It’s the little things that let you down. The trouble is, we often don’t know exactly what those little things are…

We’ve all been there, stuck halfway through interviewing a potential candidate, just knowing that we’re not going to hire them. So, it’s no surprise that a Workopolis survey found that 52% of interviewers make decisions about a candidate 5-15 minutes into the interview.

For those who were rejected, here are key reasons employers cited about why candidates failed to make the grade.

‘No Way I’d Do THAT!’

Let’s start with behaviours that Blind Freddie would know are NOT a good idea to do or say (though they’re obviously still happening somewhere in the world). Hopefully, none of these would ever apply to your interview performance and you only need to do a quick scan and move on.

According to The Harris Poll, a large percentage of employers had the following issues that caused them to reject a candidate:

  • 67% chose texting during the interview.
  • 51% chose swearing.

Now really, who would be foolish enough to DO that??

Then, there’s lying. When asked for their top interview dealbreakers, 71% of the Harris Poll respondents said lying was an instant dealbreaker.

Apart from the moral issue at stake here, you’re unlikely to get away with it. Lying is an act of memory and behavioural interviewing will probably catch you out. After that initial ‘Give us an example of…’ question, the interviewer usually follows up with sub-questions. Without you realising it, as you add each new piece of ‘information’, you’re probably contradicting something you’ve just said. Don’t do it!

‘Hmm, MAYBE I’d do that in an interview. Oops!’

What about other times you might be sabotaging your own candidacy through rookie, deal-breaking interview mistakes – all of which can be easily avoided through thoughtful preparation, of course.

Here are some of the most common and most damaging.

Intellectual Dealbreakers – what interviewers say:

  1. 48% said talking negatively about previous employers. (The Harris Poll)
    It’s your next potential boss sitting opposite, and they immediately think you’ll say the same thing about their organisation. Or they think you’re bad-mannered. Or they think you’re a negative Nellie.
  2. 45% said that the candidate knowing nothing about the job or company. (The Harris Poll)
    At a minimum, read key content from their website. Otherwise, they usually feel insulted and it makes you look foolish or lazy.
  3. 16% said unpreparedness. (The Harris Poll)
    Start with the job ad and make sure you can address key elements. Ask for a Position Description to find more details about the role so that you can include these, if relevant. And, of course, practise your responses with an astute judge.
  4. 15% said a poor explanation of their career history. (Robert Half)
    One of the most common first questions is, ‘Tell us a little bit about you’. Obviously, you need to paint a picture of how well your background suits the needs of the organisation. Watch out you don’t deliver a boring chronological account of each job you’ve had since High School, though. This is actually a very difficult question to answer well.

Body Language Deal-breakers – what interviewers say:

  1. 50% said dressing inappropriately. (Robert Half 2018).
    The best advice is to match the level of formality and style of the employer and, if in doubt, go slightly more formal. It’s tougher than that, though. Employers will also notice if your clothes are clean, pressed or wrinkled, if your hair is unkempt or out-dated, if your shoes are polished or ragged. They may well believe that these are indicators of your personality and of how much attention you pay to detail.
  2. 19% chose poor body language. (Robert Half 2018)
    The way we decide to hold and use our body is usually deeply ingrained by adulthood, so you may not be aware of any issues.

Exactly what were the body language issues that were criticised? The Harris Poll outlines them for us:

  • 68% of employers chose failure to make eye contact.
  • 38% chose failure to smile.
  • 32% said fidgeting too much.
  • 31% chose bad posture.
  • 31% said crossing arms.
  • 22% chose a weak handshake.

Video Interview Deal-breakers – what interviewers say:

A Harvard Business Review survey from 2021 found that employers are becoming more critical of remote interview performance. From what I’ve seen, I’m not surprised; there are some truly AWFUL responses to this technology.

As we’ve all become used to Zoom and Teams, expectations of how you present yourself in this medium are inevitably more demanding.

  1. 80% of interviewees who did not receive an offer appeared distracted or disengaged.
    You should look at the camera lens, NOT the screen when you are communicating with others. Of course, this feels wrong and odd, and takes some time to adjust to. To make it easier, place a post-it note either side of the camera to remind yourself to look at that lens.
  2. 42% read from notes too much.
    You’re deluding yourself if you think no one will notice. They will and clearly do! The only time you should consult notes is when they prompt you for questions you’d like to ask them. Here, it is quite normal to look at your prepared list.

Again, from the HBR survey, here are some additional hints:

  • 88% of recruiters’ number one pet peeve during video interviews is internet lag.
  • 95% of recruiters prefer cool light to warm light during video interviews.
  • 97% of interviewers prefer an office-themed backdrop if a candidate uses a virtual background.

(By the way, I don’t recommend that you use a virtual background. It usually flickers in a very distracting way and is quite annoying!)

Social Media Deal-breakers – what interviewers say:

More and more people are on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Got a YouTube channel? Your interviewer will be watching your recent videos. They’re going to check out your updates and tweets.

But what about if you’re not on social media? That won’t necessarily help you, either.

  1. 41% of employers wouldn’t call a candidate back if they couldn’t find them on social media. (ResumeLab)
    Many employers want to gather more information about the candidate before taking the next step in the recruiting process. If you’re an older worker, it can also cause them to think you’re out of touch with the modern world.
  2. More than 70% of employers have declined candidates due to their online presence. (Zety)
    If you’re being careful about building your social media presence, keep it up. Employers are likely to scrutinise the internet to find out as much as possible about you. So, make sure there are no embarrassing drunk photos on your Instagram from your last holiday.

Give them a feeling of comfort

Most people don’t like hiring. They want to find the right person quickly so they can get back to work. They want the interview candidate to be personable, confident and competent, so that they won’t have to interview anyone else.

As a candidate, you start off with the employer on your side. It’s your job to avoid alienating them. Each of these dealbreakers can be easily eliminated through thoughtful preparation. You know that old saying — if you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.

Or, of course, make an appointment with a career specialist. It’s our job to…

  • notice everything that may stop you from winning that job
  • be brave enough to tell you
  • support you to make the changes

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