10 Job Interview Mistakes That Make or Break an Offer

By Lauren McGoodwin

As Career Contessa’s CEO, I’ve run my fair share of interviews. There are candidates who immediately stand out for all the right reasons—most of whom I’ve had the pleasure of hiring—but then, sometimes, there are moments you remember because they made you wince. With that in mind, I took some time to chat with other recruiters and hiring managers to figure out what their top job interview mistakes and pet peeves are. Here are the most common, along with some that might never have occurred to you (honestly, some didn’t to me). 

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1. Lying

Let’s just get the most obvious out of the way first, shall we? You should not lie in the interview, but this also applies to “white lies,” “stretching the truth,” and certain forms of “spin.” Especially at larger companies, the recruiter or hiring manager will cross-check your work history and call references. Plus, lying means you’ll likely have a harder time keeping your story straight.

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2. Not Writing an Interview Thank-You Note

I have a hard and fast rule that I apply to the interview process since working as a recruiter for Hulu: if you don’t send a thank-you note (preferably within 24 hours) after a job interview, you’re not the right candidate. A thank-you note shows that you’re excited, but it also shows you’re capable of tying up loose ends on a project which, frankly, is a quality every company needs more of. Honestly, I’d recommend sending it within 2-3 hours of leaving the interview room. Send it to everyone who interviewed you that day—if you don’t have the contact information, make sure to mention something like, “I’d also like to thank Karen for meeting with me as well, but don’t have her contact. Could you please let her know I appreciated her time?”

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3. Being a Jerk to the Receptionist 

Or on the elevator coming into the building—wherever it might be. Our front desk assistant used to message me when interviewees arrived, and there were a couple of times where she’d say, ‘Heads up, this guy’s so rude.'” On tight-knit teams, everyone’s opinion matters. And you never know whether that day, it just so happens that the receptionist is actually your future colleague filling in for a few minutes. So start the interview as soon as you get out of your car and walking into the building and don’t break your interview state of mind until you’re safely back in the car, which brings me to my next point…

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4. Making Phone Calls While In the Building 

We work out of a co-working space that also houses a renowned nonprofit that’s frequently interviewing for positions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out into the hall to a conversation an interviewee is having on the phone either before or after their meeting, often discussing very clear details/grievances/sometimes even a lie (see #1 above) they got away with. Other recruiters told me similar horror stories where another member of their team happened to catch the elevator down with a candidate, only to hear everything they had to say about their experience. Not a good look.

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5. Sounding Rehearsed

So many articles tell you to prepare, prepare, prepare and research, research, research because you should. You absolutely should. You should also have your personal pitch down pat so you can sail confidently into an interview. But a job interview is also a conversation, which means that you should be able to flow naturally through these questions without giving canned answers.

The easiest way to solve this problem? Slow down. I know you’re nervous, so if you can’t crack a joke or two to break up the dialogue, that’s okay (although a friendly quip is always a great thing). But don’t hesitate to ask for clarification on a question or pause to think about how you can answer in a way that specifically applies to the job at hand. Pauses are much better than a robot vibe.

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6. Or Not Rehearsed Enough

Do not come into a job interview without knowing everything you can. If you want the job, study up on all aspects of the company, not just the department that you’d be working in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone talk to me about what they’d like to improve on in the editorial department but not know a single thing about the other projects we work on (company profiles, e-courses, etc.).

If you want the job, plan on spending at least several hours researching the company, your interviewer (head for LinkedIn for this), press about said company, and anything you can find out about current projects. And if you’re not subscribed to their newsletter/following important social media accounts, you should be.

And do yourself a favor and download this free worksheet of 30+ interview questions you’ll want to make sure you have answers for.

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7. Oversharing / Talking Smack

There will be questions about why you want to leave your current company or what you’re biggest challenges have been in your current role. You can be candid without telling your interviewer about how much you hate your boss or what a toxic coworker you have. But there are some more subtle ways that oversharing takes a toll as well. One that we often talk about is how often people tell us that they applied because “I want a more flexible schedule so I loved that you have work from home days.” This is absolutely a great perk of working at Career Contessa. But we’re looking to hire someone who wants to work with us to build something, not because it’s convenient for them. Keep the focus on what you can do for the company you’re interviewing with and how excited you are about the potential role. By doing that, you’ll avoid most of the danger of oversharing.

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8. Not Making Eye Contact

A job interview is not just about seeing whether you’re qualified, it’s also about seeing whether you’d make a great part of the company culture. So try to keep yourself from fidgeting, make comfortable eye contact, sit up straight and (try to) relax as much as possible. Of course, you’re going to feel nervous, but try to remember that the person on the other side of the table is human—plus they’re probably a bit nervous, too. In the end, they’ll remember your personality as much as certain answers you give.

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9. Not Having Questions 

I will ask you whether you have any questions about the position. So will 99.9% of other hiring managers and recruiters. You should have at least two questions prepared (one always seems awkwardly limited to me), but you should also take note during your interview of one question that comes up as you’re talking with the hiring manager. This shows you were really listening to them while they were listening to you.

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10. Not Having a Clear Idea of Your Salary Requirements 

You may get asked for your salary requirements, you may not. But if I ask you (which, frankly, I almost always do) and you say, “Well, I’m flexible…” I’m going to want to pull out my hair. Have a clear salary range—usually a span of $5,000—and say it with confidence. Because in the end, if it’s close to our budget and we want you, we’ll find a way to make it work. And if it’s not? Then it’s not meant to be and you’ve saved yourself the exhaustion of follow-up interviews.