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What Not to Do at the Job Interview

Don’t get too cozy. And please, cover the belly button

Claudyne Wilder.jpg

Interview training coach Claudyne Wilder stresses the importance of practicing for job interviews. “If you’re serious about getting better, you have to tape yourself,” she says.

Graduating seniors who assume they can impress prospective employers by relying on their instincts are making their first bad career decision, says interview training coach Claudyne Wilder. She encourages everyone looking for a job in this market to videotape themselves and take a good critical look at their performance.

Wilder, founder of the Boston-based consulting firm Wilder Presentations, will conduct two workshops for graduating seniors on innovative interviewing strategies and résumé writing skills on Tuesday, April 6, at 4 and 5:30 p.m., in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall. Sponsored by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, the two hour-long Go Get That Job! workshops include mock interviews and one-on-one résumé reviews. Interested students should RSVP to archives@bu.edu.

BU Today spoke with Wilder, a consultant to the Gillette Company, the Nature Company, and many others, about what it takes to ace a job interview and about the most common missteps that can sabotage even the best qualified applicants.

BU Today: What’s the most common mistake people make during a job interview?
They don’t organize themselves beforehand. You have to prepare how you’re going to answer questions. My focus is how to organize information in a way that you can speak clearly and concisely.

What do you mean by organizing beforehand?
You must prepare the content of what you’re going to say, and how to dress. You have to prepare two interview outfits, and you need to know more than a few details about the company you’re going to. Go online, talk to friends or acquaintances in the company. I had a client who made himself a book, about 20 pages long, that had interview questions with his responses and the stories he planned to tell to illustrate his points. He wrote it out and he practiced it and got a fabulous job.

How does lack of preparation manifest itself?
People just go on and on. For example, when an interviewer says, why do you want this job, rather than saying, I believe I can add these qualities to the position and make it a good fit, and then stopping, they just keep talking. People ramble on because they’re not prepared with an answer or a story — such as, when I was running this team I did this and that. They’re not proactive. You have to go in there with three things you want the employer to know about you.

Why three things?
You can remember three things you’ve prepared to say about yourself, and it’s okay if you get nervous and forget one.

What’s the most common faux pas students make on their very first interviews?
In school you’re trained to say a lot. You get good grades when you say a lot. But in business it’s the opposite — you’re considered a better communicator when you say less, when you get to the point and then be quiet. You don’t get points for talking on and on in business the way you do in class. The interviewer’s saying to himself, would I want to talk to this person every day?

Is doing your homework and preparing some responses enough?
No. The other thing people don’t do is practice out loud and tape themselves. We all think we look and sound a certain way, but then you see yourself and you go, oh, this is not what I think I’m like, I don’t look at the person talking to me, I say a lot of ums, I don’t pause. I tell people, if you’re serious about getting better, you have to tape yourself.

What about appearance? Is a suit always necessary?
You have to know what the attire is in the company. Sometimes a suit, sometimes not a suit, but women should always wear some kind of a jacket, because women are perceived differently when they have a jacket on, even by other women. Slacks are fine as long as they look great, as long as they fit. Belly buttons shouldn’t be showing. You should look like you’re going to work, not like you’re going out to lunch or dinner with friends, which is difficult for young women because the clothes for sale in most stores are really not for business.

So many of these rules seem to be about conforming, and toning things down. Don’t employers want people with personality?
You have to know what job you’re looking for. If you’re in marketing and sales, they don’t want you to sound monotone. But if you’re an accountant, they don’t want you to start telling them how inventive and creative you are. You have to radiate enough personality so they’re not saying, do I want to work with this person?

Does humor have a place in a job interview?
It’s great if it fits in. You should never tell jokes, of course, but some people are really good at ad libs. You want the interviewer to feel you’re a person, not a robot, but you don’t want to say, oh I fell in the mud the other day. But you can use humor to make a point. For example, I might tell an interviewer, “Well, I’ve lived with a lawyer for many, many years so I know how to negotiate.” Don’t get too cozy, though; that’s not the purpose here.

I’ve always found lunch interviews traumatic. What are some mistakes to avoid?
I’ve been told that employers take a person out to eat to see how the person behaves in a restaurant with other people. If someone’s not nice to the waitress, that’s a deal breaker. Applicants have to be aware, if you’re out at some lunch or dinner with prospective employers, they’re watching you like a hawk. You shouldn’t drink, you shouldn’t have dessert, you shouldn’t ask to taste someone else’s food — they’ll think you’re too weird. It’s crazy to take a drink, even if they try to get you to order one.

Any special rules for phone interviews?
Yes. You should be standing up while you’re talking, and be energetic. You have to pretend the person’s in front of you or you might sound monotone. Interviews are a lot more work on the phone.

No matter how much a person prepares, don’t you think it’s hard not to be nervous?
If you’re nervous, you didn’t practice enough. You shouldn’t walk in being so nervous. You should be preparing; you should be practicing out loud, over and over again. In the actual interview you may not say it that way, but you should prepare yourself enough so it’s easy. I tell people that if you’ve prepared enough, when things go awry in some way you can handle it because you’re not so occupied with your own thoughts.

Is it worth trying to find out why you didn’t get a job?
You know, you could say to yourself, I nailed the questions, I feel good about how I came across, but still it’s hard to know what the interviewer thought. They’re not going to say, you did a lousy job on the interview and we’re not going to hire you.

Interview training coach Claudyne Wilder will hold two Go Get That Job! workshops on Tuesday, April 6, at 4 and 5:30 p.m., in the GSU Metcalf Hall, 775 Commonwealth Ave., sponsored by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. The event is open only to graduating seniors with valid ID; interested students should RSVP to archives@bu.edu for space in one of the workshops and should bring two copies of their résumé.

Susan Seligson can be reached at suselig@bu.edu.


8 Comments on What Not to Do at the Job Interview

  • Anonymous on 04.01.2010 at 3:27 am

    PSA on behalf of jobseekers in today's economy

    These are all very good points, and I’ll be sure to look down this list the next time I go to an interview. That said, I’m always afraid that such articles send out a message to the general public that people without jobs haven’t been following all of these rules, and should just try harder. As an 09 grad who’s been looking for a full-time gig since last summer (after graduating with honors and half a dozen internships under my belt), I can tell you that I’ve tripled checked cover letters, uber-researched companies, made industry connections, practiced talking points, and asked for feedback. All this, and time after time I go through multiple rounds of interviews just to be told that, although it was terribly hard to choose, the other candidate had what they were looking for. (They’re not giving me the runaround, either – they’ve called me back to interview for similar positions.) This has happened to many of my former classmates, too. All of the above tips are fantastic, but please keep in mind that sometimes, a field is just so competitive (or the economy is so very bad) that applicants also need perfect timing and a whole lot of luck. Please send your jobseeking friends and family members general positivity rather than endless lists of industry-nonspecific tips. As a last note – we’re not nervous because we’re under-prepared. We’re nervous because, as it’s so hard to even get called for an interview, we know we need to be perfect this time because we might not get another shot!

  • Anonymous on 04.01.2010 at 10:20 am

    PSA Nailed it on the head

    Well said. Getting a job is not like checking things off a list. Is it good to be prepared as possible, but even then it does not gaurantee a job. In the end the best thing you can have is a positive attitude and a handful of luck.

  • Anonymous on 04.01.2010 at 10:34 am

    Go to an interview by yourselves!

    I have had friends working in the Human Resources industry share stories of recent grads and other young people bringing their parents to an interview! Interviewing and getting a job is not a Little League tryout or a dance class; in all due respect, leave your parents at home.

  • Anonymous on 04.01.2010 at 11:18 am

    a good fit makes a whole lot of difference

    We are told to prepare and prepare hard many many times for interviews, which is definitely the key to getting that job. However, it is often ignored that we also check out the company in the interview. If we are truly a good match, than the company and its people would generally make us comfortable and ourselves. We often perform the best when we are genuinely excited, interested, and comfortable. If it is awkward, the company scrutinize us like a hawk, or they don’t answer our follow-ups, it is a sign that the company is not for us, either.

  • Anonymous on 04.01.2010 at 11:27 am

    talking in class

    Seems like great advice. The only part I quibble with is that talking a lot in class is good. Going on and on is just as annoying to teachers and classmates as it is to co-workers.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 8:37 am

    On the flip side...

    On the flip side of an interview is that you should simultaneously be evaluating the people and whatever else you see, particularly if the interview is at the company site. Actually seeing where you could be working is invaluable in determining if you’d really want to work there. The interviewer should be at least as impressive as you’re trying to be. And you’d like to get a sense of what kind of people they’ve already chosen to work there. Your impression of a company before seeing it is abstract: the reality could be very different.

  • Anonymous on 04.09.2010 at 5:42 pm

    recent mistakes I've seen - advice

    I’ve interviewed about 50 recent grads for various positions over ten years. I only ask people to interview that appear qualified and have other skills that would benefit the organization. The interview itself is really a show. Little things become big.

    Real examples:

    -One very qualified person came in, and while talking, started putting her elbows on my desk and resting her chin on her hands. What she said, I don’t remember. Don’t act casual regardless of how laid back the interviewer is.

    -Too much makeup – one woman came in with so much blue eye shadow (think Mimi from that Drew Carey show) that I couldn’t focus on anything else.

    -People that under dress/ or are inappropriately dressed for the position. It shows your not serious. I know a graphic artist that goes into interviews in jeans, cool tshirt, etc. But that is ok, because that is how everyone dresses in that industry. You can’t go wrong with a suit in pretty much any other scenario. If you really feel overdressed when you get there, take off the jacket.

    -Being unhappy/not excited – I am not looking for an overly happy or a fake-motivation attitude. It is just absolutely surprising to me that people come in and never smile, seem put out, defeatist in a sense. If you are being interviewed you are close! I only call in the top three candidates. If they don’t work out I go down the list. But, some people act like they have no shot.

    -Never, ever be late. Plan time to arrive at least 30 min. to 1 hr before hand. Wait outside. Go to a coffee shop. Go in 5 to 10min before the scheduled time and let them know you are there. Be kind to the receptionist and get your own coffee if offered, or say “no thank you.” I always check with the receptionist after and see what she saw while the person didn’t think they were being evaluated. (factor in such issues as: what if the T breaks down, my car won’t start, etc. Solution: carry cash for a cab.) If you can’t make it on time for the interview than your not going to show up to work on time either.

    You should also look at the work place surroundings, get a feel for your potential new boss and co-workers, look at the general attitudes and little signs around the office about the vibe that is going on.

    Bring something to write on. Its not bad to have notes about the company or possible questions to ask. If your in a group interview, write down each individuals name, as they are seated round the table. At the end, do your best to memorize their names and address them by name when you thank them for their time.

    Clean up your online profiles. Don’t have a public Facebook or MySpace regardless of how clean it is. Create a professional LinkedIn profile even if you have only been a student.

    If you don’t get the job, don’t analyze it too much. Sometimes it comes down to a couple candidates, they both could do it, but its these little things that set you apart. Sometimes we are forced to take an internal candidate. In the end, you will never be told why you didn’t get the job. Sometimes not getting a job you think you want is the best thing that will happen to you. Interviewing is a skill, and you will get better each time.

    Good luck.

  • CouldBU on 09.19.2012 at 8:03 pm

    Interviewing is indeed a skill. I’ve worked in insurance for 15 years and have interviewed for countless jobs. On average, I find that for me, it takes about 10 to 12 interviews before I really start “nailing it.” Once I’m really in the swing of it, tho, I know it’s really just a matter of time before an offer comes along. One other interview quirk that is very often overlooked by candidates is the concept of “fit.” With an advanced degree and substantial professional experience, I’m more than qualified for many of the positions I apply to. Yet I don’t get the offer even though the interview was flawless. Why? In one word, fit. HR and mgrs know their company’s culture. They evaluate a candidates personality, approach [to the position], and character. So while you can certainly do the job and were great in the interview, you may not get the position simply because you may be process oriented, for example, while the prospective employer is outcome oriented. There’s nothing you can do about this; it is what it is. You should also be asking yourself “Do I fit in with this company?” If the answer is “No” and the offer comes along and you accept it, you may be employed, but you will also be miserable. Employers know this, so that’s why you don’t get the offer. In that case, by not making you the offer, the employer actually did you a favor…

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