How To Avoid Common Interview Mistakes

This is a guest blog post by Patti McLaughlin.

Below are the top 12 most common interview mistakes I see:

  1. Dressing inappropriately/personal appearance
  2. Poor communication skills
  3. Arriving late or too early
  4. Not knowing about the employer
  5. Not knowing your resume
  6. Talking too much/not listening
  7. Not being prepared
  8. Badmouthing past employers
  9. Lack of enthusiasm
  10. Arrogance
  11. Limp handshake
  12. No Questions!

Let’s talk about how to avoid making them! The good news is that all of these mistakes are easily avoided with preparation. A good interview is a conversation. I would like that sink in…a conversation. The most important thing you can do with respect to your interview is to listen. Answer the questions asked of you and ask questions to show your interest. Be prepared, but don’t be so married to your own agenda that you miss the opportunity to have the conversation.

You need to be neatly groomed and professional when you show up at your interview. You clothes need to fit properly. The legal profession is conservative, so you will probably opt for a dark suit in most interview situations. Over dressing communicates that you bothered…under dressing communicates that you don’t care. Here is a previous blog post on Interview Attire.

The legal profession is one of advocacy where language is your tool. You must communicate well. Give concise, clear answers to the questions asked of you. The interviewer is trying to ascertain whether he or she wants to work with you. If it is hard to talk to you or hard to understand you, it will be hard to work with you.

There is NO excuse for being late. You need to arrive at the appropriate time. It is your job to plan sufficiently so you are not late. Barring natural disasters or being stuck on the elevator, you have no excuse. Just don’t be late. On the flip side, don’t be too early either. Having you sit in the reception area for an hour and a half before you interview is also inappropriate. Find a place near the interview site to wait. Arrive between 5-15 minutes early—not more than that.

You need to do your research on the employer. If you don’t know what your employer does, you communicate that you are not interested. You have also wasted your interviewer’s time. It is not excusable. Don’t be that person. Research your employer. Make sure that the employer does the type of work you say you want to do. It is great that you are interested in international arbitration, but if the firm does not do that kind of work, you have just blown any opportunity of working there

If it is on your resume, you should be able to talk about it. If you have listed a project, you must be able to have a conversation about that project. Make sure you brush up on all the details of things included on your resume so you can speak intelligently about the experience. If you can’t recall details, it calls your veracity into question and will give an employer cause to question your truthfulness in all matters

In a similar vein, you also need to know yourself. When an interviewee is inauthentic, it comes across loud and clear. You need to be yourself…you best self…but yourself. Don’t just tell people what you think they want to hear. Really answer their questions. Your interviewers will see right through you if you are being insincere, and they will question your confidence and truthfulness.

Don’t talk too much!  Don’t mistake an interview for a presentation where you have 5 points to get across, and you pivot to these points at all costs. This is not a presentation. It is a conversation. A good conversation requires really good listening skills. So listen intently and answer the question that is asked of you…not the one you want!

The overarching theme in most of these mistakes is preparedness…you really need to prepare yourself for an interview. Aside from those things already cover previously; you need be prepared to answer common interview questions. A few years ago, I was interviewing for a position, and I was asked what my greatest accomplishment was. I did not have a ready answer. Needless to say, I did not get that job. Truthfully, I was very well qualified, and I am very good at talking to people. I was just stumped by the question. I should not have been stumped by that question because it is one of the most common interview questions asked by potential employers. You can prepare your answers for common questions, and you definitely should prepare your answers for common questions. The CDO puts on many interview workshops during the year, there is an interview folder in the job search toolkit, or you can just come into the CDO. We are happy to help you prepare for any interview!

Don’t bad mouth anyone…especially a former employer. No matter how much you want to say something bad about someone—don’t. If you talk badly about people or places where you worked, the interviewer will think you are a negative person. They will also assume that you will be trashing them the first chance you get. Don’t be that person! During an interview, you only have positive things to say about people…if you need help constructing those conversations, come in to the CDO, and we will be happy to assist.

Don’t allow a calm demeanor to be interpreted as lack of enthusiasm. The people taking the time out of their busy schedules to interview do so at a cost. Attorneys at firms bill their time…so their time is actually money. Any time they are spending with you needs to be made up so it is costing them in some way. Now…they want to meet you. They want to find the best potential talent to work in their organization, but you are never doing them a favor by being there. So be energetic and excited about the potential opportunity. Be engaged and fully present. If you are naturally on the lower energy or calm side…come in and talk to a CDO counselor so we can work on strategies to counter any potential negative interpretations.

There is a big difference between arrogance and confidence. Confidence is a really positive attribute in a candidate. Arrogance, on the other hand, is a total turnoff. When you are interviewing, the people across the table from you are trying to decide if they want to work with you. You know who no one wants to work with? Arrogant people. Going back to earlier advice…be yourself. Don’t try to impress everyone with a false bravado…Impress them with who you are!  You are enough. Be confident in that!

When my children were small, my husband and I would make them shake hands with everyone they met…and they met a lot of people. We would practice the handshake with them. They hated it. But, as young adults, they can shake hands and hold a conversation with anyone. They don’t need to think about it because it has become second nature with years of practice. You have to have a good, firm handshake. You want to grasp the hand assertively and look straight into the eyes of the person you are meeting for the first time. People make a decision about you within the first 7 seconds of meeting you. The handshake is pretty much all of that 7 seconds…don’t blow it! Come in and practice your handshake if you are not 100% confident. We are happy to help you!

One of the worst things you can do in an interview is not ask questions. When they ask you if you have any questions and you say no…the interviewer doesn’t think “wow I did such a great job this person doesn’t even have one question…Yay Me!” The interviewer thinks that you wasted his or her time. If you have no questions, you are communicating that you don’t care. No one wants to work with someone who doesn’t care.

Consult the Interview folder in the Job Search Toolkit for more information, or schedule a mock interview with any CDO counselor you wish.




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