10 Common Sense Interview Tips

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We coach our candidates extensively before interviews with our clients. We stress the importance of doing the proper research on the position, preparing for unusual interview questions as well as other key job interview tips that can make or break an interview.  However, recently, I’ve seen an increase in mistakes made by candidates. These mistakes are things we didn’t discuss with the candidates since we believed they were “common sense”. Below are some common interview mistakes pointed out by hiring managers to avoid in interviews:

Put your phone away – or better yet, don’t bring it in at all.

Do not answer a call during an interview. Texting and e-mailing is also off limits. This is blatant disrespect of a manager’s time. It is best to leave your phone in the car – any alerts or calls during the interview are also a distraction

Watch your mouth.

No matter how casual the interview is, under no circumstances is it okay for you to swear in an interview. Swearing at work is generally frowned upon, so you definitely would not want to swear during the interview!

Take pride in your appearance.

You may be wondering what to wear to a job interview – wear a suit (unless you were instructed otherwise). Iron your clothes and make sure they are free of pet hair. Get a haircut if needed and make sure your nails are clean. Dress to fit in with the culture of a company – if it’s a fashion company, you can add more accessories; if it’s a bank, you might want to stick to conservative colors such as black, blue or gray. Make sure you are dressing for success – First impressions are everything, especially if you are interviewing for a customer facing role.

Admit a real weakness.

As a hiring manager, I don’t want to hear that you are a perfectionist or that you work too many hours. That is a strength – if I could have a whole team of workaholic perfectionists, I would be in my glory. Admit a technical weakness or true personal weakness that you are working to improve that is not critical to the job description.

Examples: “My Excel skills are intermediate, but I’m working to become more advanced in functions such as Pivot Tables or VLOOKUP by taking a training course.” Or, “It can be difficult for me to see the long range implications of decisions, so I remind myself to slow down and consider if a choice is in line with company strategy.”

Don’t cut yourself short in terms of salary

The “What is your desired salary?” question is very common, but many candidates are not sure how to answer salary expectations questions. You want to make sure you are using the best salary negotiation tactics if faced with this question. If you’ve discussed a rate with your recruiter, that is what the recruiter submitted you to the client at. If that rate was $35/hour, don’t tell the interviewer you will take $30/hour, or that is what you will get. If your recruiter told you not to discuss salary, tell the interviewer that your recruiter is handling salary negotiations on your behalf and you are most concerned with the opportunity itself.

Let the interviewer talk.

Do not interrupt the interviewer when they are talking – even if they ramble or interrupt you. Include sufficient detail in your answers, but keep it to the point. Ask questions about the company – people love to talk about themselves.

Show enthusiasm.

If you want the job, be excited about it. Ask when they will be making the hiring decision and let them know you are interested. Remember to smile and display a positive attitude.

Be ready to discuss details, how you’ve handled situations in the past and quantify results.

You may be asked for specifics on your work history or behavior. If your resume says that you achieved a cost savings, be prepared to tell the interviewer how much and how you accomplished it. In behavioral interviewers, you might be asked about how you dealt with a difficult co-worker or a time when you failed. The belief in these “STAR” types of interviews is that past behavior predicts future behavior.

Be prepared for a background check.

If you have a criminal record, be up front about it with the interviewer or recruiter when they ask you. A lot of times, the company will allow hiring someone with a criminal record depending on the circumstances – but lying is considered falsifying an application and will immediately disqualify you. Don’t assume the charges won’t show up – they almost always will. If you have something on your record, ask the recruiter for a copy of your background check so you know exactly what is on it.

Be prepared for a drug test – potentially even a nicotine test.

If you do drugs, quit doing them at least a month before the interview. Don’t assume that drinking apple cider vinegar will help you pass a drug test. Don’t add anything to your drug test sample in hopes of neutralizing a positive results – tests can check for these adulterants. Nicotine testing is legal – more companies are choosing not to hire smokers due to a higher cost of benefits.


In a panel interview, don’t be surprised if there is one interviewer who has an aggressive interviewing style. It is not uncommon for companies to use the “stress interview” style to see how a candidate reacts under pressure. This person may be direct, arrogant, even outright rude. Keep your cool and deal with them as you would a difficult customer.



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