The biggest mistake in a job interview

The biggest mistake at a job interview (and the one question you will always be asked)

Peter Harris|

The job of your resume is to convince an employer that you have the skills to do the job and to make them want to meet you in person. It’s really at the job interview that you either win the job or lose out to another potential candidate.

In a recent survey of over 2,000 employers, nearly half (47%) said that the most common mistake that candidates make in a job interview is having little or no knowledge about the company. In the Internet era, there’s just no excuse for this. The best way to win over an employer is to demonstrate what you can do for them specifically.

The only way to successfully do this is to know as much as possible about the job, the company, and the industry in advance. This way you can practice tailoring how you describe your past work experience and accomplishments in a way that is relevant to the employer. “Here’s what I have achieved in the past, therefore here is what I can do for you…”

Look the employer up online. Read their website. See if they are mentioned in articles on other sites or in news stories. Talk to people in your network who may have company or industry knowledge.

Think about what the future of the industry is and what the challenges of the job might be. Be prepared to explain how you can help with those challenges and to demonstrate how your qualifications make you uniquely suited for the job.

Employers are always more impressed with candidates who are knowledgeable about their company and who can show why they want to work for them specifically. (Rather than a candidate who is just looking to land a job, any job.)

This same survey also revealed that one third (33%) of employers know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they will hire someone. First impressions count. (Workopolis has previously discussed the four things that we decide about a person in four seconds.)

The most common job interview question

And it is in those opening seconds of the job interview that you will certainly be asked the most common question of all. The exact wording may differ, but very early in every job interview, you will be asked some variation of, “So, tell me about yourself.”

This is not the occasion to tell the story of growing up melancholy in a small town or of your passion for collecting stuffed owls. (Unless the job is at a stuffed owl emporium.) This conversational-sounding, ice-breaking question is your opportunity to start off the interview on a strong note and to powerfully demonstrate how you are the person for the job.

Employers don’t only want to know that you can do the job – they also want to know if you will like to do the job. If you are applying for a desk job, but all of your interests are about in being in the field, meeting people face to face, and interacting with large groups, you won’t likely be hired. That’s because even if you have the skills to actually perform on the job, employers don’t want to waste time hiring and training someone who isn’t going to be happy and is therefore unlikely to stay very long.

Be relevant

Tell them about yourself in a way that highlights your background and interests so that they make you seem like a natural fit for the role.

For example, although I have many interests including travel, literature, and blues music, when the VP of HR for Workopolis asked me to say a little about myself in the interview for this job, I didn’t talk about those things. Instead, I said something like:

    “I am a writer and editor who has really enjoyed working on the Web for over ten years. I love the interactivity of getting to know an audience and building increased engagement with them. I especially love the idea of working for Workopolis, because not only does this mean bringing the latest news and information to a vast audience of Canadians, but it also means having the chance to really help people. Learning to communicate your potential in a resume, winning the job in a tough interview – we can help people with challenges like these, and that has the potential to improve lives. I would love to be a part of that.”

It’s true, I still love being a part of that. It’s not that I was lying by not mentioning the other interests, it’s just that I chose to focus on what would matter the most to the employer.

Other common interview questions that you can bank on being asked:

Do your homework

Find out as much as you can about the company, and be prepared to ask smart questions that show your interest. (Asking, “So what does this company do?” is a deal breaker.) Tell the interviewer why you’d be passionate about doing the job as well as why you’d be great at it. The biggest mistake in a job interview is not being prepared, and there’s no reason that you can’t be ready to answer the questions that you know for sure are coming.

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Peter Harris
- Peter Harris on Twitter

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Category: Job interviews,