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What not to say at your job interview: “Can you hang on a minute…”

Tim VaughanTim Vaughan·

Heard the one about the millennial who messed up his job interview by:

1. Not switching off his phone and taking a call when it rang
2. Turning up late, without apologizing
3. Constantly referring to ‘me’, ’me’, ‘me’?

We thought we’d heard it all, until this week when one of our colleagues was conducting a preliminary phone interview.

The candidate was young, highly qualified, and, crucially, unprepared when the time came to take the call.

“Can you hang on a minute as I need to get my dogs out of the room? I’m not in the office today.”

Not quite the first impression an employer would want to get, and as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

According to Inc.com writer Peter Economy, five common interview mistakes millennials make are:

  • Overusing the word ‘like’ “It can make us appear like we’re second-guessing ourselves, not confident in what we’re saying, or even of a lower intelligence level than we really are,” he says.
  • Forgetting to put their phone on silent. Or worse, taking a call: an ignorant ‘no’ ‘no’.
  • Bragging not being able to straddle the fine line between being confident and arrogant.
  • Dressing inappropriately – while work attire is more casual these days, dressing for an interview should still steer toward something more professional.
  • Not doing the research about the company and the job.

Of course, these gaffes are not confined to the much-maligned millennials. Their elders are frequently not their betters with regard to doing the basic things right for a job interview.

Data compiled by online recruiter CareerBuilder shows that three of the above list apply to candidates generally, irrespective of whether they’re Baby Boomers, Millennials or Gen Z: appearing arrogant; answering a phone or texting during the interview; dressing inappropriately.

The CareerBuilder poll of over 2,500 hiring managers showed that the number one interview ‘no’ ‘no’ is lying.

It should go without saying that lying during an interview is a huge no-no. Yet, candidates still do it, and when they get caught, it’s enough for 66 percent of hiring managers to immediately remove them from consideration,” the recruitment company said.

Other common, but damaging, mistakes include:

  • Blaming others for your mistakesnearly half of hiring managers (48 percent) are completely turned off by a candidate who appears to have a lack of accountability. “If your answers involve placing blame on others without taking any ownership for your own actions, it can be perceived as a lack of maturity and self-awareness, as well as an inability to work well with others.”

And body language mistakes to avoid include

  • Not making eye contact – CareerBuilder’s survey showed that two-thirds of hiring managers (67 percent) say that failing to make eye contact is one of the biggest body language mistakes job candidates make.
  • Refusing to smile – failing to smile is a major concern among 39 percent of hiring managers. Aside from giving off the impression that you’re cold or standoffish, not smiling also tells hiring managers that you’d rather be anywhere else. Who wants to hire someone who doesn’t want to be there? Remember, a smile is a key to the heart.
  • Playing with something on the table – “One-third of hiring managers (34 percent) have witnessed a candidate playing with something on the table during the interview – and they aren’t having it. Not only is it completely juvenile behavior, it shows a complete lack of interest in the interview – and disrespect for the manager’s time.”
  • Crossing your arms over your chest – making you look like someone who’s on the defensive and doesn’t want to be there.

All common sense, of course – that regrettably uncommon commodity.


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