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45 Job Interview Pet Peeves (according to real women!) + How to Avoid Them!

Feb 12, 2020

Job Interview Pet Peeves

Happy Wednesday!

Kendall here — back with another Real Women Approved post that is the perfect follow-up to our last discussion: 40+ Workplace Pet Peeves to Avoid! This series is based on your crowdsourced advice and expertise. We’ve had so much feedback and passionate participation ???? around these professional topics! We’re excited to keep ’em coming!

Today, we’re talking job interviews — from the obligatory rules to the tricky nuances. There’s no better feeling than walking out of an interview where you felt prepared, confident and clicked with the interviewers. But all too often interviews can go south real quick. A bad interview experience can really stick with you and jostle your confidence! While it can be easy to generate pet peeves as an interviewee (getting asked the same vague/generic questions over and over! ????‍♀️), we also rounded up the top pet peeves from interviewers — after all, interviews are a two-way street!

So, whether you’re thinking about testing the job market waters, you find yourself in the interviewer role from time to time, or you just want to file away some advice for another day, check out these interview pet peeves and ways to avoid them!

45 PET PEEVES TO AVOID AS BOTH AN INTERVIEWER AND INTERVIEWEE

Interviewee pet peeves:

Getting asked: “Tell me about yourself”

A lot of you lamented how vague and generic this question is. It can also be tempting to simply list off your resume when answering this — but there’s a reason interviewers ask this (small talk, softball question to kick things off), and it can give you the power to steer the interview in a direction that suits you. The Muse recommends this simple formula for tackling this question:

  • Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and perhaps a big recent accomplishment.
  • Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or mention your previous experience that’s relevant to the job/company you’re applying for.
  • Future: Segue into what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this gig (and a great fit for it, too).

Having to give a prepared spiel instead of organic conversation

This can feel so inauthentic! If your interviewers pepper you with questions instead of a back-and-forth conversation, try to initiate an organic discussion with your responses. Instead of simply answering direct questions, weave in an anecdote/background that you’re trying to get across as a setup to your answer. The same advice can be applied to interviewers — instead of listing off questions, give some context as to why you’re asking something. i.e. “this position requires a lot of collaboration, tell us about your experience working across teams.”

Unclear salary/benefits or withholding information

WHY is this always such a secret? ???? Not giving clear salary parameters upfront can be such a waste of time for everyone! As the interviewer, you should make this an open dialogue so both parties are clear and no time is wasted! As the interviewee, do your best to bring this up while discussing with HR or before you come in for the interview––often managers won’t deal with salary discussions. But HR does, so avoid putting anyone on the spot in person. 

Having to disclose previous/current salary

When asked this in an interview, it can be so uncomfortable and put you on the spot — especially if multiple people are in the room. As the interviewer, you should never ask a salary range on the spot, but provide a clear typical salary range of the position and explain that where you fall in that range is based on experience.

If asked this in an interview, there is nothing wrong with politely saying, “I’d prefer not to give an exact number, but in order to leave my current position, I would be looking for $X salary.” (Also, I feel the need to say, PLEASE always shoot HIGH, and ALWAYS negotiate your offer!!!) 

Getting asked about your weaknesses

Ugh, yes. Finding ways to disguise your strengths as weaknesses seems like a game we can all stop playing already, right!? As one GG reader put it: “It’s the laziest question ever and everyone lies in their answer anyway!” If you really need to know someone’s weaknesses, you’ll get more accurate information out of their reference checks. As an interviewer, consider asking “what skills are you currently working to improve?” or “you have a lot of experience with X and Y, what are some areas that you’re looking to improve on?”

When they don’t specify when you should hear back

No one likes being in limbo! Interviewees should at least be told a general time frame of when they can expect to hear about next steps. So make sure this is clear when leaving the interview!

Not hearing back at all

This is by far the #1 biggest pet peeve and for good reason! I don’t understand why this is so common/ok to do?! If people take the time to apply, fill out questionnaires and assessments, and/or take time off work to come in for an interview, they deserve to be told if they didn’t get the job. One GG reader said it best — a rejection is better than no news at all. As the interviewer, make sure you are following up with all interviewees within the timeframe specified. If you need more time, let them know that! 

Interviews that feel like cross-examinations

Whether you’re up against a strong personality or your interviewer is simply trying to get more out of you, intense questioning can seem like a cross-examination. Try to keep your composure and elaborate more — there’s probably a reason why they’re pressing you for more information. As an interviewer, make sure you are in sync with your team on who is asking what, and when, so you can make your interviewees as comfortable as possible. As an interviewee, if you do feel uncomfortable with the way a team is conducting an interview, it could be a sign that’s how the work environment may feel too, and decide to look elsewhere. 

Having to make up random dentist appts to actually attend an interview

I feel you! It can be very stressful to try to time an interview just right around your current work schedule (and not to mention, change in the car so your office isn’t wondering why you look so nice and professional on casual Friday ????). Tip: Many teams understand this and will be happy to accommodate by arranging a lunch interview, or 5pm interview––just be upfront that you are worried your current employer will get suspicious. They may also be able to arrange a phone interview instead. So, you can simply step out of the office for a “coffee run”. Interviewers, consider being flexible for candidates, especially if you’re bringing them in multiple times in a short time frame.

When interviewers don’t explain why they passed you over

A simple explanation of why you weren’t chosen goes such a long way — so you can work on it for the future! Knowing that the job went to someone with a certain skill set or experience level is helpful information! As an interviewer, if there’s something the interviewee can work on, give them the courtesy of telling them! As the interviewee, you should absolutely respond by thanking them for the opportunity. Ask if they would be able to provide more detail as to what you can work on in the future. Or why they went with a different candidate. 

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” question

This can be difficult for two reasons: You might have absolutely no idea where you want to be in five years, or your honesty probably won’t help you land the gig. For example, you might want to be in a completely different industry in five years, running your own business, or taking over the hiring manager’s role — which are all probably things you shouldn’t mention in an interview! The Muse breaks down how to answer this question and gives examples! Interviewers, consider asking questions like this instead: “what do you think our industry is going to look like in X years?” or “if you were the CEO of our company, what would your five-year plan be?”

Being asked weird questions that have nothing to do with determining how well a candidate is for a job

This seems to be a growing trend when it comes to interview questions! GG readers have been asked: “do you believe in aliens?” and “if you could be any animal what would you be and why?” ???? Interviewees, try to answer these by also showing your personality/overall message. i.e. “I’d be an elephant because they symbolize peace and power — two attributes I try to bring to every problem I encounter.” Interviewees, check out this list of great, unique interview questions via Lever!

Crazy long interviews with no breaks during the day

As an interviewer, this can be brutal. It’s hard to feel enthusiastic and at the top of your game when you’ve been “on” all day. Pro tip — always pack healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar up! Interviewers, try to schedule in short breaks so interviewees can decompress. And/or give them a schedule so they can be prepared. 

Making email thank-yous personable and not generic

This can get tricky, but know that there is a HIGH likelihood that everyone you interviewed with is comparing your thank-you emails to ensure they aren’t just generic. Here’s a guide on how to build a personalized thank-you email!

Sexist questions/assumptions

One GG reader said she was asked in an interview if she had kids and another was asked if she was planning on having kids in the next five years. ???? Not ok!!

As an interviewer, it’s understandable that a question like “oh, do you have kids too?!” might come up in a conversation, especially among two people of the same age/gender, but remember, this actually isn’t an appropriate question to ask! (It’s actually illegal for an employer to make a hiring decision based on your family status, so there is no reason for these questions to come up in an interview!) While you don’t have to answer questions like this as an interviewee, you can respond with something like… “I assure you I can fully meet the requirements of this position.”

Same questions asked by multiple people during the same interview

While some questions may be rephrased ever so slightly, it’s very common to essentially get asked the same question over and over. Yes, it’s annoying. However, it’s important to plan ahead for a variety of the same answer. Have 3-4 wins/accomplishments/success anecdotes you can speak to as well as a couple of challenges/lessons learned examples so you’re not repeating the same thing over and over. As an interviewer, try to be clear as to why you’re asking a similar question. i.e. “I know you mentioned X accomplishment, but can you tell me about a time that you had success with Y?”

Why are you leaving your current job question

Another tired question that interviewees loathe! However, it’s kind of an important one to ask as an interviewer––it’s important information to know!

BUT, as the interviewee, there’s a better way to approach this. Instead of waiting to be asked this, get ahead of it with your elevator pitch/”tell me about yourself” spiel. Simply saying you’ve always admired the organization, saw the opening and thought you’d be a great fit, or you’re looking for a new challenge is a great way to tee it up. “While I’m happy in my current role, I’m interested in this opportunity because of X, Y, Z.”

Asked to list examples of every failure

Oy! This is essentially the weaknesses question in disguise, but something you will inevitably encounter in a lot of interviews. Come prepared with some challenges in which you might have failed at a certain element, but excelled/grew in another. Always try to put a positive spin on everything, after all, failure is essential to growth! As an interviewer, let the candidate know you’re interested in their lessons learned.

The new video pre-screen interviews

Yes! There seem to be many more hoops these days before you can actually sit across from a real person, and it can be really difficult to convey who you are through technology. This article has great tips on how to ace a screening interview!

Interruptions

Being interviewed by someone only to have their phone ring, or have to step out of the room to tend to something else, screams “my time is more valuable than yours”––and that’s probably not someone you want to work for! As an interviewer, keep this in mind the next time you’re interviewing a candidate.

Going into an interview on casual Friday

No one wants to be interviewed by someone in sandals and cargo pants! When the room isn’t dressed on the same level, it’s uncomfortable for everyone involved. As an interviewer, be cognizant of this and either dress up in your normal attire, or let the candidate know ahead of time so they can dress down as well. As a rule of thumb, it’s always good to double-check with the hiring manager to ask about the dress code for the interview!

Reading off interview questions

This definitely messes with a natural conversation flow! Nobody wants to be interviewed by a boring robot. Remember, as an interviewer, it’s just as important for YOU to make a good impression as it is for the person you’re interviewing to make one. Focus on creating a connection and making the interview more conversational! 

People who eat while interviewing you

Whatever you do–when you’re interviewing candidates for a job––do NOT eat in front of them. It’s gross, distracting, unprofessional and awkward! So many red flags. If you’re an interviewee…just run. ????

Not knowing what’s on your resume

As an interviewer, it’s important to take a second to familiarize yourself with the person’s resume prior to the interview. It’s the least you can do and it’s the respect that they deserve. Otherwise, you just make them feel like a number.

As an interviewee, while this one can be frustrating, take advantage of the opportunity to fill the person in and highlight everything you want them to know about you! Give them the benefit of the doubt. This could be the 6th interview they’ve had that day, and they simply just ran out of time to prep!

Lengthy interview processes – 6 phone calls/meetups/new people/same people

This! The interview process is stressful enough to juggle even when it’s not drawn out for months and months. This is even harder when you’re not given clear expectations beforehand, i.e. after every interview, you find out there’s another round. It’s extremely difficult for candidates to take off work without their current employer being suspicious. So definitely keep the process as short as possible. 

If you’re an interviewee encountering this problem, simply explain if you are having difficulties getting the time off, etc. See if they would be able to accommodate your schedule.

(Jess here!) I had this exact situation arise when I was trying to leave my first job–I was interviewing at several places and couldn’t take any more time off work without them finding out and I feared I would get fired––so the account manager and COO of the company that I ended up getting the job with came in on a Saturday morning to interview me! The fact that they went above and beyond for me also showed me that it would be a great place to work. (And I was right! Still love you so much, Blue Chip!) 

When employers start the interview late

Some readers said this is a power move to test how you act when you’re annoyed! ???? (Which seems very messed up.) Whether it’s on purpose or your interviewer is just running late, it can be a real let down to wait in a conference room for 20 minutes when you’re trying to be upbeat and full of endorphins/nerves.

As an interviewer, if you’re running late, make sure to explain why you were late and apologize and state that you are well aware their time is not more valuable than yours. 

As an interviewee, smile, give them the benefit of the doubt and move on. If anything, they’ll be impressed with your ability to roll with the punches. 

When people are distracted and don’t give you eye contact

It can be a real blow to your self-esteem when your interviewer is scrolling through their phone or obviously distracted while you’re talking! As an interviewer, there should be nothing else in the room with you other than the person’s resume and a pen to take notes if necessary! 

Asking “what makes you unique?”

How does one go about answering that?! The key here is to highlight the skills and experiences you value most about yourself and what you think would be most valuable to the team/role. This also doesn’t have to be just work-related. You can mention living abroad, switching careers or even talking about your interests and passions outside of work, and how they might be applied to your day job.

Having to do work for free as a “test”

This can be so tricky! Some of you said your ideas were used even though you weren’t hired. While I understand why companies want to see what you can do, it can be a fine line between a “test” and “please do some of our work for free.” Always make sure a position is worth it before investing too much time on projects and tests. If you’re not feeling it and you’ve encountered a few red flags already, graciously decline the rest of the interview process. Know your worth! 

When the first question is “why are you a good fit?”

One GG reader said: “How can I know if I’m a good fit yet?!” This is a great point! One idea to navigate this question — explain why you’re interested in the role/company, what strengths you have that line up with the job description, and note that you’re looking forward to learning how you might be a good fit. Then, turn the tables, and use this as an opportunity to ask a great question: “So, what type of person do you envision best succeeding in this role? What qualities would that person possess––besides what has been listed in the general job description?”

Interviewer pet peeves:

Late candidates

I know this is interviewing 101- be on time, but it bears repeating. One GG reader and hiring manager said she won’t hire anyone if they are more than five minutes late.

Unprepared candidates

Similar to not being late, it’s crucial to be prepared. No one wants to watch you rummage through your bag for 10 minutes trying to find a pen. Make sure everything you need is easily accessible, you’ve done your research and that you’re armed with a list of good questions. It shows you care and are serious about the opportunity.

Relaying their resume with no elaboration

Both sides of an interview don’t like resume relaying – ha! Make sure you have additional information to accompany the highlight reel that is your resume.

People who talk badly about their previous employer

This is a big one! While there is obviously a reason you’re looking to leave your current gig (which might not have anything to do with your previous employer!), rehearse how you’ll explain your decision to leave. Any negative talk in an interview is a huge red flag for hiring managers. This is always a good option: “While I’m happy at my current role, I am interested in this position because it aligns with my goals of X, Y and Z.”

When people don’t show up and never give an explanation

Sounds like ghosting goes both ways when it comes to interviews! It’s important to remember that people talk. Industries are smaller than you think they are, and unprofessional behavior like “ghosting” will likely come back to bite you in the future. If you couldn’t make an interview or are no longer interested in a position, let the hiring manager know as soon as possible and thank them for their time and interest. 

Not sending a follow-up thank-you email/note

This one was submitted several times! Just like being on time, sending a thank-you email is non-negotiable. My former boss wouldn’t consider candidates who didn’t follow up, no matter how well the interview went!

People who are underdressed/not dressed appropriately

When in doubt, go for the classic, professional look. While it can be tricky to know how much of your personality to display in your interview outfit, often times the cons far outweigh the pros in this department. Keep it simple and polished. For example, a pair of nice fitting dress pants, a blouse and a blazer will be universally accepted pretty much anywhere.

(Jess here!) Also, I feel the need to add–– PLEASE do not show up to an interview with chipped nail polish––and this is coming from a girl who often has chipped polish in everyday life. This was always a big red flag for me in an interview (and I interviewed my fair share of people back in my corporate life). Little things like unkempt nails, ill-fitting clothing, dirty shoes, pet hair on your blazer, etc show you weren’t willing to put in the extra effort and can make you look lazy, even if you aren’t! It’s hard to come back from a poor first impression! 

I know this seems harsh, but it’s true! 

When applicants send .doc versions of their resume

Huge red flag- someone was too lazy to google “what format should I be sending my resume in?” Save it as a PDF! They are cleaner and much more professional!

Typos in resume

Pretty much the #1 non-negotiable for hiring managers. Make sure several trusted eyes have reviewed your resume before it gets sent out!

Including a 100-page thesis in their applications

This comes from another GG reader/hiring manager. She says this happens more than you would think! Remember not to attach all of your life’s work in an application. A) it’s annoying and B) it shows you didn’t curate your application for a specific role.

When people give one-word answers to interview questions

This can be very frustrating! The whole point of an interview is to spark conversation. If you can’t talk freely about yourself and your accomplishments, it’s hard to build rapport and create a discussion. Be prepared to give examples and share!

When interviewees show up too early

This one is interesting and was submitted a lot! While you should absolutely arrive at your interview early, make sure not to enter the building/check-in until five minutes or so before your interview. It can be awkward for everyone if you’re waiting in a conference room for 20 minutes before everyone is ready for you, and then the first impression the hiring team has of you is that you make them feel awkward and rushed––which is definitely not what you’re going for! 

When interviewees don’t ask questions about the company/role

Yes! Always, always have prepared questions. When in doubt, ask something! It shows your interest, that you did your research and gives a little insight into how you think and operate.

For example, if you’re interviewing at an ad agency for a specific brand, ask something like, “I absolutely LOVED the work you did on the 2019 Huggies activation––that {insert specific execution here} was so creative. It was one of my favorite campaigns to date–even my friends who don’t work in advertising were talking about it! What is the team working on right now? If I were to come into this role, I’d love more detail on what I’d be working on!”

Surface-level questions that can be easily Googled

Of course, you want your questions to be thoughtful! Don’t ask when the company was founded, if they have a Twitter account or anything else that can be easily searched! In addition to questions about the company/position, consider asking broader questions about current events, i.e. “what did you think about the Super Bowl commercials this year? I thought company X’s campaign was genius because of Y and Z.”

Candidates that aren’t honest about what they know

This one is interesting! While everyone wants to show their absolute best selves in an interview, it’s OK not to know something. There’s a difference between putting a positive spin on things and outright lying. After all, they’ll probably find out about your white lies eventually!

If you’re pressed about experience or skills that you don’t have, instead of lying, flip it into a positive:

“I don’t have experience in this specific area, but that is one of the reasons this job appealed to me so much, as I’m really interested in diversifying my experience in [x area].” Then follow up with, “this is actually a similar scenario to how I entered my last role at X company––while I came in with relatively zero knowledge of [X space], I was able to catch on quickly, and have since been promoted twice within the department. This is actually the primary reason I’m seeking a new role––I feel that I’ve hit my ceiling in my current position, and am seeking a position that allows me to really challenge myself in an environment where I can jump in and learn as much as possible from the get-go.”

Here’s what you need to remember: A LOT of jobs care less about your exact experience and much more about your personality type, and if you’re the kind of person who will roll up your sleeves, dive in headfirst, and be passionately curious enough to learn quickly to master the role.

 

LOOKING FOR MORE REAL WOMEN APPROVED POSTS?! RIGHT THIS WAY! 

THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO SUBMITTED THEIR INTERVIEW EXPERIENCES! SENDING GOOD VIBES TO ALL OUR GALS WHO ARE GOING THROUGH THE INTERVIEW PROCESS RIGHT NOW! ????

 

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