5 avoidable mistakes that could cost you a job offer

Top 5 Job Interview Mistakes
Top 5 Job Interview Mistakes

Job seekers often agonize and stress about every step in their job search: Am I networking enough? Does my resume show that I'd excel at the job? Am I coming across well in interviews? But often job seekers will put together flawless resumes and cover letters and spend hours prepping for interviews, and then blow their chances of getting the job through an unforced error at the last minute.

Here are five mistakes that can kill your chances of an offer, but which you can easily avoid.

[See: The 8 Stages of a Winning Job Search.]

Indicating that you're more interested in another job. It can be tough to juggle multiple employers when you're in the finalist stages with each, especially when one employer signals that they're close to making an offer while you prefer a different employer who's taking longer. Employers assume that candidates are talking to other companies, of course, but few interviewers like to hear that they're the second choice. So the key if you face this is to navigate it with tact and diplomacy. "I'll accept if another offer doesn't come through" is likely to prompt that employer to move on to a more enthusiastic candidate. But it's usually considered reasonable to say something like, "I've been talking with another company as well, and while your job is the one that interests me the most, I feel I need to see both offers before giving you an absolute yes."

Misrepresenting your work. If you thought that you could get away with padding your job history and making your past work sound more impressive than it really was, the end stages of the hiring process are where it's most likely to come out. That's because employers usually contact references at this stage, and they're likely to try to verify key details of what you told them on your resume and in your interview. Significant discrepancies about things like job responsibilities or the reason you left the job (like saying that you resigned when, in fact, you were fired) can kill your chances.

[See: 10 Ways You're Inadvertently Broadcasting Your Job Search.]

Lying about your salary history. Job seekers sometimes think they can get a higher salary offer if they lie about what they've been earning previously. But employers that base salary offers on past earnings will often verify the salary information you give them, either by checking with your previous employer or by asking you for documentation like a W-2 form. If they find out you lied, they'll nearly always yank the offer, since a lie raises so many issues about integrity and trustworthiness.

To be clear, basing salary offers on a candidate's past earnings is a poor and unfair practice that tends to reinforce racial and gender pay inequality, and ideally employers should stop doing it. But the answer for candidates isn't to lie; it's to keep the focus on what salary you're seeking now and why the market supports that.

[See: 10 Ways Social Media Can Help You Land a Job.]

Flubbing the salary negotiation in other ways. Most people hate negotiating salary and, as a result, they often don't prepare enough to do it – instead just winging it when the topic comes up. This can backfire in two different ways. Most obviously, it can mean that you undersell yourself and leave money on the table. But it can also harm you if you ask for a salary that's wildly above the market rate for the work you'd be doing. Asking for an over-the-top salary can make you look out of touch or simply unaffordable. That's why it's crucial to do salary research well before the time that the conversation is likely to come up, no matter how uncomfortable negotiating makes you.

Starting to negotiate for special treatment late in the game. If you wouldn't take the job without a significant modification from the employer, like telecommuting from across the country or getting every Friday off, most employers are going to be annoyed that you didn't make that clear before they invested time in interviewing you. Generally, employers want the opportunity to say "yes, that could work" or "no, that's a deal-breaker" before they've passed over other applicants and spent real time considering your candidacy. That said, it's also true that once you have an actual job offer, you can sometimes negotiate for perks – but if they're must-haves for you, the time to mention them is much earlier in the process.

Related: The worst jobs of 2016

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

Originally published