If you're job searching, you probably (hopefully!) know the basic professionalism mistakes to avoid, like using a questionable moniker in your email address, having a silly outgoing voicemail message or flooding social media with photos of yourself doing keg stands. But here are some less obvious ways that you can inadvertently come across as unprofessional in your job search.
1. Oversharing. There are certain things your interviewer just doesn't need to know, like that you almost slept through your alarm this morning, or that your marriage troubles killed your sales numbers last quarter or that you suspect your current manager has a drinking problem. People overshare all sorts of things they didn't set out to share when they get nervous in interviews -- or conversely, when they start feeling so comfortable that they let down their guard too much.
2. Trying to hide it when you don't know something. If you're asked a question that you don't know the answer to, the worst thing you can do is try to bluff your way through it. Your interviewer is likely to see through the bluff, and it will reflect more poorly on you than being upfront that you don't know the answer. Being comfortable acknowledging when you don't know something is a sign of professional maturity and confidence. Giving potentially wrong information just to cover up a lack of knowledge can be downright dangerous if you do it after you're hired.
3. Not polishing your application materials. An occasional typo probably won't be a big deal once you're on the job, but employers assume that your job application materials represent you at your absolute best. If you have links on your resume that don't work, inconsistent spacing or other sloppiness, employers will read that as evidence of overall carelessness in your approach to work.
[See: 8 Tacky Job Search Faux Pas.]
4. Not doing your research. Asking your interviewer basic questions about the company that can be answered on the employer's website will make you look unprepared and even lazy. If you ask, "So what exactly does the organization do?" or other questions that you could answer for yourself with five minutes of research, hiring managers will assume that on the job you'll be that employee who doesn't bother to try to find answers on your own before asking others to help you.
5. Interrupting. Once again, interviewers assume that the you they see during interviews is the best, most polished, most polite version of you. So if you interrupt or talk over your interviewer, they're going to assume that you'll be the type of employee who thinks you know better than your colleagues, dominates conversations and is generally rude.
6. Swearing. Some are more comfortable with profanity than others, but it's jarring to hear a job candidate use profanity in an interview. It's just an environment where you don't expect to hear it and it can come across as having poor judgment, even if you're interviewing in an office that won't mind a few swear words once you're on the job.
7. Being too informal when you're emailing. If the emails you send from your phone tend to be littered with typos, wait to respond to employers until you're back at home and at your computer. That "sent from my phone" disclaimer at the bottom of your message won't make typos or messy writing look any better in a high-stakes context like interview correspondence, where you're expected to be polished.
8. Openly griping about your last boss. Interviewers don't live in a bubble; we know that bad bosses are out there, and that it's very possible you've worked for a truly terrible manager or two. But you're expected to show discretion in an interview, which means no badmouthing previous employers. Plus, there are two sides to most stories, and you don't want your interviewer wondering if your boss was really as bad as you say or whether you're just difficult to get along with.
9. Putting your interviewer on the spot with "hard sell" questions. You might have read that you should end your interview with questions like "Is there any reason you don't think I'm a great fit for the job?" or "Is there anything standing in the way of me getting an offer?" But an interview shouldn't be a high-pressure sales environment, and these tactics will turn off most interviewers. Your interviewer probably won't feel inclined to give you a detailed explanation of the ways in which you're weaker than other candidates, and making your interviewer feel awkward isn't a good last impression.
10. Getting so concerned with being professional that you become stiff and don't give the interviewer any sense of who you really are. If your desire to be professional leads you to become so stiff and reserved that your interviewer can't get a sense of what you'd be like to work with day to day, that's a negative. It's OK -- and even desirable -- to let some personality show. Don't act like you're meeting the queen; the tone you want is the one you would have in a meeting with a colleague who you don't know well but who you have a generally warm relationship with.
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