8 pitfalls to avoid in an interview

In some ways, an initial job interview is like a competition. There’s you, and the interviewer—or a team of them—sizing each other up, trying to get a sense of mutual interest and suitability. All in an atmosphere where you’re expected to come off looking calm, collected and cool as a cucumber. And likeable.

With all the preparation you’ve done to get to this point, the last thing you need is to blow it all on a mistake you could’ve avoided—an unforced error. So just as a safeguard, here’s a checklist of common pitfalls you want to avoid during your first interview:

  1. Money: If the topic of salary, perks and benefits comes up, and it might, it should be the interviewer who introduces it. Don’t ask about these issues in your first interview. If you do, it sends the message that you’re more interested in the money than the work.

  2. Previous bosses: Never say anything negative about any of your supervisors, past or present, no matter how strongly you feel about them. Assume the interviewer is that person’s best friend. If necessary, pivot to the ways in which you’ve grown.

  3. Previous jobs: The same thinking applies when you’re asked about your current or former jobs. This query may take the form of “Why are you looking for a new job?” Focus on the new opportunities you’re looking for, not the ways in which your current or former job no longer meets your needs.

  4. Appearance: Don’t discuss the interviewer’s appearance. You don’t want your words to be mistaken as flirtatious. Even if the interviewer compliments you, just thank them graciously without reciprocating.

  5. Projection: At some point you’ll likely be asked where you see yourself in some defined period of time. Don’t say you want to be the interviewer’s boss. It’s unoriginal, and makes you sound overconfident. Also, don’t say you see yourself doing the same thing in five years that you’re doing now, even if that’s true. Companies like prospective employees who have an eye on forward motion. By all means, say you hope to advance into new areas and roles where you can contribute to the company’s success.

  6. Weaknesses: You’ll also likely be asked to name a flaw or two. Instead of saying you can’t think of any, have a solid work-related answer ready, and use it to highlight your accomplishments.

  7. Questions: When the interviewer asks what questions you have, be ready. Ask about the company’s prospects, its plans for growth, its approach to a particular challenge. The more specific you can be with your questions, the more effectively you signal that you’ve done your homework.

  8. Thanking the interviewer: Never skip this step. Be sure to thank everyone in the room for their time and consideration. Make a priority of mailing a handwritten thank-you note within 24 hours.

The goal of an initial interview is to get a callback. Even the most stellar performance can be derailed by a candidate who makes one seemingly insignificant unforced error. Don’t be that candidate. Pay attention to the details and maximize your chance for a second round.