Five things not to do in interviews (all of which I did...)

Grads Corner
30 March 2015 | Grads Corner | Guest Author


I'm a freelance writer. The word 'freelance' is often used as a euphemism for 'unemployed', and in my case that's how things started out - I'm just lucky that I managed to make a success of it. There are many reasons why my jobhunting didn't go too well, back when I was still looking for conventional, full-time, permanent employment (around 2008-10).

You can blame it on the recession, or on my former employer's 'flexible' approach to time off for job interviews (which more or less amounted to taking it as a day of annual leave, only if I had days left to take, gave them two weeks' notice and caught back up with my work myself as unpaid overtime). But I really have myself to blame, for making some terrible decisions in interviews. Learn from my mistakes, so you don't have to make them yourself...

1. Don't say you don't need the job!

This is important especially if the job you are applying for is not that great - in my case, I'm thinking back to my student days, when I applied to work at a well-known high-street burger chain.

In my head, I was thinking: "Sound like you really want the job!" but what came out of my mouth was: "Y'know, I don't really need this job, I could survive without the money..." and what the interviewer wrote down was: "Might do a runner!"

The flipside (no burger pun intended) to this is, be tenacious. As it happened, my letter of rejection got delayed in the post, so I just turned up for my first shift assuming I'd got the job. I stayed there until graduation three years later, and made some lifelong friends.

2. Don't be self-deprecating!

There's a big difference between being modest and being outright self-deprecating - so I'm not saying you should be an egotist, just don't make yourself sound bad. As an example, I was once asked in an interview: "If you were any product in a supermarket, what would you be?" to which I replied: "Pickled lemons." Now the reason for this is, I had just been in the supermarket next door, saw pickled lemons, wasn't sure what they were for and figured this might be the chance to find out. Unfortunately they asked me to explain my answer, and the best I could come up with was: "I probably look pretty useless, but I'm bound to come in handy for something." (The interview wasn't a total loss, as one of the interviewers helpfully informed me that pickled lemons are used a lot in Moroccan cuisine.)

3. Don't hail a cab on the way!

If you know how to drive and have passed your test, driving to job interviews might be the best option, although this is not always realistic if you have a rush-hour interview in a busy city centre where parking is all but impossible. If not, or if you live in a city with reliable public transport (like London or Manchester), make sure you plan ahead and know which taxi rank, bus stop or train station you need to be at, with a contingency plan if your first choice method of transport doesn't show up - and keep one eye on travel updates and operators' Twitter accounts for any mention of delays and cancellations.

My biggest failure in this area was when an interview was moved at short notice from Wythenshawe in South Manchester, to Manchester Airport, which is actually out near Stockport, four miles further away. The original venue had been within walking distance of where I was living at the time, so I had no method of transport planned or booked - "I'll hail a cab," I thought. About two hours later, having crossed a motorway, I arrived on foot. I didn't get the job. Another time I had to get to Bolton for an interview on an industrial estate near the Reebok Stadium.

This time, all of the following things genuinely went wrong on different days: I went to the wrong station. A fire near the train tracks meant we had to return to Manchester (in reverse). The worst winter in living memory meant although I was there, my interviewer wasn't. To their credit, they had somebody there to interview me, who explained that I had interviewed well and would just have to go back once to meet with the snowbound decision-maker, almost as a formality. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Don't be an egotist!

Maybe it was me trying to overcorrect for being self-deprecating in other interviews. Maybe I was overconfident because they'd told me I'd already got the job. Maybe it was just bad luck and bad timing. But I went into that 'formality' of an interview with possibly the cockiest, most combative attitude I've ever had in my life. "What if somebody's opinion differs from your own?" they asked. "If it's a matter of opinion, then fine," I replied, "but if I'm right, and I know I'm right, then that's it." Given the choice between the two, I'd say self-deprecating is the less damaging tactic to deploy in interviews, but if you can find more of a middle ground, that probably gives you the best chance of all.

5. Don't tell them to give it to somebody else!

Remember the 'pickled lemons' interview from earlier? Well to be fair, I didn't really want the job - by the end of the recruitment day, they'd told us to expect long hours, high stress levels and lots of unpaid overtime. There was, however, another candidate who both wanted and needed the job, or she was at risk of losing her house and having to move away from her boyfriend in order to find work. I did what any good person would do - I told them to give the job to her. And they did. There was a second vacancy, but given that I'd just told them I'm as useless as a pickled lemon, I'm not surprised they didn't hire me.

The take-home lesson from all of this is, if self-deprecating humour is the thing you're best at in life, find a different hobby or skill to rely on in interviews, and you're in with a better chance than me of finding gainful employment without having to invent a job of your own. 

If you have enjoyed Bob's post he blogs about his work, SEO and personal topics at Phronesis Freelance and can be contacted on Twitter @bobblebardsley.

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