You've read all the advice about how to get the job you want. You've enhanced your online job search, studied tips and tricks for answering tough interview questions and learned about networking your way to potential opportunities. But you may still come up empty-handed if you blow your big chance by making a rookie error at the interview stage. Here are five mistakes to avoid at all costs in your job interview:
1. Having too much or too little confidence. No matter how well you've prepared, it's always possible that you'll be thrown a curve ball during the interview process. Always be alert for surprises, and stay sharp in your approach and presentation to your interviewers. Personal branding specialist Lida Citroen recommends finding your "balance of power," which is the happy medium between feeling like a shoo-in for the position and assuming you'll never get it. "Overconfidence can reveal as arrogance, pushiness or worse -- indifference," Citroen says. "Lack of confidence can show up as nervousness, fidgeting or poor eye contact."
2. Differing too much from your interviewer. While you may intuitively feel that you should just " be yourself" when being considered for a job, research suggests that may not be the best strategy. In fact, studies show that demonstrating similarity to those grilling you will go further than standing out for your unique viewpoints. While you never want to lie or be disingenuous in how you present yourself, aiming to project an attitude of alignment with those around the table can improve how you're perceived.
In addition to striving for congruency with your interviewers, you can increase your likeability factor through your body language. "Body language speaks for you when you don't," says Deanna Arnold, founder of The People's HR. "Handshakes should be firm, but not crushing. Look the interviewers in the eye when speaking to them and answering their questions," she says. "Sit up straight, and have your arms and hands in a comfortable position, whether in your lap or on the table."
3. Thinking it's about you. At the interview stage, prospective employers care most about how you can help them solve their business problems. Your goal during the interview should be to convince your interviewer that you are the right fit for the position and the company -- not to find out as much as you can about benefits packages.
Shawnice Meador is the director of career management and leadership development at MBA@UNC, the online master's in business adminstration program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School. Meador suggests that there is no reason this early in the process to ask about vacation time, relocation expenses and other logistical questions. "To me, these questions are a bit presumptuous, since the employer is still trying to determine if they even want to continue a conversation with you. These sorts of questions can wait until the offer phase," she says. Meador adds that ideally, the employer would tell you some of this information willingly, before that phase of interviewing. "By not asking these sorts of questions, you keep them fully focused on how great an addition you will be to their team, and not cloud your time with them on things that are important to only you."
4. Not knowing enough about them. If your focus for early-stage interviews should not be on "what's in it for me," it's important to remember that it should be about what's in it for your potential hiring manager. The way to really know what would help this individual the most is to do plenty of research on the front end, before you're in the hot seat. It's easy with social media tools to learn about both the company and the people who are interviewing you -- and it's now also expected.
Bonnie Zaben, chief operating officer of recruiting firm AC Lion, notes that both the company website and LinkedIn are fair game for looking up information on the person who will interview you. "See if you have anything in common that you can use as an ice breaker," Zaben says. She suggests finding out if, for example, you went to the same school, or if your schools were arch rivals. Or perhaps you two root for the same sports team. "Know the correct pronunciation of the person's name and get their email address for follow up," she adds.
5. Failing to ask questions of the interviewer. You can count on the fact that almost every interview will end the same way: with your interviewer asking you, "What questions do you have for me?" A big ball-drop is thinking you'll just wing this opportunity rather than preparing for it in advance. While there's always room to improvise and think on the fly, knowing some general points to cover will save you that cold-sweat moment when your mind goes blank and you can't think of intelligent questions to ask.
Evelyn Tressitt, president of Grey Pearl Advisors LLC, suggests preparing two to three questions ahead of time that you can voice when given the go-ahead. "Make sure your questions are not ones that can be answered by reading the website," advises Tressitt. "Questions should look for the interviewer's unique viewpoint on the company, culture, success factors or opportunities to contribute."
While interviewing can be stressful, you can manage the pain points by knowing what to avoid. Dodging these five mistakes may mean the difference between landing the job and going back to the drawing board with your search.
Robin Madell has spent more than two decades as a corporate writer, journalist and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology and public-interest issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Madell has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, winning 20 awards for editorial excellence. She served on the board of directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in New York and San Francisco. Madell is the author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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