The Surprising Ways You Ruined Your Interview Before You Even Opened Your Mouth

First impressions aren’t always everything, but they can make or break your interview.

The Surprising Ways You Ruined Your Interview Before You Even Opened Your Mouth
[Photo: Bernhard Lang/Getty Images]

If there’s ever a time in our lives when everything we do will be scrutinized, it’s when we’re at a job interview.


With that in mind, many of us spend hours preparing what we’re going to say to wow the hiring manager. And while this part of the pre-interview process is extremely important (just make sure that you’re preparing the right way), you also want to make sure that you don’t neglect the nonspeaking part of the interview. After all, a bad first impression is extremely difficult to undo.

Related: Why It’s So Hard To Change A Bad First Impression 

Here are some things that can ruin your chances at a job interview, even before you open your mouth:

Your Handshake

Sweaty palms, attempting a fist-bump, or trying the “shake and hug” on the hiring manager can all create unfavorable first impressions. According to a 2016 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, 22% of responders listed weak handshakes as the biggest body language deal-breaker. On the other hand, 9% listed “having a handshake that was too strong” as the biggest physical gesture mistake they saw.

A good handshake needs to be strong, but not so much that you almost crush the other person’s hand. And don’t hold the handshake for too long, as that would just be awkward.


Not Making Eye Contact

The same CareerBuilder survey also saw 67% of responders listing lack of eye contact as one of the main factors that ruined an interviewee’s chances. Crystal Barnett, senior human resources specialist at HR services provider Insperitypreviously told Fast Company that a failure to look someone in the eye could be interpreted as a lack of confidence.

In the case of group interviews, Barnett advised candidates to “initially maintain eye contact with the person who asked the question.

“In the course of responding, the candidate should also look at other interviewers to read their nonverbal cues and keep them engaged,” Barnett suggested.

Arriving Empty-Handed

Have you ever been to an interview where the hiring manager asks for a copy of your resume and you have to embarrassingly say you don’t have it? It’s true that we live in a digital world, and your interviewer could probably easily pull it up on their phones or walk to their desk and hit “print.” But remember, at a job interview, it’s on you to make the case of why you’re the best for this job.

As Fast Company previously reported, bringing hard copies of your resume, portfolio, and copies of references can “show that you’re prepared to move forward with the job should an offer be forthcoming.”


Wearing Inappropriate Clothing

When you’re in a job interview, you want to make sure that you’re presenting the best version of yourself. That said, what you’re wearing should be reflective of the company culture. So while it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, you probably wouldn’t want to show up in a three-piece tailored suit if most of the office wears jeans and T-shirts. That may signal that you’re not a culture fit.

So pay attention to your industry, the company’s website, and the type of role you’re being interviewed for to figure out what the best version of you should look like. Surveys have shown that colors can convey meaning. Black, for example, signals strength and authority—meaning that it’ll probably be a good choice if you’re going for a management role, while purple suggests uniqueness and creativity—a great pick for those seeking jobs in the creative industry.

The one color that you should probably avoid? Orange. In one survey, 25% of employers indicated that it’s “the color most likely to be associated with someone who is unprofessional.”

Related: Three Pieces Of Job Interview Advice You Should Ignore 

Being Last In Line To Interview

Unfortunately, being the last candidate on the hiring manager’s interview list can have a negative impact. It’s one of those subconscious biases that humans have, particularly if the candidates before you were all good candidates. You might be as qualified and talented, or in some cases, even better, but the hiring manager is more likely to think critically of you if you’re one of the last ones to be interviewed.


Being Too Late Or Too Early

Arriving after the time you are scheduled to meet is an established faux pas. Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing agency The Creative Group, previously told Fast Company that “showing up even a few minutes late might signal to the hiring manager that you have little regard for his or her schedule.”

But being too early to your interview can send the wrong signals, too. Yes, showing up extremely early to steady your nerves may be useful to you, but it doesn’t always translate to an impressed hiring manager. They might have something already scheduled for that time slot and probably won’t appreciate the interruption. The sweet spot is 10 to 15 minutes early, no more, no less.

Your LinkedIn Photo, Twitter Account, Or Facebook Post

You should assume that when you submit a job application, prospective employers will conduct a background check on you, starting with your social media accounts.

And unfortunately, sometimes it’s not necessarily your unflattering spring break pictures from Cancún 10 years ago that tip the scale. It might be your heavily filtered LinkedIn photo, your explicitly political post, or your Twitter rants full of typos and grammatical mistakes. It might seem unfair, but it’s just part of the application process these days. Remember that when you make a post public on social media, it’s technically available for the whole world to see, including your prospective employers.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.