7 mistakes you might be making before your job interview even happens

Getting a job interview can feel like a great accomplishment in this job market – and it is. But don’t sit back and relax once your interview is scheduled, because what you do before your interview can either pay off enormously or end up hurting you.

Here are seven mistakes that you might be making before your job interview ever happens – and which can bite you when it comes to your interview performance and the impression you make on your interviewer.

1. Not researching the company. Interviewers pay attention to who appears to have done their research and who doesn’t. If you go into your interview not knowing basic facts about the company, it will show. So before your interview, spend some time browsing the employer’s website. Spend 20 minutes learning enough about them that you’re able to speak intelligently about the work they do and how they see themselves.

2. Not looking up your interviewers on LinkedIn. If you spend a few minutes reading your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile, you might find out that you both know Jane Smith or that you were both in the Peace Corps or are both from the same are of Ohio – which is information you probably wouldn’t otherwise have and which can help create a rapport. You also might learn that your interviewer has a special interest or expertise in some particular area of the work you do, which you can then be sure to talk about when you meet.

3. Not checking to see if you have any connections in common.LinkedIn is also great at letting you see what connections your network might have to the company or to your interviewer himself or herself. For example, if you discover that someone in your network used to work at the company or is connected to someone who did, you can then reach out to that person for insight about the company’s culture and key players.

4. Not practicing your answer to common interview questions.Interviewers tend to have some overlap in the questions they ask, and there are some common questions that you should always be prepared for, like: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job (or why did you leave your last job)? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing each of the major responsibilities of the job? If you practice your answers to these questions until your answers flow smoothly off your tongue, you’re generally do significantly better in interviewers than candidates who don’t prepare like this.

5. Not figuring out how you’ll talk about the topics that most worry you.If you’re like most people, there’s a topic you’re hoping won’t come up in the interview – like why you left your last position or why you have so many short-term stays on your resume. Whatever you’re most nervous about, spend some time deciding exactly how you’ll answer it, and then practice that answer over and over. The more you practice it, the more comfortable you’re likely to feel – and the better your answer is likely to be if the topic does come up. And speaking of questions people don’t like to talk about…

6. Not preparing to talk about salary.It’s tough when an interviewer asks you what salary you’re looking for without revealing anything about the range for the position, but it’s highly likely to happen, so that worst thing you can do is not prepare. If you don’t prepare and instead just wing it, you’re far more likely to low-ball yourself or say something that comes back to harm you in salary negotiations later. So make sure that you do salary research ahead of time and come prepared with numbers that the market supports.

7. Not coming up with your own questions for your interviewer.At some point, your interviewer is going to ask you what questions you have for them. This is an important part of the interview – not only because the questions you ask say something about you, but because this is an opportunity to learn about whether this job and this company are right for you or not. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and details of the work and questions about the office culture.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Rin*

    Do you think interviewers would appreciate being looked up on LinkedIn, like, “That person has initiative,” or would they be put off or be suspicious that the interviewee is trying to find something to butter them up falsely? In my opinion, I would understand someone looking me up, but I think I might be creeped out by it. I’m torn…

    1. KerryOwl*

      Are you asking the other commenters? Because it seems pretty clear from Allison’s article that she thinks it looks like a good idea.

      LinkedIn profiles are there to be looked it. I don’t think you should find it “creepy” that someone about to be interacting with you in a business setting is looking at your business profile.

      1. Adam*

        I had the same initial thought to be honest, but it’s probably just my aversion to social media. Alison is very sensible and there’s no way she’d advocate looking up people on LinkedIn if she didn’t think it wasn’t a good idea. Networking and putting your professional self out there is what it’s for. If you didn’t want people to see it you wouldn’t have a profile.

        But my natural reaction was to pause and ponder which I couldn’t help, because in my opinion more general social systems like Facebook and Twitter have gotten somewhat creepy over the years.

        1. Vicki*

          “my natural reaction was to pause and ponder …, because in my opinion more general social systems like Facebook and Twitter …”

          The second half of this sentence is key. LinkedIn is _not_ a “more general social system”. LinkedIn began as and still is a Professional social network, accent on professional. It is entirely appropriate to look someone up in LinkedIn. That’s what LinkedIn is for.

      2. Rin*

        Maybe creeped out wasn’t the right phrase. I was thinking more of the buttering up thing. I wouldn’t want the interviewee to spend time talking about me and therefore detract too much from my determining whether he or she is a good fit for the role. Like I said, I understand why someone would want to look just to see who I am, but writing down specific things to bring up in the interview seems unnecessary. But, while commenting that I worked at this place or went to that school doesn’t matter, mentioning someone in common could.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          It’s just so normal now, I don’t think any reasonable interviewer could perceive it as “trying to butter me up” or anything like that. I look up everyone I meet, interview or not.

    2. BRR*

      I can’t imagine just looking someone up would creep them out. You’re just trying to get a sense of who you are interviewing with (and even seeing a picture helps take the unknown factor out of an interview and can help calm nerves). For instance, for my current position I interviewed with 8 or so people. I got a list of names as part of the schedule but there were no titles. The position would interact differently with each of the people I was interviewing with so it was nice to know ahead of time.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Candidates look me up on LinkedIn all the time before interviews; it’s a pretty normal thing to do. Hell, I look them up too sometimes; why shouldn’t it go both ways? I don’t see anything creepy about it; LinkedIn is a public site intended to be used in exactly this way.

      1. Windchime*

        I am not a hiring manager, but I’m often on the interviewing team and one of the first things I do when I get the resume of the interviewee is to look them up on LinkedIn. They will often notice that I’ve looked viewed their information and they will in turn view mine. I think it’s perfectly legit; it’s someone’s professional information that they have made public so it’s appropriate in my opinion.

    4. Stephanie*

      I think repeated notifications of “Stephanie has viewed your profile” would be pretty creepy.

      1. Stephanie*

        Hit enter too soon! Once to get the info is fine. I figure my interviewer’s looking me up as well.

      2. A Jane*

        If I’m ever worried about someone receiving the linkedin notification, I’ll look up their profile using an incognito browser window. The only challenge is that you’ll get whatever is on their public profile.

        1. Brett*

          Try a google search with their name and site:linkedin.com
          That will hopefully give you a link to their profile. Click the drop down arrow next to the URL in the search result, and one of the options may be “Cached”. If the cached result is there, it should give you their entire profile rather than just their public profile.

        2. Audiophile*

          I look up people all the time and just stay logged out when I do it. I only get concerned because, I use my professional email for LinkedIn and it often suggests I connect with people I’ve usually only emailed once, to send them my resume. So I’ll look at it because in my mind I’m wondering “who’s John Smith?” and I’ll look at their profile once or twice to jog my memory. I usually don’t connect with them, since there seems to be little advantage for either party.

          1. Stephanie*

            I hate how Gmail will add people you’ve emailed twice about a table off Craigslist to your chat.

            1. Audiophile*

              A fellow gmail user!

              This bugs me to no end. Are you talking about it adding people to G+, because that bugs me too!

              I use gmail a lot and have separate addresses – professional one and a personal one. And it does drive me crazy, when LinkedIn will suggest I connect with someone I emailed 6 months to a year ago. I don’t remember them, unless I met with them and even still I wouldn’t request to connect with them.

          2. CC*

            LinkedIn keeps asking me to let it search through my email contacts so it can “help” me find people on the site. Facebook does that too.

            NO. WAY.

            I’m not giving any organization the password to my email account except the organization that *provides* said email account.

            Or any other password, for that matter.

            1. James M*

              Linkedin is NOT asking for your password. They’re just nagging you for access to your email contacts (it annoys me too). Honestly, do you think there wouldn’t be a deafening hullabaloo if they were trolling for actual passwords?

              1. Persephone Mulberry*

                MY problem with this is that if you allow LI to access your contacts, it automatically sends invite requests to the people who aren’t already on LI.

                1. Audiophile*

                  I’ve never had this happen. I’ve had it suggest contacts and then ASK me if I wanted to invite people who weren’t on LinkedIn. Usually said people are already on LinkedIn, but the email address that’s been sourced is a personal one not connected to a LinkedIn account.

                2. Persephone Mulberry*

                  Ah, good to know – I have never done the address book thing because I didn’t want to be that annoying person. I will go back to being annoyed with the people who click YES instead of blaming LI. :)

              2. CC*

                I must be missing something then.

                How does it access my contacts contained in my email account, without accessing my email account? And how does it access my email account without my password?

                Because my email provider should not be handing out my contact list to people who don’t have my password.

    5. Morgan*

      I intentionally look up interviewers so they will see that I looked them up and maybe click on my linkedin in return. I look at my linked in as a more detailed version of my resume with a little more insight into my personality and interests, so I like “tricking” interviewers into noticing my linkedin.

    6. May*

      Well my significant other once looked up his interviewer (not just on LinkedIn, but their overall internet presence), and then proceeded to creep the interviewer out by mentioning a specific comment he made on a blog post years ago. So… don’t do that. :)
      But mentioning something on their LinkedIn sounds pretty safe

    7. KrisL*

      I think looking someone up so you’re prepared is different from looking someone up and making personal comments about the person. The second one might be a little iffy.

  2. MM*

    I wouldn’t mention looking them up. If they are savvy they will know you did. At the same time, you might creep them out (especially the opposite sex) if you bring it up during the interview.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Why would saying something like “I saw you went to Penn State” or “I saw you worked on the team responsible for XYZ” creep them out?

      1. Adam*

        I think it’s the general weirdness and stigma that social media in general has these days and how people can use it in bizarre ways. But LinkedIn exists for a very specific purpose and you don’t put anything on there you wouldn’t be fine with others knowing about. If someone did find the fact you looked at their profile creepy they probably haven’t thought the concept through very thoroughly I’m guessing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that falls under the category of “there’s an interviewer out there who will have a weird reaction to anything, but it shouldn’t control your decisions in general.”

    2. CollegeAdmin*

      Depends how you phrase it, and how big of a detail it was.

      “I happened to notice on LinkedIn that you also went to XYZ College.” = fine

      “I went through all 47 of your groups and saw your comment on a March 2010 post about ABC! You’re a great writer!” = weird and creepy

      “I noticed that you worked with Wakeen Williams a few years ago – he currently works with me at Teapot Corp and is a great coworker!” = fine

      “I played ‘6 degrees of separation’ with our LinkedIn contacts – it turns out that you know Jane Jackson who knows Sally Smith who knows Bob Bangerhouse who went to high school with my ex-boyfriend!” = weird and creepy

  3. Leah*

    Is there a gracefully way to say, “I tried looking for more information about you, but there’s next to nothing online?” I recently interviewed at an organization and their website is incredibly barebones. The only other info I could find on them was their 990s (non-profit tax filings) which was somewhat helpful because my position would have involved finances. In each of the interviews, I got contradictory information about what the position would entail on a day-to-day basis as well as contradictory takes on how the organization worked. One interviewer seemed annoyed that I didn’t know their internal structure, which seems unreasonable since the only employee mentioned on the website is the executive director.

    This probably means that I’m better off not getting stuck trying to placate opposing viewpoints from the three people I’d report to but I’m wondering how to handle it in the future in an initial interview so I don’t appear unprepared.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t say any version of “I tried looking for more information about you, but there’s next to nothing online” about a specific person — but about a company, sure. For instance: “I had trouble finding much about the company online. Are there materials you might give me that would tell me more about your business, company structure, and so forth?” But only if you’re genuinely interested and want that stuff; don’t ask that just so it looks like you tried.

      It’s when the info is easily available and people don’t have it that it looks like bad preparation.

  4. Beth Anne*

    I totally struggle with asking questions at the end of interviewers. I never know what to ask. I’m a really easy-going person and have never worked in an office where I didn’t get along with my co-workers or the office culture.

    1. Kay*

      That’s where you pull out questions about how your success will be measured and whatnot. Ask about their management style and things not necessarily because you can’t get along with a variety of styles, but it can be helpful to know anyway.

    2. Adam*

      Like you I’m a pretty easy-going person, and it’s really rare I have a direct conflict with co-workers or management. But I’ve come to find that culture is still an important thing to ask about as while people rarely have a problem with me, I still find culture and management styles are important things to get a bead on, as in my recent jobs I didn’t really touch on those and there are some executive level attitudes and other culture/office norms I REALLY wish I’d been clued in about before I signed on the dotted line.

      Your mileage may vary of course and there’s probably no foolproof way to go about it, but consider looking at it this way: you’re probably looking for a job you can hold for at least a year or two, so essentially you’re starting a relationship. Do you want to be “in a relationship” with this job for that long? Hope that helps!

    3. OliviaNOPE*

      The easiest questions to ask are “What are the biggest challenges facing the person who will take on this role?” and “What would you like to see this person accomplish in say, the first 90 days of this role?” I always make sure to ask them what their favorite part about working for X Company is, too. If they struggle to come up with something, it’s very telling.

      1. Tzippy*

        I always ask at least one (usually all) of those too, because I always want to know those things for any position. If they don’t know the answer to any of those I think it’s pretty telling (I once had an interviewer that struggled to answer all 3)

    4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Just think about what you actually want to know (within reason)! I want to know what the major projects and responsibilities are, who my manager will be and what they are like, how I will know if I’m succeeding or failing, etc.

    5. Blue Anne*

      In addition to the stuff other posters have mentioned, I’ve also started asking:

      1. Do you have any concerns about my fit for the role that I can address?
      2. Thinking about the people who you’ve seen in this position before, what has set the people who were fantastic at their job apart from the people who were just fine?

      I think I found both on here. It’s been SUPER useful to both me and my interviewers, I think. I just landed a big new job, and I’m starting out with a great tip about what my priorities should be thanks to question #2. :)

      1. Ali*

        I struggle with questions at the end of interviews too. There have been times where I have had questions planned, then when the interviewer asks I’m like ummm….I had some but I can’t remember them! So embarrassing…

      2. Audiophile*

        I’ve never asked the concerns question, well because I’m usually concerned. I’m concerned that it will turn the interviewer off or that I won’t really be able to adequately address their concerns.

        1. E.R*

          I’ve actually found this question to be really useful and is always the most interesting. But I approach it softly, rather than “what can i do to get you in this car today?” – like. I mean, if you truly can’t address their concerns, you will know that you probably don’t have much of a shot getting the job. But the interviewer often brings up things that are easy misunderstandings to correct, or things I need to think about, but can include in my follow-up email.

          If anyone receives every receives an answer to this question that beats “I dont have concerns about your experience, but I just dont like you and I dont think anyone else would like you either” I would like to hear it. Because that happened once, too.

            1. E.R*

              Haha, I didn’t either. I think I said something like, “well I’ve never had a problem with being liked before, but thanks for letting me know.” and never, ever followed up. Thats the only time I haven’t written a follow up/ thank you note for an interview in my life. Good story, though.

              1. 22dncr*

                Had a very similar thing. The guy who would’ve been my boss (in FL) said: “I don’t like you but you’re the only one I’ve seen with the qualifications we need and I think the team here (in TX) will like you.” Yeah, I jumped on that job – HA!

        2. Blue Anne*

          I was worried about that at first, but I went ahead and asked it anyway. Having asked it a couple times now, I think it actually makes me come off as really confident. It gives you a chance to address any misunderstandings, but it also says “I have no problem asking for feedback, and I’m sure I’ll be able to address any issues.”

          If it turns out you’re NOT able to address an issue they bring up, well, that might be useful information for you about your fit?

      3. Rat Racer*

        I also like the question “What type of person really struggles to fit in on this team/in this organization?”

        I found the answers to these questions to be very revealing. At my previous job, the answer was “People who don’t have thick skin.”
        Note to self: when someone confides that to you in an interview it means “The boss is a vindictive nightmare who will gleefully rip you to shreds in public.”

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          My go-to questions are “what kind of person does well in this role?” and “what is a typical day in this position like?” But anything related to the actual job is better than no questions.

          Interviewers take no questions to mean “I will literally take any job; I haven’t thought about whether this is a good fit and I don’t care, as long as my paychecks don’t bounce.” This is true even if they are the 7th person to interview you that day (I work in software, and an all-day interview where you talk to lots of people is common), in which case I think it’s possible that the first 6 people covered what you wanted to know.

    6. Meg Murry*

      I’ve gotten a good feel for the culture by turning one of the interview questions back on the interviewer “so what drew you initially to ABC Corp, and is it still applicable?” Or “what do you like best about working here at XYZ?” or if the interviewer gives you their backstory (or you see it on linked in) “what drew you to LMN from QWERTY?”
      Its interesting to see whether your future boss starts talking about work-life balance, or the benefits package, or the prestige/high visibility deals he works on, or what.

  5. Brett*

    As an interviewer, I am comfortable with an applicant connecting with me on LinkedIn even.

    That allows me to see your full profile, which is helpful. Also, on occasion, when an applicant was not a good fit for our position I was able to point them to a position with us or another organization that was a good fit for them. LinkedIn makes it easy to get this information to them (for complicated reasons sunshine law reasons, emailing them is not actually appropriate in that situation).

    And really, if being connected to you makes me uncomfortable after the interview, I can always drop you as a connection. In that situation, a poor interview did far more damage than a LinkedIn connection anyway.

  6. Fabulously Anonymous*

    Someone once told me that practicing answers to commonly asked questions was “cheating.” I never did ask why.

    1. Adam*

      How did this person study for exams in school? It’s like a twisted riddle from Alice in Wonderland.

      1. Blue Anne*

        When I was 10 or 12, I thought that checking your answers in the time you had left on an exam was cheating. It came up in conversation with my mom and she was horrified, and once she’d corrected me it seemed obvious.

        I guess if someone’s just overly conscientious and has never had it questioned….

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      My current boss seems to think like this. When I interviewed he asked “Did you look up these questions beforehand?” (all of them being bog-standard “tell me about a time when” questions), and when I said no and sounded slightly confused, he amended it with “You just seem really prepared. Like you studied.”

      Is that….a bad thing!??!

      1. Adam*

        I guess that’s the trick. In most cases you want to sound natural and flowing, like you’re having a conversation, rather than sounding like you’re giving a rehearsed speech.

        Or maybe your interviewer just had low expectations based on previous experience with interviewing candidates?

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I can 99% guarantee that judging by the other candidates for the job, he was just surprised that I turned up and could speak eloquently.

    3. Stephanie*

      Ok, weird. College friends who were aiming for management consulting post-graduation would study cases and case interviewing a while before recruiting season.

  7. Brett*

    If you ever do a public sector interview, #7 (preparing your own questions) is extremely important. Particularly in the phone screen or first round of interviews, as a public sector interviewer I cannot go off script. I cannot ask you extra questions except as follow-ups. If I skip questions, it has to be justified. So, your one chance to get additional information or expose us to qualifications outside the questions we ask is to ask us questions.

    The second or later rounds allow more flexibility, but those initial screening interviews do not.

  8. TotesMaGoats*

    Less than 2 hours to my phone interview and the only thing I hadn’t done was look them up on Linked In. Interesting that only one of the committee was on LI.

  9. Morgan*

    I just made the salary question mistake in an otherwise promising interview that I’ve been waiting to hear back from. I’ve never been asked about salery before so I think I inadvertently low-balled myself.

    1. Audiophile*

      I always struggle with this myself. I was asked to write down my salary after my interview and I had an internal debate for a few minutes. I’m waiting to hear as well.

  10. Anonypants*

    Oh man, I made all of these mistakes when I was younger. These seem so obvious now, but either no one told me to do those things or I didn’t listen when they did.

  11. Sharm*

    I’ll admit it, I try to look up people on LI without actually clicking on their profiles. I feel really weird that I’ll show up on their “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” list. You’ve all made convincing cases for why I should get over this, but I don’t know if I can!

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      You can change that setting:

      Hover on your profile picture in the top left
      Select Account & Settings
      Under Privacy Controls (center of the page) click on “Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile.”

      You can have your name & photo, title/industry/location only, or “completely anonymous.”

      1. Sharm*

        Ha, the problem is, I’d like to see who views MY profile! I can’t have it both ways, I know.

  12. Sharm*

    Another question, for Alison or anyone else still reading — what’s the best way to research a company’s website if you aren’t in their industry? Say you’re looking at the same job function, but can’t speak easily to the patterns of their industry, business cycles, common goals, and so forth. How do you avoid looking dumb but also presumptuous that a few web searches can inform you of what the work is really like?

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