7 Common Mistakes That Can Completely Derail Your Interview

When you’re preparing for an interview, set aside time to go over the basics.

Employers tell us they still see some pretty big gaffes—even by candidates interviewing for high-level positions.

Don’t be one of them. Be prepared and avoid these common mistakes:

Not looking your best

An employer recently told us about a candidate for a high-level position who showed up with a big stain on the front of his shirt. Ew.

First impressions matter. Even if you’re in a hurry, take 15 seconds to look in the mirror, smooth your hair, and check your teeth for traces of spinach. And don’t stop for barbecue on the way!

Do everything in your power to appear put together. It makes a better impression and helps you feel more confident.

Arriving late

That candidate above? He was also late.

Prioritize punctuality. Gas up the car the night before. Set multiple alarms. Get directions and know where to check in. Arrive 15 minutes early. It’s better to sit in the parking lot for awhile than to rush in five minutes late.

If the unthinkable happens and you’re going to be late, call the company to let them know the situation. It’s common courtesy.

Here’s how you can phrase it: “I may be premature in assuming this, but because of a collision on the freeway, I could be late.”

Being uninformed about the company

Arriving at an interview without a basic understanding of the company where you hope to work is sloppy.

Don’t walk in cold. Research the heck out of the company’s website. Learn the names of people in key positions, study the company’s mission and values, and read their blog posts and social media pages.

The more information you have, the better. It will help you engage with your interviewers authentically.

Showing up without a paper resume

Paper isn’t dead.

Your interviewers have your information in a digital format, but it’s still professional to have printed (perfectly edited) copies on hand.

With your resume in front of them, they won’t have to click through digital files or emails to pull up your information. And it puts your experience literally at their fingertips.

And while you’re at it, be sure to show up with your own pen and paper. It’s another signal that you’re prepared and ready for the job.

Not asking enough (of the right) questions

Come prepared with questions that pertain directly to the position. What do you think your interviewers care about? Jot down questions that show you care about those things, too.

You don’t need to memorize your questions. It’s perfectly fine to consult your notes.

And don’t ask about time off and vacation at the interview. It’s not the time. You’d be surprised to hear how many candidates ask a version of, “So, when would I be eligible for my first day off?” Yikes.

Bad-mouthing your former company

No matter how bad you prior situation was, if you trash your former boss or colleagues in an interview, it’s a mark against you.

When you’re asked about the circumstances surrounding your departure, frame it in terms of what you learned. Keep your emotions neutral. Emphasize the positive.

Acting distracted

Often, when you think you’re listening, you’re actually framing your next response in your head. That can lead to missed opportunities–or even interrupting your interviewer.

Instead, commit to being an active listener. Turn your phone off. (No Surfin’ Bird ringtones in the middle of the interview, please.) If your mind starts to wander, center yourself, make eye contact, and remind yourself to listen.

As an active listener, it will be easier for you to pick up on cues, develop rapport, and gather information. Plus, it will make a fantastic first impression.


“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” ― Oprah Winfrey

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