Here are six common interview mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Acting arrogant.
Humility rules the day. Even if you feel you’re overqualified for the position, don’t wear it on your sleeve. Employers want people who work well with others and don’t hold themselves above anyone else.
I like to urge older workers to be confident, with just the tiniest dose of swagger. But never go egotistic. If you believe in yourself, you don’t need the crutch of haughtiness.
In the end, whether you get tapped for the job often will depend on a hiring manager’s gut sense of how well you’ll play with the other kids. Someone who is willing and happy to chip in and works effortlessly and collaboratively with others wins the day.
You want the interview to convey that you have this quality. One way is to be sincerely enthusiastic about the company. It will show up in the spark in your eyes and the tone of your voice. Be clear about why you’re motivated by what the organization does, its mission and the challenges of the position for which you’re interviewing — plus why you think you would be a good fit with its culture.
2. Dropping names.
It may be OK to briefly mention names of people you may know in common or those of big players in your industry whom you’ve worked with recently. But generally this technique is a turnoff and suggests insecurity. Your interviewer may take it as a flaunting of high-level connections that will get you in the door, so zip it on names. We all know how we feel when people drop names to us.
3. Bringing up compensation or work schedules too early.
Wait for signs that the organization wants you before broaching how much it’s willing to pay or whether it offers flextime or telecommuting options. Ask too soon and you may end up lowballing yourself or giving the impression you want special scheduling privileges and don’t want to be a team player in the office.
4. Focusing too much on what you would get out of the job.
This is one of the biggest errors you can make, so steer the conversation not toward what the employer can do for you, but what you can do for the employer. If and when you have an offer, you can shift your focus to getting some specifics on your personal situation.
The best way to sidestep this blunder is to keep your attention concentrated on your interviewer and the reality that you’re sitting in that chair to sell solutions to the company’s problems or challenges. Listen closely to what he or she is saying.
Generally speaking, employers are looking for certain characteristics in you as a candidate that will make the workplace run more productively. They want to glean your enthusiasm and your curiosity to learn new things. One stereotype older workers must push back against is that they are set in their ways.
Ask questions about the company and its services, products, customers and competition. Be sure these aren’t generic questions that are easily answered by a look at the company’s website. Ask things that demonstrate you have done your sleuthing and are digging deeper. Be sure to mention any new certificates or technology skills that you’ve added.
Creativity is a big seller, too. Talk about a specific way you innovatively solved a problem or met a challenge for a previous employer.
Grit is another core trait that’s in demand. Interviewers want to see a whatever-it-takes attitude. Be prepared to discuss situations at work or in your personal life when you faced adversity or experienced a setback and overcame it.
5. Not being engaging enough.
Calm down. When you’re tense, you can come off as being stiff and standoffish. There is an easy fix: Take a breath, relax and make eye contact with your interviewer.
Get in the spirit of the game. Keep the interview volleying back and forth at a steady pace. Leaning slightly forward can signal that you’re interested. Smile and laugh (though not too hard!) when it’s appropriate. That instantly creates an atmosphere of engagement and breaks the inner tension for you — and your interviewer, too.
6. Twisting the facts.
This is an interview killer. You have nothing to gain from exaggerating or massaging the truth, whether it’s about past jobs and responsibilities, graduation dates or experience. Honesty is nothing to play around with. It can be tempting in the heat of an interview to overplay your qualifications in your desire to be hired. But if your interviewer calls you on it, it will be tough to regain your composure or your credibility.
Those are the six mistakes, but it can be easy to make them even if you know you shouldn’t. Up your chances of steering clear by practicing ahead of time. You might have a friend or job-search partner play the role of interviewer. You may also create your own simulated video interview with Skype, an online communications app or a video camera and tripod. Ask a friend to pitch questions your way. Record it and review to see where you can smooth your delivery and responses.
Another option is an online job-interview simulator. Check out the following sites and apps: Interview4, Interview Simulation, InterviewStream Prep, Monster.com Interviews (available at Itunes), My Interview Simulator.
If you’re starting a job hunt and worry that your in-person interview skills are rusty, consider joining Toastmasters. You’ll learn how to focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and audience. You might also take a public-speaking course at your local community college. Most courses cover techniques for managing communication anxiety, speaking clearly and tuning into your body language. Finally, work with a personal coach. A good career coach can give you feedback and offer advice to hone your presentation.
With that, you’ll be set for an attitude that you’re running your own business. It’s empowering. Envision this potential employer as a prospective client. At the heart of that relationship is your ability to listen to what problems and challenges need to be solved. So take a breath. You’ve got this.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is the author of What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.