Everyone has an interviewing horror story — an experience so bad that they wish they could hit the “redo” button. And then there are some of us (like me) who are lucky enough to have numerous tales of interviews gone wrong that still make us shudder to this day.
“What do I want to do in five years? Well, I’m not sure if I want to be in investment banking in five years. It is really important to me that I have a family, and from what I’ve observed, it’s almost impossible to have both as a woman.”
Said my 20-year-old self during a final round interview for a summer internship at Goldman Sachs to the female vice president. FML.
I can’t think of this interview experience without turning bright red and becoming queasy. There are so many things that I did wrong with this one statement.
1. I showed that I didn’t know my audience in the slightest. I was basically saying, I don’t want to be you in five years. 2. My five-year goal was that I didn’t to be doing what this internship would teach me. 3. I basically undermined all progress made by women before me with regards to equality in the workplace. Whoops.
Now that you know my deepest darkest interview secret, I hope that you can learn from my fails. Here are five common interview mistakes. Watch Out.
1. Forget the Interviewer’s name.
Sounds pretty basic, right? But it’s easier than you think. Especially if you are not sent the names ahead of time. When interviewing for business school, I concluded my interview by smiling and saying, “Thanks, Virginia!” Her name was not Virginia. And I was not accepted. My advice? Ask for a business card immediately after handshakes. Place the card in front of you on the table. If there’s more than one person in the room, put the cards in order so that they align to the order that people are sitting.
2. Badmouth your boss, professor, mom, ANYONE.
It is very easy to say negative things about others in an interview. There are countless traps: “So why are you looking for a new job?” or “Tell me about a time you failed.” Never say negative things about other people or companies when answering these questions. While you may see it as a way to place blame on others, it will be perceived as having a lack of ownership. Or being difficult to work with. Or just being a gossip. All of these qualities are toxic to a work environment.
3. Talking nonstop about your family’s accomplishments.
I recently helped a college senior prep for interviews, and all he could talk about was his family. His dad is super successful on Wall Street, his brother is an All-American lacrosse player. Good for them, but a company is not hiring your family. It is hiring you. Do not waste valuable minutes of an interview talking about the accomplishments of others (unless it’s a team you managed). While it can be easy to start name-dropping or talking about your family in order to build rapport, do not let this temptation take over.
4. Lie on your resume.
Every single thing that you put on your resume is fair game for questioning in an interview. Make sure that you know every word on that resume and that you can back it up with stories and details.
I once made the mistake of listing a high profile acquisition on my resume that I had only worked on for two days. I listed the transaction on my resume because it had been on the front page of every newspaper, and I thought it would make me stand out. It worked. I got the interview. When asked about my role on that acquisition during the interview, my answer was way too short. Maybe 5 words. It was obvious that my responsibilities had been minimal (if any). Failure Bow.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for your resume. Imagine that the interviewer will ask you “Tell me more about this,” followed by “And then what happened?” Make sure you can answer the “And then what happened?” question — preferably twice over.
5. Leave a trace.
Do you know what slobs people can be? I have interviewed people that have managed to turn a conference room into their personal living room in a matter of 30 minutes. Empty water bottles. Tissues. Crumpled pieces of paper. Hand sanitizer. A lucky rabbit’s foot. It’s weird. No one has offered you a job yet, so don’t try to move in.
Still need advice? Watch this telling video on interview fails from Fast Company.