When it comes to fear-inducing situations, job interviews are right up there with public speaking and first dates.
In fact, a survey found that 92% of people feel interview anxiety over their qualifications, whether they'd be able to answer questions correctly — and even if they'd make it to the meeting on time.
In order to rock an interview, you've got to push the fear aside and boost your confidence. Here's how 10 people learned that the hard way.
Mistake #1: Dressing for the Part, Not the Culture
“I had just graduated and was interviewing for an analyst position at a small financial firm. I was dressed in a black skirt suit and I was carrying a black briefcase. It was my only nice, professional outfit, so I wore it to all of my interviews.
My interviewer was wearing cutoff shorts and a T-shirt. Even though it was a corporate job, I realized that I should have looked into the company’s dress code. The hiring manager even told me that I seemed too ’professional’ for the position and that my qualifications were too high.
That taught me to drive by an office a few days prior to an interview to see what people who are walking in and out of the building are wearing.”
—Michelle Schroeder, 25, content manager, St. Louis
Mistake #2: Forgetting a Name
“I arrived early for an interview at a local government agency and started chatting with the person sitting next to me in the waiting area. I just assumed he was another candidate, but then he introduced himself — and turned out to be a member of one of the two teams I was going to be interviewing with that day.
Unfortunately, his group wasn’t the first one that I met. So by the time I finished interviewing with team number one, I had totally forgotten his name. When I met with him and his colleague, I had to ask for his name again. He seemed surprised and disappointed that I hadn’t remembered, and I didn’t get the job.
Since that incident, I ask for the correct spelling of a name right after I meet someone, write it down — and send thank-you letters.”
—Mary Chase, 53, government administrator, Chicago
Mistake #3: Bringing Up Salary Too Soon
“I once interviewed for a job as an account manager for an advertising agency. I really needed to make more money. The interview seemed to be going well. About three-quarters of the way through, I asked possibly the dumbest question I could: How much did the job pay? D’oh! The interviewer said HR would discuss it with me if they chose me. They didn't.
Now I know you don't bring up salary during an initial interview, when you first need to show that you are a good fit for the job and their team.”
—Glen Craig, 42, blogger, Nassau, New York
Mistake #4: Badmouthing Colleagues
“While interviewing for a sales position, the hiring manager asked me whether I’d ever had to deal with a difficult co-worker.
I should have given an example of how I’d been able to make a challenging relationship work. What I did instead was tell a story about a jealous co-worker, going into great detail about what she did that made her so annoying. I wasn't offered the job.
I realized later that the hiring managers wanted to know why an incident occurred, whether I took responsibility for my part and what I learned from the experience — ultimately to determine if I was a cultural fit.
Since then, I make sure to study up on a position before the interview to create a clearer picture of who the company’s ideal candidate is.”
—Kathlyn Hart, 26, web designer, San Francisco
Mistake #5: Not Being in ‘Ready Mode’
“A friend worked at a major brokerage firm and got me an interview for a risk analyst position. He told me the first interview was always very casual, and the company reps did the majority of the talking.
Apparently, the interview procedures had changed. I was going in expecting an informal interview, so I was completely unprepared to meet with the entire team. They were asking me very specific, strategic questions, like, ‘How would you respond if corporate counsel objected to the way you analyzed a particular issue?’ I totally bombed it.
As a result, whenever a referral source gets me a job interview, I always ask if the interview process has changed since they were hired to avoid a repeat of the last performance. And I prepare — no matter what.”
—Shane Parks,* 37, lawyer, Winter Park, Florida
Mistake #6: Not Silencing Your Cell
“I was interviewing with a tech marketing company, and nailing every question. Then, all of a sudden, my phone rang. I politely apologized and informed the interviewer that I was turning it off.
At the time, I was using a temporary slide phone. As I slid it open, the phone slipped out of my hand, bounced off my pumps and ricocheted across the floor, coming to rest under her desk.
I kept answering her questions as I quickly, but not very suavely, retrieved my phone. Needless to say, I did not get a callback. Now, I always leave my phone in my car — far from the interview.”
—Jessica Derkis, 40, marketing director, Toledo, Ohio
Mistake #7: Being Too Flip
“In college, I made it to the final round for a prestigious marketing internship with a large company. The interviewer asked me how I felt about the accusation that young professionals were ‘job jumpers’ who had no company loyalty.
Rather than say that I was a dedicated young person looking for a long-term career, I tried to get cute and clever. ‘It's the curse of my generation,’ I said. ‘We just aren't made to stay in one role for long. We bore easily.’
The interviewer wrinkled her nose at my comment, and I obviously did not get the job.
Since then, I’ve always thought of things from the interviewer’s perspective: What would the perfect candidate say? Then I seek to be that perfect candidate.”
—Bill Balderaz, 39, C.E.O. of a marketing firm, Columbus, Ohio
Mistake #8: Not Knowing What the Company Does
“I was interviewing for an entry-level administrative assistant position with a company that had a pink heart in its logo. I assumed it was a dating company, so I started talking about how it was so hard to meet people, and what an innovative idea it was to match couples based on their common interests.
The woman shut down. ‘Yeah, that’s not what we do here,’ she said. Turns out, it was a tech firm. I was so embarrassed and didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Oh, OK.’ She thanked me for my time and that was that.
Now I always do my research.”
—Kimberly Gauthier, 43, blogger, Marysville, Washington
Mistake #9: Trashing an Old Employer
“While interviewing for an assistant manager position at a big retailer, the hiring manager asked me to tell him about my last job. I had recently been let go for a trivial reason, and I blurted out every crappy thing that had happened to me.
The interviewer kept glancing around frantically as if looking for an escape route. It eventually dawned on me that not only was I not going to get the job, but there was a chance he might call security.
If someone asks about a previous employer now, I just say they were a great company and I was happy for the opportunities they gave me.”
—Samuel Morningstar, 42, writer, Prairie Village, Kansas
Mistake #10: Rushing to Get Ready
“When I was fresh out of school, I had an interview with a large law firm. I had recently bought a new suit, specifically for interviewing, and wore it to the meeting. Everything seemed to go well, but just as I was about to leave, the hiring manager asked me if I was wearing a new suit.
I smiled and said, ‘Why, yes. How could you tell?’ Her reply: ‘Because all the tags are still on it.’
Sure enough, the suit was covered in price tags and sizing stickers — on the pants and jacket. I was so embarrassed, but I kept it polite, thanking her for pointing that out.
I have no idea whether the suit incident was responsible, but I didn't get the job. Nonetheless, I now leave myself a window before any interview, big meeting or presentation.”
—Sean Morrison, 33, lawyer, New Orleans
*Name has been changed.