In a world where more employees than ever are embracing job-hopping, there’s tremendous pressure to perform well in your next big interview. The stakes are high, and companies are looking for talent in a hot job market.
So it makes sense that there’s no shortage of advice out there about how to strike the right tone in an interview setting. I even included an overview of interview techniques in my most recent book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment.
Unfortunately, there’s lots of advice out there that can lead you astray. Consider these five common interview tips—all of which can have a downside, too.
1. Be qualified
It’s often said that you should apply only for jobs you’re fully qualified for.
Sure, it’s nice to feel that you can check every box on the job posting, but don’t rule out going forward if you don’t have every skill listed.
“It’s okay that you might not possess all the qualifications someone is looking for,” says Jason Cohen, vice president at Loyal Source, a national staffing firm that services commercial and government clients. “In fact, 9 times out of 10, candidates do not possess all the qualifications. If they are a good cultural fit, they may be hired anyway.”
So if you’re lacking some of the competencies but still feel you’d work well in that company, put yourself forward. But to get it right, you’ll have to do your research. “Research the company, study its website and its social media,” says Cohen. That way you can figure out how to emphasize your strengths. “If the company is philanthropic and you are too, build that into your cover letter and interview.”
2. Be self-assured
A second lie—or half-truth, anyway—is that you need to come across as self-assured.
This advice can easily lead to a self-congratulatory script that sounds like this: “I did this ….” “I did that….” And “I can do everything you’re asking for.” Beware of using “I statements” too often, since it can make you sound self-centered and overly confident.
Avoid projecting so much confidence that you sound cocky. I once interviewed a young woman who attended the best schools and whose dad worked for a client company of ours. I was interviewing her as a favor, but that favor turned sour when she came across as overly full of herself. I mentioned that I was writing a book, and she said she could write a few chapters for me because she was an English major. The same cockiness can come across when a candidate is asked “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” and replies, “I see myself in your job.”
Rather than rattling off too many uses of “I” or saying you can fill the shoes of an executive or the interviewer, project confidence by talking clearly about how you would perform successfully in the role.
3. Be relaxed
A common piece of advice is that you should relax during your job interview. It’s true–but only to a point. Of course you don’t want your nerves to zoom out of control. But if you are too relaxed, you may come across as disengaged or nonchalant. The interviewer will be less than impressed if you act too casual. “You’ll give the impression that you don’t take the job or the interview seriously,” says Cohen, “particularly if you project a relaxed body image.”
Instead, accept that the stakes are high and that you want to bring energy to the interview. High-energy people are more charismatic, they inspire others, and they are more likely to come across as focused and excited about the position. Moving into a heightened state of energy will transform any nervousness into positive energy and passion. You will show that you really care.
4. Be honest
Those who say “be honest” in a job interview are correct to the extent that you don’t want to be dishonest or tell lies. But you don’t have to be upfront about everything that’s happened to you. You want to be selective. “Never go into an interview and speak ill of a previous employer or boss or colleague,” says Cohen. “No employer wants to hear that. Keep your answers directed toward the future.”
But if you are asked a point-blank question, like “Were you fired from your previous job?” Cohen says, “You have to be open and honest. Because the truth will be found out.” You might say, “I was terminated from the position, and this is why.” Don’t share all the gruesome details, but do be honest.
5. Be likable
We all know the importance of social skills and making others feel we are likable. However, “there is a big difference between being likable and wanting to be liked,” says Cohen. “Wanting to be liked will mean that you may answer every question in a way you believe the questioner wants you to answer.”
But companies want to know who they’re hiring, and that means you must project authenticity. “Let your personality come out in an interview, without overdoing it,” says Cohen. “Gauge the temperature of the interview, and if you’re interviewing with someone who is reserved, tailor your tone to that person.”