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Job Interview Don'ts
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
For Lisa Gabriel, a job candidate's make-or-break moment comes in the company lobby, before anyone sits in an interview chair. If the candidate's handshake is weak or eye contact is poor, "I can tell right away it's not going to be a good interview."

Snap judgment? Hardly. Gabriel interviews 20 to 25 people a month in her role as corporate recruiter for ImageRight, a Conyers, GA-based document management system for the insurance industry and the trademark of Advanced Solutions Inc. Before ImageRight, she worked for six years as an executive search consultant -- meaning Gabriel has earned her interviewing chops.

Indeed, not projecting a professional image is one of the top five mistakes job candidates routinely make, according to recruiters and interview experts. The other big no-nos that drive interviewers wild include candidates who:

  • Don't listen
  • Can't talk about themselves
  • Haven't researched the company
  • Don't know what they want to do

That's the bad news. But here's the good: You can avoid these traps and wow your way into a new job if you take the time to prepare and polish. Following, advice the experts wish everyone would take.

Challenge: A weak professional demeanor

When you go to an interview, you never know who's watching you, when they're watching, or where.

"The way you comport yourself, starting from the time you step out of that cab or car, is really important," says Sharon Keys Seal, an executive coach and founder of the Baltimore-based Coaching Concepts Inc. (www.coachingconcepts.com)

So get to your interview on time. Dress appropriately. Turn the cell phone off. And when the recruiter or hiring manager comes to greet you, look them in the eye and offer a firm handshake.

Challenge: Not listening during the interview.

Hiring managers often ask questions with multiple layers, says Katherine Burik, president of The Interview Doctor (www.interviewdoc.com) in Canton, OH. They ask two-part questions. And while they're interested in your answers, they also want to see if you're really listening. Will you answer all parts of the question directly and succinctly, or are you going to blather on and on?

If it's the latter, "you kind of figure out that's the way they live," she says.

Besides, adds Seal, listening lets you discover what the company is really looking for and what its key issues are.

"There are so many clues," she says. "When you're really listening, you can pick up clues from the interviewer about what they seem to be interested in, what they're emphasizing, what the hot buttons are for the company."

So listen carefully. Be sure you answer the question that is asked. Don't repeat yourself. And if a question flusters you, repeat it to be sure you're hearing it correctly, Seal says.

Challenge: Not being prepared to talk about yourself.

People think they can wing a conversation about themselves, Burik says. They can't. And if you're not prepared to answer a soft opener like "tell me about yourself," you've missed a valuable opportunity to get to the guts of what you'd bring to a position.

To compensate, Burik says, prepare. Write down five words that describe yourself. Write down your strengths and weaknesses. Collect five to six anecdotes that illustrate your accomplishments. And write down your answer to that "tell me about yourself" question, including some facts about you, your strengths and the experiences you've had that will translate to this new job.

Then practice, practice, practice your answers. You might think it's overkill, but what it's really doing is giving you confidence and poise.

"When my clients go into an interview, they're so calm," Burik says. "They're not winging the whole thing."

Challenge: Forgetting to research the company.

When Gabriel corresponds with job candidates, her signature includes ImageRight's website. When candidates come in for an interview, one manager always asks what they know about the company. It's immediately obvious who has taken time to visit that site.

"They'll just spill it out, and it's great," Gabriel says. "Others will come in and not even know we're a software company. You really do want that person to have done the research and know what you're all about."

Challenge: Not knowing what you want to do.

Hiring managers don't want to hear that you can do anything, Burik says. Because "no, you can't."

Instead, they want to know your passion. What position do you want with their company? Why?

"I want a candidate to be prepared to say, 'I want to do this,'" she says. "A hiring manager can't work with someone who doesn't know what they want."

So prepare. Prepare your look. Your listening skills. Your responses to frequently asked questions. Your company research. And your vision for the work you want to do. It will pay off in spades.

"Being relaxed and confident," Burik says, "comes from preparation."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.