are you turning off your interviewer without realizing it?

Smart employers don’t expect job candidates to be perfectly polished interviewees, but some turn-offs that might seem minor on your end can be deal-breakers on the employer’s end. Here are five common ways that candidates turn off their interviewers without even realizing it.

1. Not speaking in specifics. Interviewers are trying to understand exactly what you’ve accomplished in the past and how you operate. If your answers are overly vague, you’re going to make it very hard for them to assess whether you’re the right fit for the job. For example, there’s a big difference between “I know a ton about online marketing” and “In my last role, I headed up our online marketing team and was responsible for increasing our social media engagement by 40%. I did that by…” Who would you be more interested in hiring?

2. Rambling or being too longwinded. Giving long, rambling answers can signal that you’re not able to organize your thoughts well and convey information reasonably quickly – and it can be annoying for an interviewer who has a number of questions to get through and limited time to do it. In some cases, being overly longwinded can also signal that you don’t pick up on conversational cues; if your interviewer is looking impatient or disengaged or rushing you through an answer, it might be a sign that you need to shorten your answers. Pay attention to time cues, too; if your interviewer tells you at the start of the conversation that she has 45 minutes and a lot of questions to ask, that means that you shouldn’t spend 10 minutes answering the first question.

Of course, you don’t want to go to the opposite extreme and give answers so short that they’re not helpful. If you’re unsure, you can also ask, “Did that give you what you’re looking for, or would you like me to talk more in-depth about this?”

3. Not understanding the basics of what the organization does or the job itself. Obviously you can’t be expected to know every detail as an outsider, and some job ads are frustratingly vague, but if you seem to lack basic knowledge that was in the job posting or available on the company’s website, you’ll come across as unprepared and disengaged. When I interview someone who asks me basic questions that were answered on our website, I assume they’ll be an employee who isn’t terribly resourceful or self-sufficient.

4. Playing coy about questions you don’t want to answer. Sometimes job candidates try to avoid talking about subjects that they worry will be unflattering, like why they left their last job or whether they’ve ever been fired. But most experienced interviewers can see right through attempts to avoid direct answers, and you can end up looking evasive or disingenuous. You’re usually going to come across far better if you own whatever the answer is and present it confidentially and without defensiveness. If an interviewer has to dig and dig to get an answer, you could end up looking untrustworthy.

5. Minimizing or dismissing concerns about your fit for the job. This is a tough one for many people, because job seekers are typically told to sell themselves for the job they’re interviewing for – but good interviewers don’t want to be sold; they want to have an open discussion about your fit for the job. If an interviewer notes that you haven’t had much experience with a crucial part of the job, she’s looking for a candid conversation with you about how much of an obstacle that’s likely to be. Or if an interviewer expresses a concern about the fact that you’d be moving from a very casual culture to a much more buttoned-up one, he’s seeking a real discussion of the likely challenges with such a transition. If you brush off these concerns without really engaging with your interviewer about them, you’re not likely to resolve the concern; you’re just likely to make your interviewer worry that you don’t quite grasp why the concern matters.

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

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. YandO*

    I think the advice is spot on.

    I do have a caveat. You say “good interviewer” but what if your interviewer is bad? I am not in a position to dismiss a job because the internal recruiter or some random director is not good at interviewing people. They may not be my direct manager or even in my department. So they ask irrelevant questions or don’t ask follow up questions or ramble on themselves.

    Good interviewers are few and far between. It’s a lot easier to interview well when the person on the other side knows what they are doing.

      1. Steve G*

        Eeeww I need this. Have interview at 3:00 and I keep getting thrown off by #1 and #2 (non-prepared and no-questions interviewer). Thank you

  2. hayling*

    I once interviewed this woman who was so long-winded and distractable that I felt like she hijacked the interview! I cringed at the thought of actually having to work with her, which pretty much sealed her fate.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

      Did you interview me once?

      I had one, really, really, really bad interview because I had not slept the night before. I was wired on coffee and…wow, it was beyond horrible. I couldn’t stop myself from talking, even when the look on the panel’s faces was so clearly, “please just stop. Now.”

      I walked out of the interview and was just like, I so completely and utterly blew this.

        1. voluptuousfire*

          LOL. One of my favorite movies. :) I had seen that so many times that when in a college film course, my professor showed this scene and I was the only person who was able to understand Spud’s ramblings.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

          I like to think I at least provided the panel with an interesting story ;)

          It was just so bad. My brain was sending the “shut up! shut up! shut up!” signal and mouth just wouldn’t stop. It was like a bad SNL skit.

          1. ElCee*

            Oh gosh. Been there. Phone interview, though, so at least I was spared what must have been a look of deep chagrin on the poor interviewer’s face.

      1. Aunt Betty*

        I did that once. Not wired on coffee, but asked the one question I hadn’t rehearsed an answer for in advance (and really should’ve; it was about IT in a librarian interview and I should’ve expected it). I started out, “Oh, uh. Technology. Hmm. I like technology…” and it went downhill from there. The board kept staring at me, my mouth kept going, my brain was yelling “shut up shut up shut up!!!” but my mouth would not listen. I did not get the job. (But it was good interview experience, so not a total loss.)

      2. Rachel*

        Thank you for sharing this! It made me laugh out loud. I’m unemployed and job searching right now, and it’s nice to step back and laugh once in a while and know we all make mistakes :) It can be a heavy process.

    2. LadyHope*

      Someone I work with now is like this. Often times in meetings, the person conducting the meeting is also taking notes or minutes. If there is a pause as they copy down the info she just shared, she will repeat it to fill the silence. And if there’s more silence she will fill it. By repeating what she just said. Because sometimes there are these pauses in meeting where no one is saying anything and if she was the last person to talk she keeps talking. And repeating what she said in case you missed it the first 4 times. So the silence that happens sometimes in meetings gets filled with her talking…. as everyone in the meeting sprains their eyeballs by rolling them so hard because she just won’t shut up!

    3. Graciosa*

      What really irritates me about this is when it happens after I specify how much time the candidate has to answer the question (“Give us a sixty-second overview of X” or “Tell us in two to three minutes about Y”).

      Here’s a hint: if I specified the amount of time available to answer the question, an answer that takes up more than four times that amount is too long.

    4. Windchime*

      We interviewed an internal candidate who was like this. She seemed like a nice person and could probably have been the job, but she pontificated and over-answered everything. She just went on and on and on and on. I think it took her 10 minutes to answer one question. Despite this, a couple of team members wanted to hire her but I really pushed back. I could just imagine her yakking her head off all day long while people were trying to work. Ugh. We didn’t end up making her an offer.

  3. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    Here’s one that turns me off — when I co-interview a candidate with another colleague, and the candidate only bothers to address one of us.

    Because, seriously, if every time I ask you a technical question, your head swivels around to face the male in the room to answer it, you’ve pretty much screwed yourself for good. Especially when I’m the senior or more technical interviewer.

    Basically you’d better check your biases at the door. And they’re more obvious than you might think.

    1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

      Oh, here’s another good one I got once — candidate made disparaging comments about “users over 30” not being able to understand how to use technology. Um, dude, I’m 44 and I’d be your boss.

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        And I clearly can’t use quotation marks properly, so maybe I am washed up after all!

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

      I used to watch for this a lot in group interviews with my team. I was always so shocked when one of my staff would ask a question, and the candidate would barely acknowledge them and look directly at me to give the answer.

      I’m like, these are the people you are going to be interacting with on a daily basis, not just me. Their opinion carries way more weight than mine.

    3. AMG*

      Amazing how much this happens. I like to just let it go and play out to see exactly how bad they can make it for themselves.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m curious if , when this happens, the rest of the interviewers were introduced to the candidate properly? or did they just sort of file into the room and sit down quietly. That’s happened to me before

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

          I used to have my team go around and introduce themselves (name, title, years with the company). I also would provide the names of all the people they would be interviewing with in the interview information.

          But yes, I have heard horror stories of panels not introducing themselves or just having 1-2 random people in the room who never get introduced, so you don’t know why they are there.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Even if they weren’t introduced, as an interviewee, I would address the person who asked the question. You really can’t go wrong doing that.

          1. Sara*

            I usually start off looking at the person who asked the question, but I do try to make eye contact with other members of the panel as I respond.

    4. Connie-Lynne*

      I was in an interview the other day where the dude (who was also senior) answered all of my questions, at least twice stepping on the lady interviewer’s responses. As an interviewee, I made a point of waiting for him to finish and then saying something along the lines of “Ladyinterviewer, I noticed you start to answer, what did you have to add?”

      Dude clearly wasn’t being a know-it-all, he was just unaware of his privilege in being always the first one to answer. And, I really did want to hear the lady’s answers.

      I’d still work there.

    5. AnonForThisOne*

      We recently interviewed a candidate where his responses to MY questions were directed toward my very-junior male interviewing partner. He shook my hand and was polite enough, but his bias was pretty obvious. The hiring manager opted to hire him and he recently started work. He will say hello but seems uncomfortable around me and the other female employee in our group and goes to male coworkers when he has issues rather than asking me, even though I have the longest tenure in this group and am known as a SME.

      We’ll see what happens, I guess. I hope he gets past his bias.

      1. Graciosa*

        I had the opposite problem once – the candidate was very rude to the older male hiring manager, but much nicer to me. It seemed to be a power struggle / challenge thing and apparently I did not appear to be a threat.

        But the outcome was still that neither of us were willing to hire him.

      2. No Longer Passing By*

        Why was he even hired?? Ugh! When I see this happen during interviews, I just don’t hire the candidate. If you can’t work with my whole team, it’s not going to work

    6. Michele*

      As a woman in STEM, I have seen that happen. When we compare notes on candidates, we also pay attention to if the interviewee was rude or aggressive toward the women that they dealt with. Recently, we had one candidate that all of the men liked, but all of the women felt that he was really abrasive and didn’t listen to them. He did not get an offer.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think you’re right but I suspect Alison doesn’t have editing powers on an outside website.

  4. Allison*

    I’m guilty of going to an interview and not even remembering the title of the job I was interviewing for (“uhh, the co-op job . . .”), never mind the name of the person I was supposed to ask for at reception. This happened at least once, probably a few times, and it just didn’t naturally occur to me that I should remember those details. I know better now!

  5. Althea*

    Yes! Number one happens *so* often. If your only answer to the question is, “Yes, I did that a lot when I worked at Teapots, Inc.” then you shouldn’t even bother with that sentence. Skip right to, “Once, when I was working at Teapots, Inc, I had to do X and I produced Y results.” If you have to say that exact thing over and over again, do it! So much better than boilerplate answers.

    I’ve gotten better at jumping on phrases that I’m sure have a story behind them. “Ah, you just mentioned that you don’t like ‘negativity’ in the workplace. Can you tell me about the workplace you have in mind when you mentioned it? What sort of negativity was it and how did you handle it?” It’s hard, though, particularly on the fly. Makes me respect good interviewers more – the people who can draw out the information even with a candidate who likes their boilerplate.

    1. No Longer Passing By*

      Ha! I did that in an interview and the candidate went on and on about not liking people and needing to be treated with respect because she wanted to be treated as an equal. That was in response to my attempt to clarify what she meant about negativity. Of course nothing wrong with wanting to be treated as an equal so I asked for clarification (although the first part of the question already said enough). Her response: she doesn’t need anyone to tell her what to do. She hates when people try to instruct her. She can figure it out herself and doesn’t want anyone to act like they know more than her or are better than her. “Equals!” She then growled loudly. I quickly ushered the candidate, who was interviewing for receptionist position and who was a new college grad who just couldn’t find a job over a year after graduating, out the door. Oh, and she was not dressed business appropriate. At. All. Oh, and she told me that she was on limited time and needed to leave soon.

      As I didn’t need a receptionist who didn’t like people, didn’t know appropriate business attire, and wouldn’t follow instructions, I felt that 10 minutes was enough time to conclude the interview.

  6. Kristine*

    I was also guilty of Number 1. I had internalized a viewpoint (from a toxic workplace) that my work was basic enough that anyone could do it, which made my self esteem dive when I couldn’t do everything right. As a result, in an interview I struggled to articulate my accomplishments, because I felt like a failure. I defaulted onto listing my responsibilities instead.

    (I also completely flubbed the “tell me about yourself/how you got here” question. Same interview. I shudder at this now, but my answer included what must have felt like a geography lesson.)

  7. stellanor*

    After doing a dozen phone interviews in two weeks, two protips interviewees apparently need:

    When I have carefully scheduled a time for our phone interview, please make sure that at that time 1. you are in a quiet place where you can take a phone call, and 2. your phone is turned on.

  8. hbc*

    Oh, man, the dodging. If I ask you what part of this job you’ll find the most challenging, I’m not asking you to admit that you suck–I’m looking for some self-awareness and maybe even how your on-boarding will look. It doesn’t even have to be hard to be the hard*est* or your least favorite thing.

    I know people are scared of traps, but there are ways to answer this without shooting yourself in the foot. “Oh, man, I hate computers, can’t stand the things, I avoid them when possible” = bad. “New programs come slowly to me, but I get there while taking tons of notes. Once I’ve got it, I’m solid, though” = good.

  9. Richard*

    #3 is definitely cringe-worthy, but happens way too often when interviewing interns or other first-timers. I give some allowances if I think the interview setup was rushed, and they couldn’t have time to check us out or think about it. If they applied weeks before or had a week to prepare for the interview, though, I shouldn’t have to explain to them what the company is.

    On #2 – In our round-table discussion after talking to one guy, the management interviewer summed it up: “You’d ask him how he was doing, and he’d start with ‘About 4 billion years ago, the Earth cooled….’ and wouldn’t stop til he got to today.” Also memorable, even after 20 years, because it’s the only time I’ve been asked by the police to provide an alibi for an interviewee. That was after we’d decided not to give him a job.

    One thing that bothers me, related to #1, is the overuse of “we”. I want someone who is a team player, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want someone who thinks that sitting next to someone who knew how to produce was an accomplishment. I want to know what they did.

  10. Michele*

    I think these are all good, but I would like to add that my pet peeve is being interupted. It happens a lot during interviews. Sometimes it is just because the person has so much adrenaline pumping that they get carried away, but more often it is flat-out rudeness. If someone repeatedly interupts me or talks over me, they don’t stand a chance.

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