by Liz Ryan
The great thing about a job interview is the way that it narrows the field. If you can get in front of the people making a hiring decision, that means that you've already moved from a group of perhaps 100 resumes to a field of just a few serious contenders. At that point, your chance of getting a job offer improves dramatically.
Of course, having surmounted that huge hurdle, the last thing you want to do is blow it. To that end, here are 10 job-interview gaffes to avoid.
1. Complaining about the parking or directions.
Don't think it doesn't happen! As cordial and happy-go-lucky as your interviewers may seem, they don't want to hear a job-seeker complain that the place was hard to find or that the parking is inconvenient. The best (that is, the worst) example of this I ever experienced as an HR person came from the candidate who said, "Seven handicapped parking spaces next to the front door? What, are you having a wheelchair convention or something?" That was a short interview.
2. Bad-mouthing your previous job, manager, or company.
If you've been laid off or suffered some other unpleasant experience at your last job, it's easy to launch into a litany of everything the old employer did wrong. Don't do it! The interviewer is bound to wonder "Will this person be bashing me behind my back on some future interview, too?" Zip it.
3. Digging into details off the bat.
The typical selection process allows plenty of time for you to learn everything you need to know about the company's dental plan, its tuition-reimbursement policy, and the size of your cubicle. Don't ask about any of these items on a first interview, when you should be focusing the conversation on the role and the organization.
Employers want to hire people who can do the jobs and who are enthusiastic about the work. What's not so appealing is the candidate whose every word and gesture conveys the message, "Hire me, I beg you!" Joblessness is no fun, but you don't help your chances of getting the nod by presenting yourself as a candidate whose most notable attribute is desperation.
5. Answering a question before you understand it.
The absolute worst answer to any interview question is the response that shows you weren't really listening. When an interviewer asks a question that requires thought, like, "Tell me about a time when you had to convince a team of people to change gears," you don't want to blurt out, "Oh, I've done that a million times!" Any "tell me about a time when" question is a question that the interviewer has chosen to elicit a specific problem/solution story from you. Take the time to think through the question and compose a thoughtful answer. A few minutes of silence in the room won't kill anybody.
6. Spacing out.
Any interviewer worth her salt will be able tell when you've zoned out. If you're wondering whether the 5:40 train will get you home in time to watch the playoff game, the interviewer will spot it in your eyes. If you're really out of it, he may throw you a curve ball like, "So, who would you say was the most effective member of Teddy Roosevelt's cabinet, and why?" Stay in the room, with your eyes either meeting the interviewer's or looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. Or your shoes.
We'll throw in tipping the chair back off its front legs, resting your head on your hand, and lacing your fingers together behind your head.
Interviewers love to put job candidates at ease. When you reach the state of ease that lets an "f-bomb" escape your lips, you've gone too far.
9. "Opening the kimono."
It's tempting to share with a sympathetic interviewer the news that this job search has been really hard, that you're not getting callbacks, and that you've already sent out 150 resumes. Don't do it. Smart job candidates put out a vibe that says, "I'm glad to be here with you and this job might be fun, but I'm a capable person who's aware of his value on the job market."
10. Doing anything disgusting.
The long list of personal gross factors includes picking one's teeth or nose, spitting, and other unmentionables that are best left to the imagination. Any of these is a sure-fire interview-killer (and can we really blame the employer for that?). One candidate asked me for a cup of water, took a sip, swished it around in his mouth, and spat into a potted plant. Niiiiiice!Liz Ryan is a 25-year HR veteran, former Fortune 500 VP and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the new millennium workplace. Contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Ask Liz Ryan online community at www.asklizryan/group.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely the author's.