Student success or mess? How to tank a job interview in five easy steps

Interviews can be exciting, nerve-wracking experiences. Even the most tenured professionals can make simple mistakes that can cost them a job opportunity. However, by recognizing the five most common job interview blunders I have seen college students make over the past 15 years, you can help ensure your student success by turning these mistakes into success strategies.

1)      Keep people waiting. Everyone knows they should arrive on time for an interview. This idea is simply common sense. However, what has surprised me over the years is just how many students show up late due to factors they didn’t plan for, such as unexpected traffic jams, road construction or other transportation delays — or simply forgetting to set the alarm. Please don’t let this mistake happen to you. Plan ahead. Make a test run a day or two before your interview and leave yourself at least an extra half hour to 40 minutes. If you take public transportation, bring some extra in cash just in case your train or bus is delayed so you can take a cab if necessary.

2)      Ignore the company’s dress code. I still remember my first corporate interview after I graduated from college. I was meeting with a small start-up company in the city. I wore what I thought was stylish and made me feel comfortable. I believed I looked professional in my long skirt, casual blazer and Madonna-style jewelry. (What can I say, it was the early 90s!) What I failed to recognize was that the company I was meeting with was a start-up in the financial industry — a niche that tends to have a highly conservative culture. While the company went on to become one of the most respected financial corporations in the country, my lack of understanding the industry I was meeting with  and failing to dress the part of a professional working in that particular environment caused me to lose out on what could have been a great opportunity. Not sure what the appropriate “dress code” is for your specific industry? Check out’s  occupational wardrobe page for tips, photos and resources on different interview attire options based on your specific profession.

3)      Show up unprepared. Recently a colleague shared with me the story of recent graduates he interviewed. When asked, “What do you know about our company and why are you interested in working for us?” the first grad replied, “Well, I know you are expanding your engine divisions into the Asian market through a number of recent acquisitions. As an international business major, I wrote my senior thesis on emerging economic trends in India and China and I have a real passion for the opportunity to work in this part of the world.” The second student’s response to the same question? “I know you make trucks and other stuff related to engines. I think that is pretty awesome.” There is little doubt as to which student was called back. With all of the information available online to help you research companies, there is no excuse for being unprepared. Unsure where to start? Fellow career expert Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. offers some great tips in his article, “Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Companies.”

4)      Use the interview as a vent session. A common mistake many students and recent graduates make when interviewing is letting their emotions get the best of them in an interview. Informing your interviewer of the worst parts of your last job, such as how unsympathetic your coworkers were, how unchallenging the position was or how frustrating your job search has been, may feel like an honest explanation of your experience. In reality these answers are red flags that can send signals to the interviewer that you are unable to work well with others, get bored easily and/or may not be able to handle stressful situations. During your interview, remember to always stay focused on the positive and keep connected to a support group of friends or family members who are willing and available to listen to you talk through your frustrations “offline.”

5)      Forget to follow up. A final classic mistake students make when they enter the work world is failing to recognize that once your interview ends, the recruiting process is not over.  You can have a great interview, but if you don’t take the right steps to follow up, your candidate ranking can go from A to D in a matter of days. For this reason a well-crafted thank you letter that is tailored to your meeting is a must. Need to know more about how to get started writing your thank you letters? Check out the article, “Should You Send A Handwritten Or Email Thank You Note After An Interview?” from Jessica Liebman, managing editor of Business Insider. Lastly, following-up with the interviewer after a few weeks is a great way to keep you on the radar screen. Secure a great resource for how to conduct a follow-up call at‘s article, “Post-Interview Phone Call Do’s and Don’ts.” 

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