5 interview mistakes you can easily avoid

If you’re interviewing for jobs, you know the feeling of kicking yourself for hours after an interview because you flubbed an answer or got the interviewer’s name wrong. But no one is perfect, and most interviewers don’t expect candidates to give perfect interviews. However, there are some interviewing mistakes that are easily avoidable, and which you can navigate away from with just a little bit of thought.

Here are five interview mistakes that you can avoid if you know about them ahead of time.

1. Not preparing. This is probably the number one mistakes most job candidates make: They show up for the interview without thoroughly preparing in the days before. Preparation doesn’t mean a quick skim of the job description and a glance at the employer’s website; it means at least several hours spent thinking through likely questions and practicing your answers to them, as well as thinking back on specific examples you can pull from your past to illustrate how you’ve excelled in previous jobs.

2. Not researching your interviewer. A quick glance on LinkedIn might give you advance warning that your interviewer used to work with that old boss who hated you, meaning you won’t be caught off guard if asked about it in the interview. Or simply reading your interviewer’s bio on the company website might tip you off that she has a background in the software you used to work with and you might get a lot of questions on that.

3. Being late. You might think that you’re playing it safe by leaving for your interview a few minutes earlier than you need to. But hit a traffic accident, and that buffer will fly out the window, and you could end up arriving late for your appointment. When you’re heading out to an interview, it’s smart to give yourself a huge buffer – meaning an hour or so – because it’s nearly impossible to recover from being late for an interview. You can always kill the extra time in your car or a nearby coffee shop if you arrive early.

4. Wearing the wrong outfit. In most industries, you should wear a suit to a job interview. (I.T. is sometimes, but not always an exception.) It doesn’t matter if your interviewers are more casually dressed themselves; wearing a suit, as the candidate, is still typically an expected convention. But aside from picking out the right clothes, you also need to make sure that you look polished and groomed – that your clothes fit you well, that your hair is neat and in place, that your makeup is professional and not heavy-handed. And it’s also key that you feel comfortable in whatever you’re wearing; you don’t want to be constantly adjusting your neckline or fidgeting with your cuffs.

5. Not being ready to talk about salary.Job seekers are often more uncomfortable with conversations about salary than anything else, and as a result, they often don’t prepare for how they’ll handle questions about it. This is a huge disservice to yourself! If salary does come up and you try to wing it, you’re likely to end up with less money in your offer than if you were prepared. So don’t leave it to employers to manage salary discussions for you; do your research and thinking ahead of time so that you can field salary questions confidently.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Victoria HR*

    Great tips!

    I’m a big proponent of LinkedIn. I always look up my interviewer on LI if I know their name ahead of time, and if not, I can look up HR at that company and probably figure it out. I, for one, get emails weekly of who looked at my profile. If I saw that a prospective job candidate viewed my profile before the interview, I would be impressed.

  2. the gold digger*

    Not researching your interviewer.

    An interviewer last summer said in his linkedin profile that he was in charge of all “corporate highers.” I got the immediate sense this would not end well and I was correct.

    When I told him I had gone to high school in the Panama Canal Zone, he said, “I like Florida a lot!”

    I did not get an offer.

  3. clobbered*

    I always do the “turn up early and go to the coffee shop” for any unmissable appointments. I would add “and bring a spare shirt”, because somebody can jostle you and you can end up with latte down your shirt.

    It also means I am sufficiently caffeinated to turn down offers of coffee at the interview, thus reducing the risk of coffee-down-shirt even further.

    Yeah I am a klutz….

    1. Jamie*

      Me too. Leaving the house make sure I have keys, phone, and Tide to Go.

      One other little tip for the IT job seekers – carry extra copies of your resume on paper, not a flash drive. I know we hate paper – but it’s a bad message that you think the employer is sloppy enough to allow just anyone’s flash drive onto their system. Infected people, never know they are infected, after all.

      1. Josh S*

        Jamie–an IT-ish idea for you to go along with your “SCREAMING” flash drive idea that you had a while back.

        Find a way to make a USB connector/cord/dongle (male-female) that serves as an antivirus/antimalware screen between an unknown USB drive and a computer that you’d like to protect. Kills auto-run, screens any file transferred for malware, etc etc.

        That way, you can plug one end into your computer, and feel relatively ‘safe’ plugging in an unknown USB drive to your machine.

        You could call it the USB Condom.

  4. Chaucer*

    I like to leave all my interview clothes on hangers near the front door the night before an interview, including socks and belt. I’ll never forget having to put some serious moves that would make Mario Andretti proud when I realized I was wearing white socks on the drive to an interview. If those are the last things you see in your house/apartment before you leave, it’s very unlikely that you’ll forget something.

  5. Texasroseinok*

    My blunder was allowing the interviewer to gain my age…..thus realizing I’m not as young as I look.

    After quite a bit of talk on various subjects, my work ethic, a question was asked regarding my child care. Instead of stopping with ‘I don’t have child care issues’……I added ‘My son is XX years old and quite self sufficient’……which in turn caused jaws to drop because it then became obvious, I’m not that far from retiring—if I wanted to.

    I realize those types of questions are illegal, and I should have skirted it….but it came during a very relaxed, friendly conversation and slipped out.

  6. LPBB*

    I’ve never thought about looking my interviewer up on LinkedIn, in my most recent interview I had no idea who was going to be at that interview and no way to find out.

    Since we’re on the topic of interviewing, I’m wondering if anyone can provide a little perspective on my most recent interview. I freely admit that I did not do a good job of preparing for it, but it seemed a little odd. I’m used to interviews almost as conversations, which this….wasn’t.

    When I showed up, I was presented with a list of questions and told someone would be with me shortly. I looked at the list and started trying to formulate responses, but I also anticipated that there would be preliminary conversation that would provide a little context to the questions. When the interview started I was told to answer the questions in any order I wanted and after I finished the hiring manager would tell me about the job and workplace.

    There was one question in particular that as soon as the hiring manager began telling me about the workplace I understood the underlying concern that prompted that question and realized my answer had done nothing to address it. During my portion of the interview, I had tried to clarify an earlier question so I could get a better idea of what they were looking for, but the manager essentially restated the question, so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to do that with the rest of them.

    I recognize that this approach cuts down on the chance that a candidate will just tell you what you want to hear, but it also seems to cut down on the chance that the candidate will actually be able to make a case for themselves. I tried giving specific examples in my answers, but it’s tough when you don’t know if they’re asking about Situation X or Situation Y. Like I said though, I’m only blaming myself for not preparing and rehearsing as thoroughly as possible.

    Should I be expecting this approach more in the future? And if so, does anyone have any tips on how to shine and/or suss out what these questions are trying to get at so I can more fully answer them?

    1. Victoria HR*

      That’s an odd way to do the interview – they must be trying to cut down on interviewer bias as much as possible. I don’t really know what to tell you on that, it sounds like you handled it fine.

    2. Anonymous*

      Was it a governmental job? Some governmental agencies have a set of questions that they ask everyone and they don’t deviate (because deviation would be “unfair”) ever for any reason and giving the job information before hand would be deviation from the script. I’m not sure what this is supposed to do but I can say that it is the way HR or possibly a legislative body dictated the interviewer run the interview.

      1. LPBB*

        This was a job with an organization run by the county government, so that’s probably the answer.

        That makes sense, in a way, but I’m still not sure that it’s the most effective way to interview. At least now I’m prepared if it happens again!

  7. Good_Intentions*


    I’m sorry to learn of your confusing interview experience. It’s such a shame when interviewers make it nearly impossible for the applicant to get a good feel for the position as the beginning and throughout the interview. Still, I wish you luck.

    Recently, I had a very similar experience with an interview at a small nonprofit.

    My interviewer, who works part-time as a city council member, insisted on using a fixed set of 10 questions with vague wording that were all about character and previous jobs, rather than anything the specific position might entail. Prior to coming in for the interview, I had to complete four open-ended essay style questions that included “describe your network in [blank] county” and ended with the a request for my salary range.

    I thought I did well until I started asking specific questions regarding the time line for the position’s programs. Then, without prompting from me, the interviewer told me that a “large cross section” of applicants were being interviewed and that I would receive a call from either him or HR the following week. I am uncertain of what that means.

    Well, I have another interview, so it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t come through.

    Best of luck to all of us confused job seekers out there.

  8. some1*

    I’d like to add that it’s not a bad idea to do a trial-run the business day before the interview *especially* if you are going to be relying on public transportation. If you are relying on public transport, I would say give yourself an hour *minimum* and bring cab fare just in case. Buses and trains can break down with no notice.

    Many years ago I was a temp and my agency sent me to a building I was sure I knew where it was and how to get there on the bus. Turns out the bus route was re-routed due to construction, and I went to the wrong building anyway, but showed up at the correct building only ten minutes late, luckily they didn’t hold it against me.

    Also have to reiterate not to show up to your interview more than 15 minutes early. When I was a receptionist, there was nothing more awkward than getting grilled &/or stared at by a nervous applicant for 1/2 an hour (or longer). Also, a lot of offices are set up to accomadate visitors for long waits. I have worked places where reception didn’t even have a seat. Plus, it makes you look like the kind of employee who doesn’t know what to do with him or herself; like you’d be the kind of employee who would sit at your desk and stare at the wall after you were done with a task, instead of asking for another one.

    1. Seal*

      I would say 15 minutes early is still too early; at least 5 but no more than 10 minutes early is more reasonable. That’s enough time to review your notes or check your email on your mobile device (but make sure to turn it off when you’re done!) without becoming awkward for everyone involved.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – no more than 10 minutes early and for the love of all that is holy follow this advice:

        “(but make sure to turn it off when you’re done!)”

        Do not allow your cell to ring during an interview. If you forget and it does, then be mortified as you turn it off.

  9. jesicka309*

    I have a question regarding getting there early – quit often I am coming straight from work during my lunchbreak, or after work. I have no possible way of leaving work any earlier most times, especially when I’m squeezing an interview into my lunchbreak. My work is NOT flexible with lunchtimes, and can be flexible with finishes, though I’ve probably used up all my goodwill there.
    How can I explain to the interviewers when making my interview times that while 6 pm is fine, I will be rushing there straight from work after 5.30 and my arrival time is completely dependant on traffic? And I couldn’t leave earlier if I wanted to? Or explaining that I’ve actually squeezed the interview into my lunchbreak and I must be on my way by 1.50 to get to wor on time or face demerits?
    It’s like my job is actively preventing me from seeking alternative employment…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. You can’t really tell them that your arrival time is completely dependent on traffic, because they’re probably scheduling a specific time slot for the interview and have things planned for afterward. You could say that traffic could make you 5-10 minutes late and ask if that’s okay since you can’t leave work earlier, but I don’t think you can really be later than that with most interviewers, even clearing it beforehand.

      Could you schedule an early morning interview instead?

      1. jesicka309*

        I can always try, but I’ve rarely heard of this being done in Australia (my country). I work in the city, so it would be unusual for most people to be in the office before 8.30 – I can always try though.
        I will say the 5-10 minute thing, but I am definitely going to make sure they know I am coming straight from work to them, so if I am a smidge late, they at least won’t be tapping their foot going “where the hell are they?” though being late at all is the biggest pain ever. :(

  10. Teresa Danielson*

    Is checking a Interviewers LinkedIn profile rude or weird? I just don’t want to cross any personal privacy boundaries and screw things up before I’ve even met the person.

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