I’ve interviewed many candidates in my career. Aside from the very small number who do strange and sometimes mind-blowing things, most are professional and make an attempt to present their best selves. But as companies ease up on the formalities, one candidate's sense of interview etiquette might look pretty different from another's.
It can be hard to know which pieces of received wisdom to hold onto and which to discard in the interest of authenticity. While every company is different, here's a look at five of the most common interview mistakes job seekers are still making—either by discarding conventions they shouldn't or just making the wrong moves altogether.
Collaboration is more critical than ever. You might feel like a lone ranger with a litany of personal attributes to tell of, but chances are your hiring manager will want to hear about how those traits will jibe with her existing team's. Some interviewees, wisely sensing that, will run in the opposite direction, and talk about their achievements in the plural "we." Is that a smart move?
Actually, no. Most interviewers want to know what you accomplished, even as part of a team. As Mike Adamo, who leads Med Device Talent, a strategic talent acquisition consulting firm, explains, "We’re not thinking about whether we want to hire the team. We are evaluating whether we want to hire you."
Using "we" too much can unintentionally cause a recruiter or hiring manager to question how much of a contributing team member you actually were, making it hard for them to identify what you could do for their company.
So how do you present yourself as someone who can get individual results but still work on a team? Talk about the team's accomplishments, but focus on your specific individual contribution that helped the team achieve what it did.
Most of us have been coached to focus on our results during the interview—an extension of longstanding resume-writing advice. After all, who wants to hire someone who can’t get anything done? Today’s corporate environment, however, is complex. Many companies are complicated to navigate and heavily relationship-based. How you achieve results is equally important as what you achieve, but that's often something candidates understate or leave out, imaging that they're dry, unnecessary details.
When I interview candidates, especially for management roles, I not only want to know they'll accomplish great things but also that those accomplishments will be sustainable and brought about in ways that support the company. The proverbial "bull in the china shop" who leaves a train of destruction in its wake may get short-term results but at a higher cost.
So yes, it's good to focus on tangible outcomes. But when you describe what you've accomplished, include how you developed and sustained relationships along the way—your process—even through difficult challenges.
Most interviewers give candidates a chance to ask questions at the end of the interview. This is a great opportunity that's often left on the table. Many candidates don’t have any questions, or they're focused on how much vacation they'll be getting.
As an interviewer, I appreciate questions about the direction of the company, department strategy, or nuances of company culture. Those questions not only leave me excited that someone was prepared and interested, they also speak to a candidate’s thought process—which, for many roles, is more important than what they've achieved. Do your homework and come up with at least two good questions to ask (here are seven to get you started).
Everyone's been in at least one interview where they were asked a hard question they simply couldn’t answer. It happened to me when I was interviewing for my first director position years ago. I sat there with a blank expression on my face feeling like I was on Jeopardy, didn’t know the answer to a simple $100 question, and was being silently judged by Alex Trebek.
Fortunately, I had a great mentor who shared some good advice: If you don’t know, just say so. Don’t try to fake your way through it. Honesty is a good thing, but where you take it from there is the real differentiator. Find a way to describe something similar, where you had to employ the types of skills the interviewer is trying to assess. Take the initiative and offer a comparable scenario that demonstrates your capabilities.
It's bad enough when you can't bring yourself to say "I don't know," but it's arguably worse when you utter those three words, smile, and leave it at that.
Whether you felt like you had a great interview and hit a home run, or swung at all the pitches and whiffed every time, the follow up email expressing your gratitude and interest is critical.
Strangely, many candidates do not send them, imagining that they're passé. Others, who do send thank-yous, try to oversell their qualifications all over again, as though the interview didn't revolve around exactly that.
So yes, it may be 2016, but you do still need to follow up if you're interested in the job, and an email is just fine—no need for a handwritten note (though some will say otherwise). Just be careful not to say too much in your email.
Keep your follow-up simple and to the point. You've already had your chance to pitch yourself; now it's time to simply showcase your interest, initiative, understanding of relationships, and follow through—all critical competencies that a hiring manager will be looking for. You might've nailed the interview, but this is one last bar that you'll still want to clear.
James Sudakow is principal of CH Consulting, Inc. and author of Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit . . . and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World.