It’s commonly said, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but that’s easier said than done. Otherwise why would first impressions count?
When we first meet someone, we go through a process and decide if we like them or not, and then determine if we can trust or respect this person. This is also true of what happens in a job interview: the interviewer is assessing whether a person will be a good fit for the company and if they will be manageable or not.
Interestingly, most interviewers decide within the first few minutes (if not seconds) of an interview whether an applicant is suitable for the role. This is not very reassuring, considering most people tend to be a little nervous in interviews and may not put their best foot forward.
While it’s completely normal to be nervous – you might sweat a little or your hands may shake – unfortunately this can create a negative impression with your interviewer. Arriving late, bad body language, and not preparing enough can also impact your interview and take a talented candidate out of the running.
The topic of this article might seem obvious. After all, why would anyone sabotage their interview? But the fact is it’s quite common to sabotage an interview in these and other subtle ways, and sometimes people don’t even realise they’re doing it!
If you want to give yourself the best chance of getting a role, you need to be aware of the common mistakes that may sabotage your interview and how you can overcome them.
- Not having a firm handshake
A firm handshake helps to make a great first impression in an interview, or simply when you’re meeting someone for the first time. Having worked as a recruiter for many years I’ve had lots of practise shaking hands, and although it feels natural now this wasn’t always the case. There’s an art to a firm handshake and once you master it you’ll see your confidence and personality shine.
If your grip is too strong, an interviewer may think that you’re too aggressive, or perhaps even difficult to work with. That said, a weak handshake is actually worse, as the person is perceived as insecure, fragile or lacking confidence.
- Using too many hand gestures
Hand gestures can be expressive and make you likeable but overdoing it during an interview can be distracting for a potential employer. It’s important to show your enthusiasm, but you do not want your hands to take on a life of their own.
On the other hand, folding or crossing your arms during an interview could be interpreted as defensive, disinterested and unapproachable, so be sure to keep your hands loose and move them around naturally. This, combined with your posture and facial expressions, will define how you carry yourself during the meeting, which in turn affects the way you think, feel and act in your interview.
- Having no filter & going off track
While nerves can make you more likely to go off track and ramble, if you’re doing most of the talking you’ve got the balance wrong. Not only will you come across as dominant, you might also fail to show you’re interested in finding out about the company and the person who is interviewing you.
Preparation can help to keep you from rambling. Spend some time thinking about questions you might be asked and prepare your responses. Even if an interviewer asks tough questions or asks you to solve a tricky problem, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and answer as professionally as possible.
As well as not going off track or rambling during conversation, you should avoid too many filler words, such as “um”, “like”, or “you know”, as they can shine a light on your insecurities.
Remember, you’re telling a story in a structured way that sells your suitability for the role you are interested in. Stay focused and highlight your strengths and transferable skills where possible.
- Fidgeting and touching your face
Did you know that a person can touch their face between 2000 to 3000 times a day without realising it? As well as being distracting, touching your face highlights your nerves and can send body language messages you don’t intend – for example a person touching their nose can be perceived as deceptive.
This and other kinds of fidgeting (playing with a pen or your clothing, tapping your foot, or shuffling paper) can be a huge distraction for an interviewer, and might be viewed as a sign of anxiety or stress on your part. Instead, place your arms in front of you on the table or your lap, and simply hold a pen if it helps ease your nerves.
Many people fidget when they’re nervous so make sure you practise an interview scenario with a friend. This will help you to feel more prepared, and they can inform you of any gestures or unnecessary fidgeting you may be unaware of.
- Presentation and bad body language
Since potential employers judge your attitude through your body language, words, eyes and smile, it makes sense to bring awareness to your posture. Your interview is your chance to showcase your abilities and having a good presentation allows you to feel more at ease when communicating and sharing your thoughts and knowledge.
You may have heard of a ‘power pose’ and the idea that how you stand or carry yourself can help you to feel more confident.
Aligning your shoulders with the shoulders of the interviewer and mirroring their body language will make you come across as confident and automatically gain respect. And sitting up straight and tall will create a good impression with your interviewer and will help you to feel energised and confident in demonstrating your skills and strengths.
- Arriving late or unprepared
Aside from a serious and unforeseen issue (such as an accident or family emergency) there is no excuse for tardiness. Arriving on time for an interview demonstrates respect, professionalism and organisation. You also don’t want to arrive too early; aim for 10 to 15 minutes before the interview time, as it shows your interest in and commitment to the role.
Once in the interview room it’s your chance to shine, so make sure you’re prepared. Review some typical interview questions and prepare your answers, including for problem-solving and behavioural scenarios you might be presented with. This way, you won’t have to think entirely on your feet and it can give you an edge over others in an interview.
- An insincere smile (or not smiling at all)
Don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Not only does smiling make you seem warm, approachable, open and friendly, it also helps calm your nerves. Believe it or not, appearing too serious will put off most interviewers and is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview.
Remain focused and engaged, but don’t focus to the point that you frown. Research shows even an embarrassed smile due to a mistake will give you the grace to shrug it off and correct yourself without negatively impacting the interview.
Smile and relax and remember that a genuine smile gives the interviewer an insight into your personality.
- Making little or no eye contact
Failing to make eye contact is the number one body language mistake people make during an interview. It can make you seem disinterested and disrespectful, while good eye contact will foster connection and build your influence during your interview.
During a conversation your facial and eye movement are constantly being judged, perhaps even more so than what’s on your resume. The eyes become the window to your interest level, confidence, and professionalism during an interview, so when you establish good eye contact you’ll appear likeable, approachable, and interested.
Having to build instant rapport with a complete stranger is nerve-racking, especially in interviews. There’s no rewind button, so make a great first impression by remembering to smile, make eye contact, maintain an open posture and don’t forget that a firm handshake goes a long way!