In my nearly 25-year career in management consulting, I have interviewed several hundred candidates for jobs. And I’m always surprised when a potential employee bombs, which happens more often than you would think.
I’m not talking about a weak handshake or a roundabout answer to a straightforward question, I’m talking about going down in flames when it comes to demonstrating who you are and what you intend to do for my company.
Remember, interviewing well is more skill than art, and you can absolutely learn to nail it. Here are the biggest mistakes to avoid:
Lack of Preparation
With so many free resources available, including Glassdoor and LinkedIn, there is no excuse for not showing up prepared. Ask your recruiter who you’ll be interviewing with and review the LinkedIn profiles and website bios of these individuals. Try to find something in common to build rapport from the very beginning of the interview. And it goes without saying but bears repeating: read and know the position description. I once had a candidate interview for what he thought was a different role entirely. He was in the middle of a number of interviews and had mixed up which job he was interviewing for. Maybe an honest mistake, but a tough one to come back from.
No one loves interviewing —not the candidate, not the interviewer. It’s stressful, and takes a lot of time. But you need to show up with an air of enthusiasm. Your lack of enthusiasm for the interview translates to “I don’t really want this job.” A few years ago in a flurry of interviewing and hiring, I had a candidate who could not be bothered to muster any excitement whatsoever for the open role. She acted bored, avoided eye contact and at the end of the interview when I asked “do you have any questions for me?” she simply said “nope” and walked away. We never saw her again.
This is what happens when you don’t practice for the interview: You show up like you’re on the junior varsity team. Interviewing is a skill, and to be good at it you must practice. Anticipate the questions that might come up in each interview, write down your answers, and practice the responses with your spouse or a friend. When an interviewer asks you to walk through a basic exercise like describing your strengths and weaknesses, you must have a rehearsed answer that rolls off the tongue. If you stammer or hesitate, you show up like someone who isn’t prepared and hasn’t practiced. That’s not anyone I want to hire.
No follow up
Interviewing is a crazy period for both parties. But before you leave, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, make sure you ask “What is your hiring timeline and how and when will I hear about potential next steps?” This sets expectations for follow-up and gets both of you on the same page. Here’s your follow-up playbook. At the beginning of the interview, ask for business cards. The day of the interview, send a thank you email to each interviewer. Within two business days, send an actual written thank you note. Not only will this simple $.50 and five minute task allow you to stand out against the competition, but it will prompt the interviewer to reach out and let you know where you are in the interview process. A few years back we had a great candidate nail her interview, and despite no thank you note or follow up (a personal pet peeve of mine) we made her an offer. But she vanished. Disappeared. Never returned our emails or calls. If this isn’t the right job for you, no problem, decline gracefully. But it’s as simple as this: Don’t interview and ghost.
Look, I’m not telling you to be an interviewing robot. You want to stand out from the competition and show up in a way that’s authentic and represents who you really are. You do you, girlfriend. But please stop short of doing anything, well, weird. In a panel interview many moons ago, a candidate attempted to describe his quantitative modeling approach with martial arts. He karate chopped the air and shouted a chorus of "HIYAS" while answering questions about his technical approach to consulting problems. As he walked out, the people on the interview panel scratched their heads, “Hmm,” they said. “What was that?”
Jennifer Folsom is the chief of corporate development at Washington, D.C.-based data analytics consulting firm Summit LLC. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and three sons, 17-year-old twins Josh and Will, and 12-year-old Anderson. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood,"The Ringmaster," will be out this fall