15 ways to screw up a job interview

job interview
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IT hiring is on the rise again. And with demand oustripping supply, IT professionals with particularly hot skills might find themselves overwhelmed by opportunities – and inundated with job interviews. But just because companies seem to be vying for someone with your skills and capabilities doesn’t mean you can get too casual about the interview.

“I see clients being pretty picky about finding solid all-star employees vs. showing any leeway due to more demand,” says Courtney Bettridge, technology recruiter at Mondo. “Candidates need to show they’re truly interested and engaged, or they won’t get the job.”

Even veteran IT professionals with long tenures might be taking advantage of the larger number of openings; these individuals often need some reminders to shake the rust off their interviewing skills.

With that in mind, we spoke with several recruiters about common mistakes IT professionals make when interviewing for a new job, as well as how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Not knowing the company

The biggest mistake candidates make, recruiters say, is arriving at the interview without adequate knowledge of the company, the position or the industry in which the company operates. This is particularly unforgivable in the age of social media and easily accessible information. “You can search on the company’s name online and get tons of information, even insight into the area of the company you’re interviewing for,” says Shravan Goli, president at DICE. “If you walk in without researching the company, its culture and its products, it sends a message that you don’t work hard, aren’t curious or aren’t utilizing what’s in front of you.”

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It can also convey a lack of interest, says Ajay Kaul, managing partner of AgreeYa Solutions. “IT professionals might be able to crack technical interviews based on their knowledge and experience, but when it comes to knowing about an organization’s business, history, culture and competitors, they can sometimes miss the mark.” Candidates should read white papers, press releases and know what’s going on in the news so they have some idea of how the company is doing, says Jen Doran, consultant program manager at TEKsystems.

Being prepared also ensures you can hold a two-way conversation throughout the interview, adds Ed Meindl, senior vice president for National IT at Addison Group. Candidates should understand some of the challenges the company or industry faces and even why the position is open in the first place. By leveraging press releases, social media and your own personal networks, candidates can find out who held the position previously and where they went, or whether it’s a new role.

“LinkedIn is a great way of seeing what folks in the organization are working on,” Meindl says. “A lot of folks budget for the interview itself but not for the prep work, but it’s still a critical piece of making sure you’re successful.”

Mistake 2: Not researching the interviewer

Candidates should also find out as much as they can about the people on the hiring team. “If you’re lucky enough to have the name of the person you’re interviewing with, check LinkedIn to find out their background and skills, and do a quick Google search to find out more,” Bettridge says.

Basics include work history and experience, and depending on the level of the interview, you may also run into blog posts, articles and interviews, Goli says. “It even helps to know what the person looks like,” he says. “Try to get a 360-degree profile so you can engage in a meaningful way, and even find common ground.”

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If you can find out how long the hiring manager has been in technology, how he or she has moved up the ranks, what they’ve accomplished, even where they went to school, “you’ll be better able to ask questions,” Doran says. “A VP doesn’t want to be asked whether he’s a project manager, when it turns out he’s leading a division or region.”

Mistake 3: Coming across as a stalker

At the same time, candidates need to avoid looking like they know too much. “You want to avoid the two extremes,” Vik Nath, regional recruiting director, Mondo, says. “Searching on Facebook and talking to them about what their kids are doing and where they went on vacation goes to the extreme of doing too much on the personal side.”

Mistake 4: Showing up way too early

Some candidates are so focused on not being late that they arrive early to the interview, which can be fine – as long as it’s not too early. Fifteen minutes is appropriate, but 30 minutes is verging on the intrusive. “Arriving late makes a terrible first impression,” Goli says. “But showing up too early can be an inconvenience to the hiring manager. You can wait in the lobby, but they’re not going to feel good about keeping you waiting so long and might feel pressured to rush through something they’re trying to get done.”

Mistake 5: Talking about responsibilities rather than accomplishments

Hiring managers will be more impressed if you share what you’ve accomplished in your job rather than detailing your role and responsibilities. “Talk about what set you apart from your peers, or your contributions to a successful project,” Nath says. “Highlight your accomplishments, and have specific examples ready.” This is a level of detail that most candidates don’t always think about beforehand, he says.

“Paint a picture and tell a story rather than just walking through the bullet points,” Bettridge adds.

Mistake 6: Not asking questions

Interviews should be a two-way conversation, Nath says. They are not only an opportunity for the interviewer to assess whether you’re a potential fit; it’s also your chance to determine if it’s a match for you. That means asking questions to understand the role and the company -- what sets it apart, why should you work there?

Hiring managers actually like when candidates ask challenging questions, Bettridge adds. “An interviewer is more likely to remember someone who asks challenging questions rather than surface-level ones.” Examples from Nath and Bettridge include, what will this project look like 30, 60, 90 days out? What factors would make a person successful in this position? What needs to be done immediately, and how could the new hire be ready to hit the ground running? How do you think you’re going to grow the business? “Such questions ensure the client understands that you as a candidate want to make a contribution,” Bettridge says.

Mistake 7: Dominating the conversation

The other benefit of asking questions is that you ensure you don’t dominate the airspace. “If I ask one question, and it takes 20 minutes for you to answer, that’s a negative sign,” he says. “It shows you’re full of yourself or unwilling to listen.” Such verbosity can happen when you don’t completely understand the question and find yourself rambling in your response. A better approach, Goli says, is to ask for a clarification. “It’s OK to ask, ‘Did you mean XYZ?’” he says. A rule of thumb is that about 70% to 75% of the interview time should consist of you talking, he says, and the rest should be the interviewer.

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