5 things you should never, ever do at a job interview

Nerves can make us do the strangest things. Improve your career chances by avoiding these pitfalls.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 12 Aug 2016

Life isn’t fair really. We’re taught from childhood that the tortoise beats the hare, but in career terms it’s rarely true. Progress so often depends on short, pressurised spurts - in the form of exams, presentations, elevator pitches and, of course, interviews.

Never mind that you’re highly effective and full of ideas 99% of the time – if you can’t perform in these high-adrenaline conditions, which remain the bedrock of the recruitment process, then you’ll struggle to rise as quickly as you ought.

The really unfair part is that getting better under pressure, inasfar as it’s possible, can only follow plenty of practice. What this means for you is a succession of sweaty-palmed, tongue-tied ordeals, in which you must work on your ‘interview technique’.

There are various things you can do to improve, but by far the most important is to address the reason you’re underperforming under pressure: nerves.

We get nervous, of course, because consciously or unconsciously we’re anxious about what could go wrong.

Overcoming that anxiety requires serious reflection and a sustained effort to alter the negative thought processes haunting your innermost self... but if you’re in a rush and want something that you can just write on your hand before you walk through the door, here are five things you should absolutely never say or do in a job interview. You have been warned.

1. Turn up late

Being punctual may seem too stuffy for your vibe, man, but it’s actually just common courtesy. Even if you’ve got a good reason to be late (say, a rail strike), it implies either poor planning or lack of commitment on your part - if you really cared about getting the job, you’d have planned to get there early precisely in case something went wrong.

Don’t turn up too early, though. Better to loiter in a coffee shop down the road for a couple of hours than become a waiting room pest.  

2. Flirt

A job interview is somewhat like a date – two people trying to get the measure of each other, to see whether they should enter into a relationship. In each case, you’d probably think it’s to your advantage for the other party to like you.

It’s not an enormous leap therefore to think that the techniques appropriate in one context would work in the other, but no, they really don’t.

Blatant seduction is more likely to get you an injunction than a job, while even mild flirting is at best inappropriate and at worst creepy. So, while your pec dance may go down well ‘on the pull’ (it probably doesn’t), at interview you should keep your rippling muscles to yourself.

3. Make inappropriate jokes

In the same vein, lightening the mood with a spot of humour is a dangerous idea. Your idea of funny may differ from theirs and, as you’ve just met, now may not be the best time to discover exactly how different.  

There’s a chance - however slim – that they might not get the one about ‘yo mama’ and the gyrating wombat. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

4. Go to the wrong interview

We’ve all done it once in our lives, turned up for an appointment in the wrong place or time. It’s an easy mistake to make. But what if the time and place are right, but you’re not?

Ten years ago,jobseeker Guy Goma found his interview for a position at the BBC taking an unexpected turn when he was mistaken for an IT expert and put on live TV to answer questions about a court case. At the very least he gets points for improvisation.

5. Be too personal

Just as it’s advisable to tone down the personal interests section of your CV, you don’t want to allow small talk to take you on an ill-advised tangent at interview. Bringing too much of your private life to the table can be a dangerous thing.

Of the countless examples of job interview horror stories online, this one from Reddit user Tuemais is perhaps the juiciest:

‘I arrived at my job interview a little early, feeling great... I wasn't still hungover at all.’ [Good start.]

‘About 25 minutes into the interview I could tell the interviewer needed to smoke a cigarette, so I asked if he wanted to go outside for a quick smoke break. He agreed and we went out, and I opened my cigarette case and lit one up.’ [Probably not a great idea but it worked.]

‘Soon as I lit the cigarette and put it in my mouth I knew it wasn't a cigarette, it was a joint left over from last night. I decided I had three options. Pull an insanity wolf and establish my dominance by asking him if he wants a hit, accidentally drop it and step on it before he notices, [or] smoke it and maybe he doesn't know what pot smells like... I chose option 1.’ [It didn't work, unsurprisingly. Next time you think of pulling an insanity wolf at interview, don’t.]


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