During the dance that goes on between a candidate and employer, you've got many chances to shoot yourself in the foot. In no particular order, here are 10 ways to pull the trigger.
Bad Behavior and Dress
We've all heard stories about people who've walked into job interviews talking on their cell phones or slurping a Starbucks, or at some point put their feet on the interviewer's desk. Not good ideas.
Then there's the young woman Diane Albergo remembers arriving for an interview wearing torn fishnet stockings and a mini miniskirt. Albergo, director of career services and human resources for Financial Executives International - an organization of senior-level finance professionals headquartered in Florham Park, N.J. - says a suit is never inappropriate. If during a first interview you notice the staff was dressed more casually, and you're called back for a second, it's fine to ask what you should wear. "It shows you want to fit in," Albergo says. But take care: "Flip-flops are not appropriate in a business setting and never for an interview," she says.
Dave Araldi, a Sacramento-based regional manager with Robert Half International, adds "asking about money right off the bat" to the bad-behavior category. "It can be a red flag for a lot of hiring managers," he says. "Wait until the employer makes up his mind about the next step in the process."
Araldi has been astounded by candidates who curse "right up front in the middle of an interview. It tells me that, on one hand, maybe they're very comfortable with me already. But on the other, it's shocking." And out of place. Carefully edit what you say, before you say it, every time you open your mouth.
Araldi also knows of candidates who've invited the interviewer out for drinks after the interview. Even if it's just a friendly offer, don't do it.
Poor Verbal Communication
You've checked the dirty words at the door, but there are still plenty of chances to slip up. Incorrect grammar and use of slang won't fly. For Araldi, one off-putting characteristic is "a tendency to ramble on and on and on, taking too long to answer a direct question and not getting to the point." Others are speaking negatively about your current or past employers, and being a know-it-all, especially if your attitude is "there's nothing we can tell you about our business."
Albergo advises having "a positive phone voice, especially for a scheduled interview." Be aware of potentially disturbing background noise (such as children running around if you're speaking from home). "It amazes me how much people don't take into account," she says.
Worse Non-Verbal Communication
"Image counts for a lot. Make sure your non-verbals are positive," Albergo advises. That means walking in with shoulders back and head high, wearing immaculate clothing right down to your socks. (And Albergo specifically mentions wearing socks.) Further, she says, if you have tattoos or body piercings, be careful. "Know the culture you're walking into," she says.
During the interview, make eye contact and be aware of your handshake. "A limp one can show disinterest. An over-aggressive one can be overwhelming," Araldi explains.
Lack of Preparation
Says Araldi: "If you've done no pre-interview research about the organization, you can't ask good questions."
If you've e-mailed your resume, also send a hard copy by regular mail. "Things get lost too easily in e-mail, and this shows you've made an extra effort," Albergo believes.
And be prompt in your responses: If the gatekeeper to a hiring manager asks you to e-mail something, "Send it out within 24 hours or less," advises Debra Feldman, a Connecticut-based executive talent agent. If you've had an interview, send a thank-you note immediately. Araldi puts "a lot of weight on how well a person follows up." As for the format of the note: "An old-fashioned handwritten or typed thank you is best, e-mail second."
There's no excuse for typographical errors in your resume or cover letter. Period.
"How you treat administrative assistants and receptionists is important," Araldi warns. "Administrative assistants have a really good feel for people and can sway our decisions."
Customize your resume and cover letter. Otherwise, the recipient might ask, in Albergo's words, "Are you just sending out 10 or 15 resumes, or do you really want this job?"
"Never, ever lie on your resume about anything from dates (of employment) to education," Albergo says. "Almost everyone does background checks these days." Araldi agrees, adding: "Don't lie. Don't embellish."
The take-away? Look good. Sound good - on the phone, in person and on paper. Be truthful and pleasant. Wear socks. And never flip-flops.
What's the worst performance you've ever seen during an interview? On either side of the desk? Post your comment below.