Nick KossovanInterview mistakes are inevitable; what matters is the extent of the mistake. Being judged by a stranger is never comfortable. You act desperate when you have less than $700 in the bank.

The number of mistakes you can make during an interview is endless, from showing up five minutes late to not asking questions. (TIP: Engage your interviewer in a conversation by asking questions throughout the interview.)

In this column, I’ll focus on five interview mistakes I often see candidates make.

  1. Over-inquiring about company culture

I get it; you want to ensure the company’s culture will not tax your well-being.

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Here’s the thing, do you really expect your interviewer to tell you the “real” truth about their company’s culture? You’ll get answers like, “We’re a family around here,” or “We value our employees. For example, we have monthly BBQs.”

You’ll never hear:

  • “Well, there’s Kevin. He’s been with us for 32 years, well past his prime, but to get rid of him would be costly. So, we keep him around, and his colleagues pick up his slack.”
  • “Veronica in purchasing is great at her job but watch your back if you’re not in her good book.”
  • “We haven’t given out raises in three years. The pandemic has had a huge impact on our revenue.”

When discussing the company’s culture with your interviewer, keep human dynamics in mind. Your interviewer might enjoy working for the company, but that doesn’t mean you will. Moreover, your interviewer isn’t going to bad-mouth their employer. Furthermore, “culture” is never uniform from department to department, especially within a large company.

Yes, culture is critically important. However, focus on showing your interviewer that you’re a good fit for the job. I’ve had candidates who spent 50 per cent of the interview asking me questions about the company’s culture and little time telling me why they’re a fit for the position.

If you want the truth – and you should – regarding a company’s culture, speak to current and past employees. (LinkedIn’s your friend.)

  1. Selling your education and upskilling accomplishments

I don’t have high regard for diplomas and certificates; I have high regard for a candidate’s real-world experience. We’re constantly offered degrees, certifications, programs, and workshops that promise career success. Considering all the education candidates have, why do I have trouble finding candidates with:

  • Clear, concise writing skills.
  • Above-average verbal communication skills.
  • Analytical skills and the ability to think critically.

Educational institutions are in the business of churning out students. Therefore, obtaining an “I completed” piece of paper without having learned and demonstrated fundamental skills is common.

Hyping your “accreditations” makes it hard for your interviewer to determine your actual skills. Do your interviewer and yourself a big favour; concentrate on emphasizing your relevant, tangible experiences that prove you have the skills you claim to have.

  1. Overusing “I”

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

Often, candidates put too much focus on themselves. (READ: self-centred) Candidates talk about their expectations, career plans, and how the job will help them gain valuable experience and skills. Employers aren’t responsible for your career; only you are. Instead, explain how you can bring unique value to the company and how hiring you would be a win-win partnership.

  1. Not showing confidence

The number one reason I reject a candidate is a lack of confidence. Why should I believe in you if you don’t?

I can only speak for myself; therefore, take what I’m about to tell you with a grain of salt. My preference is for candidates with a high level of confidence, often bordering on arrogance. I understand candidates fear they’ll come off as egotistical. You’ll greatly benefit your job search and career by finding that sweet spot where you can sell yourself without sounding too good to be true.

Boasting is never well received. On the other hand, underselling yourself will hinder your interview success.

  1. Assuming you must know every answer

Candidates struggle with the notion of saying, “I don’t know.” However, it’s possible to express this sentiment more authentically.

When you’re being questioned, speak to whatever sounds familiar to you. As for the parts that aren’t familiar, say something along the lines of:

  • “I’m not familiar with what you’re referring to. However, it sounds like X, which I used in my last company.” (Then talk about X.)
  • “I imagine it works like X, which I used while working at Grafton Inc. I’ll make it a priority to familiarize myself with it before my start date.”

Whatever you do, don’t attempt to pretend something – be it software, a process, machinery, knowledge of government regulations, etc. – is familiar to you. Hiring managers, especially those of us who’ve been around for a while, have a keen sense of detecting when someone is “exaggerating.” Remember the golden rule of interviewing: Be honest.

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job.

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