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Six Things Not to Do During an Interview

An interview is a chance to show you're a standout. A bad interview will make you memorable for all the wrong reasons.

We asked employers and recruiters to recall some of their worst interview memories and the lessons they impart. Here's what they told us:

Share your interest in a firm's financial products, but not your opinions.

Donald Cummings, a principal with Blue Haven Capital LLC, an investment firm in Wheaton, Ill., interviewed a prospective institutional bond salesman while working at a boutique bond house during the 1990s. Computers were slow back then, so he relied on printed resources such as Blue List to help locate and value bonds. He used Bond Buyer worksheets to research bidding new issues. He needed a person to plod through the data for a specific municipal housing bond and learn about institutional investors who bought the instruments. One candidate lectured Cummings - who had tracked the bonds himself for many years - about the impossibility of valuing the bonds, the lack of historic spread data, and the "fact" that institutions would never buy them. "He was wrong about everything he said," recalls Cummings. "In the beginning ... I liked his confidence. By the end, I was sick of his incredible stubbornness and ... perceived him to be impossible to work with."

Don't provide references unless they'll say something good.

Learning that an employer is checking your references is an encouraging sign. But be careful to provide the names of people who genuinely value your work. David Claypoole, the principal recruiter of Parks Legal Placement in Summit, N.J., specializes in finding talent for hedge funds. He recalls checking references for a candidate who impressed an employer as being a go-getter. The candidate's former employer told him, "I wouldn't let that guy pull out a staple without supervision. He's a moron." That was the first - and last - reference Claypoole checked.

Don't sweat it: Take a cab.

Mitch Feldman, president the New York-based executive recruiting and management consulting firm A.E. Feldman, says he's "wowed" by most of the executive candidates he meets. But he was equally struck by the appearance of one interviewee who walked a mile to Feldman's office in the midst of a 95-degree heat wave, arriving in sweat-soaked attire. "He looked like he just came from a short work-out - which he actually did. I offered him a towel and a bathroom," says Feldman. Taking a cab, or arriving early to clean up, would have fostered a more positive first-impression, he says.

Never embellish your present job responsibilities.

"People fudge all the time, and not just on their resumes," says Mark Jaffe, managing partner at Wyatt & Jaffe, a retained search firm in Minneapolis.

Jaffe asked one candidate to draw a diagram of his present company's organizational structure, to demonstrate the functions he oversaw. But because he'd checked out the candidate through professional contacts before the interview, Jaffe saw he was overstating the case. "Instead of sending him on, I was forced to tell him there was a sudden change in schedule," says Jaffe. "The lesson is to not just tell the truth at all times, but to never underestimate the ability of someone to check your background."

Don't chew gum or talk about personal issues.

In her role as director of career services at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, Carmen Croonquist has counseled jobseekers in the financial services industry and many other fields. However, her most bizarre interview experience involved a candidate who applied for an office manager position with her staff. "He was as unprepared as anyone I had ever seen," she recalls. He also chewed bubblegum. When she asked why he wanted the position, the candidate replied, "You know how women get as they get older: They get 'old woman's disease' and want to be near their mothers." If he got the job, he and his wife could relocate and live closer to her parents, he said. "I will always remember this particular guy for the way he interviewed and for that blue bubblegum he was chomping on throughout," says Croonquist.

Granted, he was only an assistant, but the lesson holds true: Perception counts.

Know when you need to cancel.

A job candidate who looks good on paper and sounds great on the phone may be a big disappointment in person. Tim Van Damm, president of Van Damm & Associates, encountered one such person when a promising candidate showed up to interview with the accounting and finance staffing firm in Somerville, Mass. "He came into the office bleeding profusely below his nose. He bled throughout the interview and told me he had cut himself shaving that morning. He also told me about a surgery he had and pulled up his pant leg to show me the scar," Van Damm recalls. "It wasn't pretty."

Clearly, the candidate should have stayed in bed. But called first, of course.

Had any close calls in a promising interview? Tell us about them by posting a comment below.

AUTHORSuzanne Barlyn Insider Comment
  • sa
    sadie meys
    23 October 2007

    I was asked why I left my last job after 5 years, my reply was honest, I said that I was tired of arranging my lunch hour around the office mgrs. son (who was 23) sleeping schedule. He did not have a car, and when he got out of bed between 12:30 and 2:oo pm, I could then take my lunch after the office mgr took the car to her son, and he brought her back to work, then she would ask me for a ride home, since he was at the beach.

  • Fr
    16 October 2007

    Sorry if I'm being thick, but what is wrong with saying you want to be in charge when you are interviewing for a supervisor role ?

  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    10 October 2007

    If you say something dumb and realize your mistake right away, you may be able to recover by immediately rewording or backing away from what you said, according to a career counselor I spoke with recently. See our more recent story, "A Primer for Interview Disaster Recovery", http://news.efinancialcaree...

  • Ms
    Ms Bratton
    10 October 2007

    I was being interview for a supervisor position, a black woman in an all white office I made a very stupid comment I said I like to be in charge. If there was a hole I would have jumped in and crawed out the door. I knew I would not here from that employer again.The lession to this story is, don't express everything you feel out loud.

  • Ju
    Justin Shriver
    27 September 2007

    How about, never say anything bad about your previous employeer.

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