16 Tips—What Not To Do In An Interview

Written by on July 28, 2014 in Blog, Interviews with 2 Comments

Interview Don’ts That Will Help You Seal The Deal

I realize a large part of the advice I’m dishing out is “don’t do this,” or “don’t do that.” And I’m sure you’ve heard most of them previously, but in case you forgot, or maybe missed a few, here’s a quick reminder. It’s important because knowing what not to do in an interview is just as important as knowing what you should do.

  • Don’t use analogies about sports, or too much jargon.
  • Don’t name drop.
  • Don’t answer your cell phone.
  • Don’t talk negatively about anyone.
  • Don’t crush the interviewer’s hand.
  • Don’t ask about compensation.
  • Don’t cuss.
  • Don’t be late.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Don’t walk ahead of the interviewer.
  • Don’t ramble when you answer questions, and don’t go off on tangents.
  • Don’t wear cologne/perfume, or too much makeup.
  • Don’t drop your guard at lunch and discuss personal things.
  • Don’t reveal anything proprietary.
  • Don’t drink alcohol at lunch or dinner.
  • Don’t take pills in front of anyone.

Let’s Review What Not To Do In An Interview

Analogies About Sports

Don't talk about sports or use sports analogies, a tip for what not to do in an interview.

Just because you like sports doesn’t mean everyone does. Besides, sports analogies are often associated with tired old phrases. As far as business jargon—despite what you might think, many people despise business jargon. You’re safer not using it.

Don’t name drop

Name dropping is associated with…let’s just say that if you do it, people will think you’re an ass.

Don’t Answer Your Cell Phone

What Not To Do In An Interview--never answer your cell phone

There are only two reasons to bring your cell phone to an interview:

  • If there is a potential for an emergency that you may need to respond to.
  • You may need to look up contact information.

If you have a situation falling under the first reason, mention it up front, at every interview, right after getting introduced. Something as simple as: “Great to meet you, Bob. One thing before we start: I need to keep my cell phone on because of a potential emergency at the house.”

No need to go into detail describing the potential emergency, and unless they ask, leave it at that. I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with this scenario.

If your situation is the second one, leave your phone turned off until the time comes when you need to access the information. If you need frequent access, put it on vibrate and put it in your pocket or briefcase—somewhere it won’t be distracting.

Don’t talk negatively

It’s universally accepted that if a person talks negatively about someone else, they will talk the same way about you. It makes you look bad. Don’t do it.

Don’t crush the interviewer’s hand when you shake it

In this day and age, you wouldn’t think a handshake would mean much—but it does. Back in the old days, when the Visigoths and Romans fought wars, it was imperative to have a crushing grip. It was meant to instill fear and respect into the enemy. Unfortunately, some candidates still think we’re back in those days.

What Not To Do In An Interview--don't crush the interviewer's hand.

I know a lady in HR—let’s call her Rose. She has said that many times, male candidates damn near crush her bones when they shake her hand, and it’s usually the bigger ones who squeeze the hardest, as if they have something to prove. Trust me, gentlemen, you don’t need to show how strong you are. A respectable, firm handshake is all you need.

The perfect handshake is one not too rough and not too wimpy. I like to call it the Goldilocks handshake: it’s just right.

I know you’re laughing now, especially you guys. But trust me, if you think about it that way on the day of your interview, when you walk up to shake hands with someone and think, Goldilocks, you won’t screw up. You may laugh, but you won’t shake anyone’s hand too hard or too wimpy. You’ll do it just right.

Don’t Ask About Compensation

What Not To Do In An Interview--don't bring up compensation

I don’t hold to the theory that the interview is all about the company, but I do agree with the advice to not discuss compensation at the first interview. There should be no need at this point to ask about salary. By now, the company knows what you’re earning or what your most recent salary was. If they brought you in for an interview, assume that salary isn’t an issue.

Don’t cuss

A formal business setting is no place for foul language. Nothing else needs to be said. I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman you’re interviewing with, or even a bunch of guys at lunch; don’t use any language you wouldn’t use in front of your mother or daughter. Remember the professional policy—if you stick to professional, you’re safe.

Don’t Be Late

What Not To Do In An Interview--don't ever be late

As far as being on time, I have to tell you, like my mother told me when I was a kid—if somebody’s late, they’re not worth a damn.

Don’t smoke

I have nothing against tobacco users. I smoked for more than 30 years. But times have changed. Many companies have no-smoking campuses, and even worse, many people have strong opinions against smokers. Abstain for the day. Don’t smoke before the interview, at lunch, or on a break. If you prefer to draw a line in the sand, do so at your own risk.

Don’t walk ahead of the interviewer

This misstep draws an undue amount of ire from HR representatives. I don’t know if they view the move as arrogance or over-confidence, but whatever it is, trust me—it’s not worth it. Pay attention by keeping pace with the person you’re walking with.

Don’t talk too much

This statement needs clarification. You are the one being interviewed, so you should be doing most of the talking. But the talk too much part of the statement refers to keeping your responses concise and relevant. In other words, answer each question completely, but don’t go off on tangents or ramble about unnecessary things. That’s a sure way to lose the interviewer’s interest.

Don’t wear cologne/perfume, or too much makeup

Cologne doesn’t cover up odors, and besides, if you didn’t bathe that morning, maybe you don’t deserve the job. There has never been a person who earned a job offer because they wore a certain cologne/perfume. In 30 years of recruiting, I have never had a client say, “That person smelled so good, we have to hire them.”

What Not To Do In An Interview--don't wear perfume or cologne

Think about this logically. You have nothing to gain by wearing cologne or perfume to an interview, and the smell may offend someone. Why take the risk? It’s not worth it.

Too much makeup isn’t a grievous error, unless you go completely overboard. To be safe, err on the side of caution, and keep makeup low key and professional.

Don’t drop your guard at lunch

Many companies use the lunch interview as a way to get the candidate to relax. It’s amazing how many times candidates slip up and say inappropriate things at a lunch or a dinner meeting. And don’t ever drink alcohol at lunch. At a dinner meeting, you can accept a glass of wine if it’s offered, but limit it to one glass, although I still suggest refraining.
What Not To Do In An Interview--don't drink alcohol

Don’t take pills in front of anyone

It’s not that they’ll presume you have a drug problem; they can use drug tests to check that. But taking pills can distract the interviewers and get them off track. You should avoid anything that could take the interviewer away from the interview.

What Not To Do In An Interview--don't take pills

If you do nothing else, make a list of what not to do in an interview, and keep it handy.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Jim (Giacomo) Giammatteo is a headhunter who writes resumes and cover letters. He is the author of No Mistakes Resumes, and No Mistakes Interviews. He also writes gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author: When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy. For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com .

2 Reader Comments

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  1. avatar linda Prin says:

    My brother is looking for a new job and this article is really helpful. He is a recovering drug addict and I just want to look out for him but his concerns lie in the drug testing department. I think he will still consider this information really helpful too. I will pass your message along. Thanks.

    • avatar giammatteo

      Liinda, thanks, and tell your brother not to worry. My son was a drug addict. He’s been clean for 8 years now, but at the beginning it was tough.


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