Unlucky For Some: 13 Interview Clangers

I do a lot of outplacement work, teaching people facing redundancy how to use their personal brand to differentiate themselves on the job market. Part of that involves preparing them for interviews.

In particular, I show them how it’s not just your response to a question that matters, but the extra information you convey through how you look, act and sound while you’re giving it.

As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of showing what you shouldn’t be doing, before showing what you should. And boy, do I have some great examples of people dropping interview clangers for you!

Here’s what I’m talking about…

I recently tuned in to Channel 4’s new series The Job Interview, where you get to be a fly on the wall as candidates vie for various jobs. What you also get to see is the myriad ways people can sabotage their chances of getting the job.

In the first two episodes alone, I identified 13 different ways people were dropping clangers, some of which would make your jaw hang open (as the interviewers’ often did). By sharing them with you now, I hope you (or anyone else you know who’s going for an interview) can avoid the same fate as the candidates who were told, “Thanks…but no thanks.”

The 13 Interview Clangers

1. Getting the company name wrong

The first company up to the plate was Low Cost Vans, looking to fill a position on its sales team. But one candidate seemed to think it was an entirely different company, twice referring to them as Low Cost Loans (once in a role play where she was demonstrating how she’d answer a call – doh!)

2. Not knowing the interviewer’s name

As I’ve posted before, getting someone’s name right can be a quick way to show respect and build rapport. So it didn’t bode well that, when asked by the interviewers, “What are our names?“ one person said, “Is it Roy?“ (It was Rod.) And another said, “I know your surname but can’t remember your first name. Is it Linda?” (It was Lorraine.)

3. Not doing the research

Now, if you’re going for a job at a van company, it’d be good to know something about vans, wouldn’t it? Not the ins and outs of a long-wheel-base curtain-side flatbed with hydraulic platform (impressed?) but at least the names of a few makes and models. But the best answer one candidate could muster when asked to name some vans was: “Ford?” When pushed to answer further, he replied, “Now you’ve got me on the spot.” Indeed.

4. Doing too much research

The same person who hadn’t researched vans had at least researched the people interviewing him. When asked what he knew about the company, he’d turned to the CEO and said, “Well, I know that you were born in July 1967.” The look on the boss’s face was as if he’d just come face-to-face with a stalker.

5. Letting your nerves show

Nervousness is to be expected for any job-seeker in the hot-seat, but how it comes across makes the difference. Spinning left then right in your swivel chair, like a small child at the playground, is one of the more distracting ones – which is exactly what one candidate spent much of the interview doing.

Other examples were the lad who picked at the dead skin on his thumb, or the lady who talked waaaaaaaaay too fast, like she’d drunk 10 Red Bulls on the trot.

6. Drawing attention to your nervousness

Ratcheting that up a notch were the people who decided to make their nervousness their opening gambit. One candidate’s first words were, “Ooh I’m really nervous,” which might garner some sympathy if you’re lucky, but is pity really the first reaction you want?

7. Critiquing the questions

Unless the interviewer likes to fly by the seat of their pants, you can bet their questions have been thought through and worded to illicit specific insights. So it’s not a good idea to disparage their efforts by responding, as one person did, with a huge, audible sigh as if to say, “Really? You’re asking me that?!” Or the ruder alternative given by one young lady: “I hate that question.”

8. Saying you’re not a fan of work

Some people love to work (I certainly do) but plenty of others don’t and marking yourself out in the latter category isn’t a canny way to go if you’re trying to bag a job. However, I’m not sure that’d been made clear to the two candidates using the phrases “I’d rather not work but I have to so…” and “I want this job because I want a quieter life.”

9. Ending in defeat

Sometimes an interview gets off to a bad start and hurtles downhill from there. Knowing that is one thing. Flagging it by leaving the room (as one lady did) whilst saying, “I’m going to go and find a pub,” is quite another.

10. Making colossal assumptions

Perhaps the biggest jaw dropper in the first programme was the guy who, having already dropped clangers three and four on this list, was asked if he had any final questions. His reply? “If I was chosen for the position, would I be able to start tomorrow?” (The answer was a very curt “No”.)

11. Forgetting to sell the upside

Every negative has a positive and interviews are all about highlighting the latter – at least they should be. Not so for the young lady asked why she’d not gone to university. After rambling on about her time at school, she finished by saying, “By the time I got to A’ levels I was tired of education.”

That’s fair enough (heck, I only got as far as my GCSEs) but what was the upside? For me it was that I got out there and started getting hands on experience that proved invaluable in my career – which would have formed my answer had I been asked. For her, the answer ended with a shrug.

12. Selling the downside

Taking that a step further, the same young lady seemed intent on painting a less than flattering picture of herself. Asked to discuss her strengths, one question was, “Do you think you’re well organised?” Her reply was, “Yes, although now and again I can drop the ball and suddenly remember something I forgot to do.” For heaven’s sake – save the negatives for when you’re specifically asked about your weaknesses.

13. Treating it like a school exam

When I was a teenager doing exams at school, people would often take soft toys into the school hall with them as a lucky mascot. That’s fair enough when you’re a kid, but perhaps not something you want to carry into adulthood – as one candidate did.

I’ll admit I feel a bit of a heel for including this last one, as the young guy in question had such a sweet, gentle and caring attitude. (Great for the vet’s receptionist job he was going for.) The trouble was the teddy he’d taken for luck had been shoved into the inside pocket of his jacket, causing it to gape open and for the bear’s head to be visible. It drew a quizzical stare from one of the interviewers, who eventually asked, “Is that a Teddy in your pocket?” (Luckily not followed by the line, “Or are you just pleased to see me?”)

So there you have it – more than enough pointers to show you what not to do in an interview.

I’m sure there are plenty of howlers you’ve made or have seen as an interviewer – and you know we’d love a laugh – so please do leave a comment below. And be sure to share it with anyone you know who’s about to go for an interview.

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