in your bag, on silent mode. Your Twitter or group chat can wait. Don’t take it out at any point during the interview. Ever.

Interview Mistake #14 - Badmouthing Past Employers

You might have had a horrible boss. Your previous team might have been very unprofessional. They might also be the reason why you quit your job or got fired.

However, these are the details you should never share with your interviewer.

If you badmouth your past employers:

  • The interviewer might think you were the problem instead.
  • You appear unprofessional, mean-spirited, and hostile.
  • You will badmouth your future employers too.

So, you will never get the job.

How to avoid:

You might be asked about your previous managers or company. Remember you are not required to give too many details. 

Keep it classy, although there might still be some negativity inside of you. Even if your boss was literally Satan dressed in cargo pants, give a positive and professional answer.

Interview Mistake #15 - Talking in Cliches 

Cliches are attractive, especially to first-time job seekers.

At some point, we have all gone to a job interview and said:

  • “I am a natural leader.”
  • “I have great attention to detail.:
  • “I am a critical thinker.”
  • “I work very well in teams”

Although these might be true, they are extremely generic. These buzz words are overused to the point of not meaning anything. The employer will immediately disregard them.

How to avoid:

The difference between a cliche and a good answer is your experience.

What do we mean by that? Let’s compare these two answers:

“I am a good leader.” - Doesn’t mean much.

“I am a good leader. I managed and supervised a team of 15 marketing associates for three years.” - Now there’s evidence!

You want to back up the cliche with a situation where you showed leadership skills.

To effectively back up your experiences with an example, you can use the STAR (Situation Task Action Result) method.

In a nutshell, it works like this:

S - You first lay the context of the story. Set the place and time. 

T - Then, you lay out what your main leadership responsibilities were.

A - Next, you describe how you demonstrated those leadership skills.

R - Finally, you conclude with what the impact of your leadership was and what you learned.

Interview Mistake #16 - Talking Too Much

Nobody likes someone who talks too much. Most often than not, interviewees who talk to much do this when they are unprepared, dishonest, or don’t know the answer to a question.

Here’s the real damage:

When an interviewer asks a question, they are looking for a straightforward answer. When you talk in circles or too much, your main points can get lost in a sea of information.

Furthermore, people who talk too much, in general, are not good listeners (and hence, not team players).

How to avoid:

Your goal is to give your interviewer the best answer as clearly as possible.

Think quality over quantity.

If the interviewer asks you what your biggest strength is, they are only looking for the answer to that question, not a rundown of all your skills.

You can avoid getting caught off guard by preparing for the interview. If you are a natural talker, you write some answers for common questions down beforehand. This helps structure your thoughts and minimizes your chances of rambling at the interview.

Interview Mistake #17 - Messing Up Body Language

Body language sometimes speaks louder than words.

You can say that you are confident, hard-working, and passionate, but what is your body saying?

If you’re slouching and speaking in whispers, it’s saying “I’m lying through my teeth!”

How to avoid:

Here are five general tips on body language during an interview:

  1. Posture! Posture! Posture! - You want to sit up straight, with shoulders straight but relaxed. Make sure you are not spreading your legs too much, but you are also not crouching. 
  2. The eyes, Chico… - Eye contact is essential. It shows a candidate is trustworthy. Always look straight at the interviewer when you are answering a question and maintain eye contact throughout. If you feel intimidated by eye contact, look straight at the area between the interviewer’s eyes. You’ll feel more comfortable and he/she won’t be able to tell.
  3. Use hands to convey a message. - Keep your palms open or touch your fingertips as you speak. Make sure your hands are in sync with what you are saying. Be careful not to be too expressive though!
  4. You’re never truly dressed without a smile. - You want to radiate positivity and keep a warm smile throughout the interview. It makes you look approachable and friendly.
  5. Make sure your handshake is solid when you greet the interviewer. - A firm handshake shows confidence and decisiveness. Go for it!

Interview Mistake #18 - Bringing Up Salary and Benefits First

It would be a big mistake if you did decide to bring up your salary and benefits right at the beginning of the interview.

It’s very unflattering.

The interview is a chance for the company’s hiring team to get to know you. 

The beginning of the interview is where you get to meet the hiring team, get to know what they’re like and what they’re looking for, and so on. 

You shouldn’t just jump straight to the salary and benefits part.

This makes it seem like you’re primarily motivated by the money and you don’t particularly care about the job.

How to avoid:

Wait it out. Don’t be too quick to mention the money. There is a time and place for negotiations, and that is not the start of the interview.

Usually, hiring managers will bring up salary and benefits on their own. In case that doesn’t happen, wait until they ask you if you have any questions for them.

Then, it’s your time to bombard them with things you are curious about, including your salary. Make sure to bring it up only after you’ve exhausted all your other questions. 

Interview Mistake #19 - Not Being Prepared to Answer Salary Questions

The interviewer will most probably ask you about your price.

The last thing you should be saying?

“It really doesn’t matter to me, I am in it for the position”, Or “To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it.”

Not giving an answer to the salary question will make you look unprepared, naive, or ungenuine. You want to instead show confidence and self-appreciation.

How to avoid:

You want to come up with an honest answer about your salary expectations.

The best way to express your desired income is through using a range. So, look at the average salary for the same position in the job market.

Evaluate your skills objectively: are you above or below average?

Then, consider how the company is performing. Are they an industry leader, earning a lot of money and paying top dollar for their employees? Or are they a low-budget startup? 

Pro Tip:

  • you can check the average salaries for specific companies at GlassDoor.

Once you got that figured out, come up with an interval.

Let’s say the average salary for the same job is $65,000. 

But since you have a lot of work experience and generally perform better than most of your peers, you’d go for $70,000 to $80,000. Then, depending on how well the company is doing, you can bump or reduce the range in whichever direction.  

Interview Mistake #20 - Selling Yourself Too Much

You are supposed to impress at a job interview.

But here’s the thing:

Putting your best foot forward is different from overselling yourself. Many candidates grab any opportunity they can to compliment themselves during an interview.

This is cocky and unflattering.

How to avoid:

Tone down subjective and cliche terms. Let your work and achievements speak for themselves. Answer most questions as straight to the point and objectively as you can. Find the right opportunity to insert an accomplishment only if the nature of the question allows for it.

Typical questions that allow you to “sell yourself”, are reflective questions.

For example:

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • What is your biggest strength?
  • What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Interview Mistake #21 - Failing to Sell Yourself

Some candidates, in an attempt to not sound cocky or seem humble, go in the opposite direction and fail to sell themselves. Although being too pushy is sleazy, failing to take ownership and praise for your achievements is also a big mistake.

The job interview is an intellectual selling pitch based on your previous achievements. To win, you need to master the art of confidence and adequate self-praise.

How to avoid:

You must learn to own up to your qualities and skills. If you are asked about an achievement, don’t go around it. Avoid humble-brags like “Oh, it was nothing” or “Actually, it was more of a group effort”.

Own up to your accomplishments by using facts:

“I was grateful to be given the opportunity to be in charge of client X. Along with the team I was in charge of, I upped their overall sales by 37% in a year.”

You end up not overselling yourself and showcase your abilities.

Interview Mistake #22 - Neglecting the “Biggest Weakness” Question

Many candidates think this is a trick question and don’t give a real answer. Instead, they say something like…

“My biggest weakness is that I work too hard.” Or “My biggest weakness is that I care too much.”

But here’s the thing - you’re not fooling anyone. You OBVIOUSLY have some weaknesses, you’re just either not aware of them, or you’re hiding them. Both of these cases are a red flag for the interviewer.

How to avoid:

Don’t be insecure. Nobody is perfect. The interviewer isn’t either. The key to answering this question is in demonstrating self-reflection and the realization that you are a work in progress.

Don’t say anything that will stop you from doing the job right.

For example, if you are applying as a financial analyst, your weakness can’t be: “Well, I’m just not that good at Excel”. 

That would send you straight out of the door.

Instead, saying something real (but less relevant). Mention that you’re actually working towards improving this weakness, and back it up with how...like:

Example:

  • “My biggest weakness is my need to be in control of my work. Sometimes, I do not trust other people because I have been let down by work teammates before. However, this is something I am working towards by trying to let go of minor tasks and responsibilities that are not entirely in my hands. Once I establish trust and confidence in my team, I can let go much easier.”

You can find more examples on how to answer the biggest weakness question in this awesome guide.

Interview Mistake #23 - Failing to Recover From a Mistake

What’s worse than making one of the mistakes mentioned in this article?

Not turning it around on time.

We are all human and we can all get carried away and make a mistake. 

Many candidates, even when they realize they have made one, choose not to recover from it. 

And hey, although we are experts at ignoring problems and pretending they never happened, that attitude can only fly when it comes to that building pile of laundry.

How to avoid:

So let’s say you realize you have made one of the mistakes we have listed in this article.

The best thing to do?

Acknowledge it and stop doing it. If you have been looking at your phone for 20 minutes, put it away.

If you made a mistake while answering a question, pause and start again. For example, let’s say you realized you were selling yourself too much. It’s important that you pause talking and take a deep breath. Then start over as needed, avoiding the mistake. This only works if you catch yourself in the mistake as it is happening though.

If the question is far behind, don’t ask for a do-over. It would be weird and off-topic. 

Finally, If you feel like you haven’t done such a good job, make sure you are aware of what you did wrong and do better on the next interview.

Interview Mistake #24 Not Having Any Questions

As the interview is coming to an end, the interviewer always asks: “Do you have any questions for me?”

The worst thing that you can possibly do is say “Umm..not really”.

Usually, students who don’t have any questions are the ones that don’t know what’s going on (according to all teachers ever, that is).

The same thing applies to job interviews.

Surely, you must be curious about something...or else do you even care about it at all?

How to avoid:

This is your time to show your interest and enthusiasm. This is also a great opportunity to find out more about how the job works.

Be careful, though:

  1. Don’t ask any questions about something the interviewer already answered. This makes it look like you just haven’t paid attention.
  2. Don’t ask any basic questions. If you can google it, don’t ask about it. It just makes you come off as shallow and unprepared. 

Prepare a list of questions before the interview so that you don’t have to come up with one on the spot. 

Here is a list of the top 10 common questions to ask an interviewer:

  • Have I answered all your questions, or is there something you’d like me to clarify?
  • Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?
  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What new skills can I hope to learn here?
  • What is the next step in the process?
  • Who would I be working closest with, or reporting to, on a daily basis?
  • Beyond some of the hard skills we’ve discussed, which soft skills would be most helpful in this position?
  • Can you tell me if I would get the chance to be involved with this (project/initiative/etc.)?
  • What are your expectations for this role during the first 30 days, 90 days, year?
  • Could you describe the culture of the company for me?

Interview Mistake #25 - Not Asking About Next Steps

Sometimes, the interviewer will forget to inform you about the steps after the interview.

It’s important that you know what the follow-up process is and when and how you should be expecting to hear back.

Asking about the next steps confirms to the employer that you are confident you passed the interview and are serious about working for them.

How to avoid:

This one is not rocket science:

Simply ask.

You can ask after the interview is done and you have asked your questions to the interviewer. Phrase it simply and sound interested.

For example:

“...oh, and one last question. What are the next steps? Is there going to be another interview, or are you going to stay in touch, or…?”

Interview Mistake #26 - Forgetting to Follow Up

You might think your job is done when the interview is done. Well, not exactly.

If you really want to maximize your chances of getting the job (and ensure that the interviewer remembers you), you need to send a follow-up email.

How to avoid:

Wait for about three hours after the interview and write a thank-you email.

In the email, say something like…

Email Example:

Subject line: Thank you, Sandra

Dear Sandra,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today to talk about the sales manager position at Big Sales. I really enjoyed talking to you and learning more about the position and the company. 

Please let me know if there is anything else you’ll be needing from me at any time.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Jonathan

Interview Mistake #27 - Following Up Too Aggressively 

Sometimes, hiring managers take their time to decide. On average, it takes about 2 to 4 weeks to hear back.

You might get impatient and decide it’s a good idea to follow up again. And again. And a third time. And then you get really impatient and start calling them to demand an answer.

Although following up is generally positive, you might risk going into the stalker-ex territory, sending any positive impression you have made during the interview down the drain.

How to avoid:

Be patient and respect the interviewer’s time.

If you didn’t make the cut, the interviewer will let you know.

Conclusion

The interview process is extremely difficult and nerve-wracking.

There are so many things that can go wrong...but now you know all about them!

Remember all the different tips and solutions we provided in this article and don’t forget to prepare!

Here are some other suggested readings to get you ready and going for your big day:

... And good luck with your job interview!