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Top interview mistakes

Monday, July 16, 2012
Top interview mistakes to avoid. Image: Getty Images

Key points


  • First impressions go a long way.
  • Research the company and the role.
  • Don’t initiate any talk of money or salary.
  • Watch your body language.


More information


Related articles

You've scored yourself an interview but don't go and blow your chances of winning your dream job by doing the wrong thing. Here's what "not to do" when it comes to interviews. By Hannah Nicholas

Bad first impression

Whatever you do, don't be late and don't show up looking hot and sweaty, untidy or out of breath. Your first impression will go a long way.

While a little small talk is great for settling nerves before the formal interview begins, be careful what you say as some interviewers use it as part of their strategy.

And remember to turn your mobile phone off!

Being unprepared

Not being prepared is just about the biggest mistake you could make when it comes to job interviews. When you are offered an interview, make sure you ask what form it is likely to take so you can prepare (i.e. one-on-one or a formal, panel interview). Ask who will be attending and their positions within the company.
  • Do your research
Research the company and the role — look at the company's website or other published material. Going to the interview knowing nothing about the company to whom you are talking is a big mistake!
  • Preparing documentation
If you've been asked to bring documentation with you, prepare it well in advance in a neat and presentable manner. The last thing you want to do is pull a pile of papers out of a plastic bag.

In addition, you'll need to ready yourself for the type of questions you will be asked:

  • Common interview questions
To prepare yourself, focus on:
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Demonstrating your skills and experience
  • Reasons why you should be hired
  • Providing practical examples of past behaviour, which demonstrate your competencies

Appearing uninterested

Interviews are a two-way street and just as much as the interviewer is screening you in terms of your suitability for the position, you must use the interview as your chance to see if they'd make a suitable employer. This is where it's important to have a handful of well-thought out questions on hand. Not doing so can also make you appear uninterested in the position.

To show your interest, ask things like:

  • What the average work day for this position is like?
  • Why the position is available?
  • Who they see as the ideal fit for the role?
  • What the next steps are following the interview?

Talking money

Don’t initiate any talk of salary at the first interview. If you are asked what you currently earning or would like to earn, be careful how you phrase your reply but be truthful. In some cases it's best to keep this information under wraps and let them come to you with an offer first.

Not dressing for success

Think about the image you wish to project when planning your interview outfit. Don't leave it to the last minute; get the outfit ready the day before so you'll avoid any last minute disasters like a dirty suit or missing button.

Remember to dress suitably to match the culture of the company. You want to look like you fit the part already. Pay attention to little things like perfume and aftershave, jewellery and make-up.

Poor body language

Getting your body language right is an important part of winning an interview. While it's always important to act yourself, there are some things you should always do. These include:
  • Maintain eye contact at all times
  • Address all people in the room
  • Look interested
  • Show that you are listening by using appropriate cues like nodding
  • Have a firm handshake
  • Smile

You want your body language to project confidence, enthusiasm and belief in your own skills and experience. Therefore, avoid:

  • Mumbling
  • Crossing your arms
  • Sitting rigid
  • Slouching
  • Nervous gestures like tapping your feet, playing with your hair or crossing and re-crossing your legs
  • Using your hands too much when talking

Failing to follow-up

Once the interview's over, don't leave things there no matter how great or badly you believed you performed. Follow-up the meeting with a brief email (or letter) to the interviewer thanking them for their time, reiterate what you believe you could bring to the position adding any points you think you didn't get across at the interview and end on a positive note.

Other common traps

  • Being too friendly in your approach
  • Not listening to what’s being asked or interrupting the interviewer(s)
  • Being over enthusiastic or under enthusiastic
  • Being negative about a former employer
  • Rambling, keep your answers short and succinct
  • Answering with just a "yes" or a "no"

Have your say: are you guilty of any of the above? Do you have any interview tips to share with job hunters?

User comments
I understand Rebecca’s frustration with people who have little understanding of the English language. However, I'm sure I've have had people believe that I can not spell because I am from America and we spell some words differently there. For example, it’s color in America, not colour. It’s tire, not tyre. It’s meter, not metre…Though I may spell some words differently from what is normally scene in New Zealand, it does not mean I spell them incorrectly. (Please forgive the poor punctuation. Apparently, the only punctuation allowed in this box is periods and commas.)
I worked for a recruitment company as a Resource Administrator, for a few years. It shocked me how little, some people knew the english language. I would spend hours rewritting CV's that were poorly written, with spelling mistakes and bad grammar - all considering I bearly just passed School Certificate English. Interview processes were much the same. Professionalism goes along, as does effort. Remember some employers get upwards of 200 applications, you have to put the effort in, to even be considered.
And you have to be the right colour otherwise waste of time, best to start up your own business through Enterprise NZ. We need more forward thinking entreperours.
The trick is to keep on trying, being positive and enthusiastic. Eventually you will find a position that you will enjoy, not just a job. I have found also that CVs are open to different interpretation (by different recruiters). So don't give up and try not to sound to desperate, even if you are.
Don't be duped by teachers who believe that text language is suitable out here in the real world. If text language can be used for NCEA then these teachers are on an academic fantasy trip. Anyone that sends me an email, CV or application with spelling, grammar or lack of capital letters, full stops (i.e. the basics anyone can achieve after 13 years at school) doesn't even get to first base for an interview. So those teachers out there reading this should reconsider the importance of the written word. Would you accept a letter from your lawyer written in text speak? If you like text speak then cross lawyer off your list of possible occupations, and probably accountant, engineer, valuer, signwriter, secretary, in fact anyone who needs their written material to look credible (except teachers). Yes, become a teacher and then use text speak because who cares, like, does it really matter anyway, like, as long as people sort of know what you mean, like..................
Just a comment from an international business background. New Zealand, in my experience is comparably unprofessional when it comes to the entire job search and employment sector. Your best advice here is to not depend on anyone but yourself to find a job. Secondly, it is well and good to ensure that you use the English language and portray it well. I agree with the above that text messaging script indicates both age and unadaptable parlance with what is internationally acceptable. All the good ideas of interviewing presentation are good. Bear in mind that women have entered the workforce all over the western world. They have an entirely different approach to interviewing than men, as they are of a different gender and behavioural perception. Most women in business, for example, tend to comply with rules and "proper protocols". In the South Island of New Zealand, one would find that interviews are less "professional" and more social in construct, viz. do you fit in the culture?
I agree with "Pete, Top of the South". How is one to get short listed for a face to face interview when they cannot communicate correctly in the written form? And as for NCEA text language? - are you having a laugh?! I recently had an interview in Manchester, UK. Deciding to fly for a face to face interview after the position sounded great over the phone - however it was not to be. It is not only interviewees that can lie through their teeth to make themselves appear better than they are, it is also the businesses trying to employ us. I am tired of the promises some employers make in an interview, only to take the position to find out half the job is not as it seems. Not this time. Beware - get everything in writing before you sign the contract!
Rite i read all the comments the do's and the donts,my attitude is pretty good,my grammer could be better ive been applying for jobs over 4 mnths reached 2 interviews.The first one i failed and i new i had failed by my reaction to one of their comments.It was a managers position and they said the person they employed was not aloud to socialise with the staff,my mouth dropped when they said that i was so shocked and unfortunately the words sorry i cant be rude and do that came blurting out my mouth.Bang end of that.The 2nd job interview went great until they asked for 2 employer referees,i havent worked for nearly 3 yrs and my last employer i had worked over 8yrs for refuses to be a referee for no other reason than to prevent my moving on,so yer i done it bagged the old employer,got the im sorry but no thanks letter and for that same workplace to now still be advertising for staff and not interested in me!
heeeey , thanks for th`tips on th`job intervies , it really helped me to foccus on what really needed to be worked on . ie havn`t been to an interview yet but im planninq on qoinq for one soon as i`ve finally stepped up my qame to makinq a descision how i want my life to turn out . so thanks for th`interview tips . mcuhlovee Shac` x
So basically in Layman's terms... convince and entice the employer into employing you by making them think employing you was their best decision of their entire life. Well, do your best.