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8 classic interview mistakes

We asked our experts for the classic errors to avoid when it comes to an interview – together with some tips for making sure they don’t happen to you…

Not doing your research

The biggest mistake all our experts mentioned is going into an interview unprepared. This might mean failing to research the company, not taking the time to understand the role, or not knowing who you’re meeting. But it could also mean not planning out what you’re going to talk about.

‘I always advise candidates that, no matter how good they are, they can’t assume they can wing it,’ says Ken Okumura, who recruits lawyers for corporate, funds, private equity and tax roles in London. ‘The worst thing you can do is go in under-prepared, not knowing who you’re meeting and not having some answers prepared,’ agrees Katie Drewitt, who places temporary secretarial and business support staff in the North of England. ‘I always advise people to have four or five answers ready for key questions that they can reasonably expect might come up.’

Talking about the wrong things

A related mistake is failing to talk about topics or experiences that best showcase your experience and knowledge. ‘My candidates operate in a very technical space, where it’s vital to demonstrate their expertise in detail,’ says Harriet King, who helps quantitative and investment risk professionals find their next move within financial institutions. ‘They need to give detailed examples of things they really know about – not be tempted to showcase their involvement with products or regulatory issues that happen to be hot topics but where their involvement was only marginal.’

From his perspective in the law space, Ken Okumura agrees. ‘A common mistake is for people to choose a case to talk about that is really out of date or happens to have a big brand name involved, but where it turns out the candidate’s involvement was actually quite minimal,’ he says.

Both Ken and Harriet agree that it’s far better to discuss a more minor or less on-trend topic if it gives you the chance to really shine. So spending some time beforehand thinking hard about which examples to showcase can make a real difference here.

Forgetting the connection between CV and interview

Quite understandably, your interviewer is likely to see your CV as a prompt for the conversation they will have with you when you meet. So if you’ve put things on there that are more aspiration than hard fact, that could get found out at the interview.

‘Don’t put anything on your CV that you’re not prepared to talk about or that doesn’t show off your skills in the best light,’ says Ken Okumura. Says Harriet King: ‘Don’t have anything on there you’re not comfortable talking about. Your CV is not a working concept – it’s a factual record. Use it to highlight what you’ve done and achieved, not to set out things you’re hoping to work towards.’

Not listening

‘A common mistake at interviews is that people go in with a pre-prepared script and just parrot their answers without really listening to the questions,’ says Katie Drewitt. ‘You can’t rely on one-size-fits-all answers to get you through.’

Nerves can have a lot to do with this, of course. But when you’re asked a question, remember it’s OK to take a moment to think, says Katie. ‘People get fazed and start to panic, especially if it’s a job they really want,’ she says. ‘So just take a drink of water, and take a moment to process the question while you pause.’ And the pause, of course, is never as long as you think it is.

Turning up late

This obvious no-no can happen if you’ve not taken the time to work out your route to the venue and exact whereabouts within it you’ve got to go. ‘People sometimes arrive late because they haven’t thought through the journey,’ says Katie. ‘Always plan to allow yourself at least 10 minutes in reception ahead of the interview time.’ And if you do arrive late, she adds, don’t compound the error by failing to apologise…

Forgetting the communication essentials

Sometimes, perhaps because of nerves or because they’re so concentrated on the task, even very highly skilled or experienced people can overlook the communication essentials that allow any human interaction to run smoothly – building rapport, taking an interest, positive body language. ‘Don’t forget to hold eye contact, and take an interest in the interviewer’s background,’ advises Harriet King. ‘Please – not the dreaded limp handshake!’ adds Katie.

‘You need to build a rapport but also have a bit of social awareness,’ says Ken Okumura. ‘If you keep being too formal, you’ll sound like a robot and there’ll be no rapport. Your interviewer needs to believe you can do the job, of course, but they also want to be able to picture themselves working in an office or perhaps even going for a drink with you.’ At the same time, an interviewee who becomes too relaxed could be off-putting too. The trick, as always, is to take one’s cue from the interviewer.

Not asking questions

‘When you’re asked if you have any questions – as you inevitably will be – it’s vital that you don’t just clam up,’ says Ken Okumura. Ideally your questions will be positive and employer-focused – not too provocative or self-focused – so you need to have something more than just ‘Where’s the nearest gym?’

‘Ask questions that result in your interviewer getting enthusiastic – for example, bring up something they’ve talked about in the interview and turn it back on them: “It sounds like you’ve got some really exciting clients – what are your plans for developing them in the future / bringing on other clients in that sector?” The interviewer then gets excited because they’re being asked about what they care about, and then they start to sell to you…’

Not paying attention to hygiene factors

Finally, all our experts agreed on the importance of not overlooking those personal hygiene factors that can have such an impact on the impression you make. The sense of smell is especially potent here – not just body odour, of course, but making sure you don’t go in to an interview reeking of cigarette smoke, very strong cologne or coffee. If you’re worried about this, ask a friend or partner to check before you go in.

‘I had a candidate recently who had dog-hair all over her coat,’ says Katie. ‘This would make me less positive about putting her in front of clients, as it could put people off hiring her. I always advise candidates to dress professionally, and defer on the side of formal rather than casual.’


Looking to change jobs? 

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