job interview mistakesLet’s face it, no one ever comes out of an interview talking about what a great time they had.  While they offer a great opportunity to prove your value and impress an employer, interviews can be nerve-wracking and stressful, especially if you are on the quieter side.

The most important thing to remember is that by the time you get to the interview you’ve already made it through the gatekeepers, which is often the hardest part of the process.  A company never interviews that many candidates, so you know you’re part of a select crew.  Here are some common mistakes to avoid so that you can keep progressing all the way to an offer:

1. Not being prepared to talk about yourself 

This seems like an obvious point, but often interviewers will zero in on a specific project from three jobs ago just because it interests them and suddenly you can’t remember any details to discuss. Make a list of your top accomplishments and create a roadmap so that you know what to answer if asked about a specific project/role/employer.  Think about the interview from the perspective of the interviewer.  What does he or she need to hear to know that you are the best candidate for the job? 

2. Not practicing your answers

Sometimes saying the words out loud allows you to make sure you are saying what you want to say. Ask a friend or loved one to conduct a mock interview with a few standard questions (why should we hire you, what would you do in this role, etc.). Or hire a professional career consultant to run through the process with you.  If you can’t find anyone to bounce your answers off of, say them in the mirror.  Just getting the words out is effective at helping you craft your message.  And, also it will work through your nerves and help you nix the “ums” and “you knows.”

3. Not knowing enough about the company

Given that we live in a time when anything you need to know about a potential employer is at your fingertips, make sure you actually use the information to your advantage. Understand the company’s developments, projects, mission, and culture.  Talk to people you know (or people who know people you know) at the company before your interview to gain key insights.  Use LinkedIn to research your interviewers and Glassdoor to learn more about the specific positions as well.  This knowledge will help you craft the most engaged and effective responses. 

4. Not asking the right questions

Many candidates forget that the interview is also an opportunity to judge whether the position is the right one for them, rather than just vice versa. By keeping the focus solely on getting the offer, you neglect to use the interview to your benefit.  Think about what you need to know in order to make a decision should you be offered the position.  Make a list of factors that would affect your work satisfaction (opportunity for advancement, day-to-day expectations, etc.)  Use your research on the company to form detailed and specific questions.

5. Not being positive

No interviewer wants to listen to you badmouth a former employer or colleague or, worse yet, the company interviewing you. Even if you have incredible ideas for the company’s future, or left a direct competitor on bad terms, you never want to be negative.  Always spin your answers positively to focus on the good.  Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard and sound like a Pollyanna, but keep things on the bright side. Shift your perspective to think about moving forward and your future in this role.

6. Not being yourself

Be confident! You already got this far so clearly you are in the running for the job.  Now is your chance to wow the interviewers even more and confirm their judgment of you as a worthy candidate.  While it is important to practice your answers, don’t do so to the detriment of a candid approach.  Remember that you want to have practiced enough that the hard questions do not rattle you, but not so much that you can’t stray from a rehearsed speech.  And make sure that confidence doesn’t slide right over into arrogance, as that won’t win you any points.

7. Not staying professional

Even if the company culture is more t-shirts and jeans than three-piece suits, you still want to respect your interviewer. Know the company culture and err on the side of slightly dressier. While you want to seem qualified, you don’t want to be the stiff who looks completely out of place.  Similarly, even if you and the interviewer hit it off, remember this is not the time to dish about your most recent dating fiasco. Turn your phone off, show up a few minutes early-you know the drill.

8. Not asking for more

This comes later, of course, once you get the offer. Without negotiating for a higher salary, you might be leaving money on the table. Women in particular tend to avoid the negotiation process, often assuming that the offer is fixed and a representation of what they deserve. Recognize your value and ensure that you request a compensation package that is reflective of what you bring to the company.  Even if there is no wiggle room, just asking the question will demonstrate a commitment to your professional growth and, consequently, to your new employer.

9. Not following up

Remember that your communication with the company shouldn’t end with the interview. Thank you notes can be incredibly powerful.  Think immediate, short emails followed up by personalized, mailed notes for each interviewer.  Ask for someone’s name and write it down, along with some specific things you discussed to set you apart and have the interviewer remember you.  Also, always ask for feedback if you don’t get the job to help in future interviews.