Bad Interview and Resume Blunders: Tales from the Trenches

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bad interviewIn today's competitive job market, small errors, omissions, and lapses in sound judgment can cost a job seeker an interview or a job offer. I turned to hiring managers, recruiters, and HR professionals to hear about the bad interview and resume mistakes some candidates make when searching for employment.


Blunder: A highly qualified recent graduate walked into an interview for a job she really wanted and tried to overcome her nervousness by going too far in the other direction. She sat back in her chair, arms crossed, legs crossed, swinging her top leg, and basically signaling "I'm bored. How long is this going to take?" She sunk herself immediately. -- Nadine Mockler, President, The Launching Pad and Flexible Resources, Inc.

Tip: Hiring managers often decide whether or not they want to hire you in the first five minutes. Your body language is important. Lean forward rather than back to show engagement and interest in the conversation. Keep arms uncrossed (crossing them may suggest you are not open to what the other person is saying). Don't fidget and remember to smile. (See What Your Body Language Says About You.)


-- Applying for jobs? Get ready to negotiate your salary.

Blunder: A candidate interviewing for a high-level engineering position was invited back for a final interview with his peers. While the engineers were making small talk, the candidate walked down the dangerous path of getting too "pal-sy" with the other engineers. He made several inappropriate comments and cracked a Rogaine joke with one of the balding engineers. -- Jenny Foss, Recruiter, Ladder Recruiting

Tip: No matter how comfortable or casual the interview setting, you are still on an interview. Professionalism is required.


Blunder: I run regional operations across several states and I often conduct interviews in areas where we don't have an office nearby so I meet applicants in coffee houses, restaurants, and hotels. An advantage of conducting interviews in public places is that I get to see how candidates interact with others. Recently when conducting an interview in a local coffeehouse, the person I was interviewing was politely interrupted by a waitress who inquired if he would like a refill on his beverage. His terse dismissal of "if I need something I'll let you know, OK?" pretty much ended the interview for me. If a candidate can't conduct themselves in a polite and professional manner throughout an interview, what can I expect when they are hired? -- Jim Wyatt, Operations Manager

Tip: Treat everyone whom you encounter during an interview with respect. Many hiring managers ask the receptionist how the candidate acted in the reception area or ask more junior team members their opinion of the candidate. If you are invited to a lunch interview, don't order anything exceptionally messy or overly expensive. Pass on the hard liquor and be polite to the wait-staff.


Blunder: I was at a job fair and a job seeker told me she was planning to be very careful about interviewing the hiring company. I told her that was wise and I agreed that every interview goes both ways. Then she showed me her resume. It included an objective at the top -- which is now outdated on resumes -- that stated that she respected her mental and physical health too much to get involved with any company looking to hire someone to fit into a dysfunctional team. -- Debra Yergen, Author, Creating Job Security Resource Guide

Tip: Start your resume off with a professional summary that quickly showcases your professional identity and value to the company rather than an objective. An objective tells the employer what you want and the employer doesn't really care about what you want but rather if you can solve their business problems. And some of the things you may want in your next job are better off left unsaid. You find out the subtleties of the corporate culture through the interview process. If it turns out the company is not a good fit, you can always walk away from the interview process. Better to get your foot in the door first than have the door slammed in your face because you disclosed something on the resume that makes your intentions look questionable. (See Resume Objective: Nobody Cares.)


Blunder: A candidate with 25 years of experience told me he heard our company had a partnership with a high-end fitness club with a pool and that the attendees iron your clothes when you work out so you can be "fresh" when you go back to work. His question was, "is that true?" -- Renee Brown, CEO & Career Transformation Specialist, Your Career My Advice

Tip: Before you have a job offer, all the questions you ask the employer should be about the job and the company, not the benefits. When you ask about the benefits package before there is a job offer, you may come across as someone who is only interested in your needs and not the company's needs.


Blunder: An attorney interviewing with a top-rate law firm listed his spelling bee awards on his resume. Not only were they outdated (from his high school years) but he spelled one of the entries "Speling Bee Champion." -- Amy K Savage, Esq. Attorney Recruiter and Director, Lateral Link Group

Tip: Use spell check and proof read your resume several times before submitting. Try reading the document backwards. This strategy will force you to slow down and examine each word closely. Another tip is to ask a few other people to proofread the resume to catch mistakes you may have missed.


-- What's your dream job? Find out what it pays.

Blunder: I was the hiring attorney at a law firm for six years. One new lawyer sent an application that included a cover letter with a couple of misused "big" words. Since her qualifications were excellent, I brought her in to interview with our attorneys anyway. In every interview she used several big words and got every one of them wrong. It was like she had studied vocabulary flashcards and mixed up which words went with which meanings. -- Piper Hoffman, Rock the Boat blog

Tip: Don't try to appear smarter than you are or be something you are not. Concentrate on showcasing how your skills, knowledge, and past successes can be leveraged to help a future employer.


Blunder: An applicant brought urine to an interview thinking he might have to take a drug test. Urine tested as not human. -- Michael Hayes, Owner, Momentum Specialized Staffing

Tip: Don't make any assumptions about the employment screening process. If a drug test is required, you will be told about it at the interview. (See Pre-Employment Screening and Job Testing: Would You Pass?)


Blunder: The candidate completed her application using a pink highlighter. Disqualified! -- Brandy Nagel, Brandy's Atlanta Events and Scoop

Tip: Every document you submit to a potential employer is a reflection of you and your personal brand. Make sure everything you present to an employer is professional. (See Make Your Job Application Stand Out: Tips from HR Guru Brian Philips.)


Blunder: A candidate listed taxidermy and charcuterie as hobbies on his resume.

Tip: List hobbies if they are relevant to your job target. And if they are just plain weird, leave them off!


Blunder: A candidate was coached to wear her best clothes to the interview. Turns out the candidate took the advice to heart and wore her wedding dress. -- Catherine Byers Breet, Chief Stripe Changer, Arbez

Tip: Dress professionally but appropriately for the interview. If you have a contact at the company, ask that person about the dress code. If possible, hang out for a bit in the lobby of the company the day before the interview to see what people are wearing and dress one level up from that. (See What Not to Wear: 10 Job Interview Clothing Faux Pas.)


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