In the hiring line: What not to say or do during an interview

Employment is on the rise but job interviews are still the biggest hurdle for prospective employees to overcome, writes Deirdre Reynolds

In the hiring line: What not to say or do during an interview

Employment is on the rise but job interviews are still the biggest hurdle for prospective employees to overcome, writes Deirdre Reynolds

UNEMPLOYMENT has fallen to its lowest level since April 2008, according to the Central Statistics Office.

With construction, accommodation, and food service jobs all on the rise, economists predict the rapid growth in employment is far from over.

For job-hunters, it means standing out from the crowd has never been more important.

Yet the nerve-racking interview process hasn’t gotten any easier.

“Preparation and lack of is probably the biggest thing,” says Caroline McEnery, managing director of The HR Suite.

“So that covers everything to doing your research about the company to making sure your phone is on silent.

“For most people now, it’s back to a full labour market. You’re only going for the interview if you really, really want the job.

“Making sure you’re not sabotaging yourself by leaving yourself open to these kind of things is key.”

From arriving too early to telling porkies on your CV, Ireland’s leading career coaches reveal the biggest interview mistakes and how to recover from them.

Not doing your homework

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’.

Almost three centuries on, American revolutionary Benjamin Franklin could still be onto something.

Failing to research the role you’re going for is the cardinal sin of job-hunting, warns interview coach Paul Mullan of

“I see it all the time because I do mock interviews,” he says. “If I ask somebody a question, I can see the hamster jumping on the wheel as they start trying to think of an answer.

“Most questions at a traditional interview will come from either the job spec or your CV.

“So if the job spec says, ‘Must show initiative’, don’t be shocked to be asked for examples of where you demonstrated initiative.

“Another logical question you’re going to be asked at interview is, ‘Why do you want this job?’ “You shouldn’t be thinking — the more you’re thinking during an interview, the less prepared you are.”

Over-rehearsing your answers

Practising the answers to predictable questions like your experience is fine.

If you start to sound like you’re practising for the Leaving Cert Irish oral, however, it’s time to take it down a notch.

“You’ve two types of people,” says Mullan. “You’ve somebody who cuts corners and doesn’t prepare, but you also have the other extreme where somebody prepares a lot.

“Most people that I meet go into mannequin mode — they forget about the person on the other side of the table.

“They don’t get their energy or their interests across.

“If I brought you to interview, I already think you’ve got the qualifications and the general experience to do the job.

“But if I don’t like you, or if I don’t think you want the job, it’s game over.”

Turning up too early

You don’t have to be Richard Branson to know that being late for an interview is a big no-no.

But arriving chronically early can be almost as bad, according to the experts.

Avoid sitting in the corridor eyeballing the other candidates by turning up a perfect 15 minutes before your allotted time, advises James Sweetman, an executive coach specialising in interview skills.

“Ten or 15 minutes beforehand is fine,” he says. “With bigger organisations, allow maybe 20 minutes in case there’s extra security.

“You also need to make sure you know your route.

“If you are there earlier, go to a coffee shop around the corner and then go into the building 15 minutes beforehand.

“Don’t sit in reception for an hour as it will only heighten your own nervousness.”

Dressing inappropriately

They say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

With every day now dress-down Friday in some offices though, where does that leave prospective new employees?

Jeans are still a no-no for job interviews, insists Frances Jones, corporate and personal image consultant with

“I’d err on the side of formality,” she recommends. “For a man, wear a suit and tie, but if everyone around you is tieless, you can whip off the tie.

“For a woman, always wear a jacket over a shirt or blouse — you can always take the jacket off in reception if it’s more casual.

“You need to research the culture of the organisation you’re going into.

“If you’re going into Google, it’s a very different look than if you’re going into the Central Bank.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your prospective interviewer, ‘What’s the dress code?’”

Asking about salary too soon

Money makes the world go round — but it can also bring your interview to a sudden halt.

Experts warn that probing into pay right off the bat can send out the wrong message. Waiting until later in the interview, when it typically comes up anyway, will give the impression it’s not your main priority.

“As a general rule, you should wait for the interviewer to bring it up, particularly in the first interview,” says Sweetman.

“At the same time, you need to have at least considered your salary expectation first.

“I often say, ‘Wait for them to be interested in hiring you’.

“It’s about building the relationship before you get into the pounds, shillings, and pence.”

Forgetting to put your phone on silent

Getting a phone call at the cinema is embarrassing.

Getting a phone call during an interview can be fatal to your chances.

Switch off anything that buzzes, bleeps, or beeps, not just your mobile, says Caroline McEnery of the HR Suite (

“Absolutely turn it off or just don’t bring it in with you at all would be the advice,” she explains.

“Between mobiles and Fitbits and all this kind of stuff, there are so many alarms now.

“If you don’t bring it in, it’s not going to be an issue.

“If something goes off, you’re indicating a level of professionalism that is not what you want to portray — I think you’re into apology territory then.

“If you’re expecting an emergency call, such as from a pregnant partner or sick parent, say that at the outset.

“Ideally, leave your phone with the person at reception and ask them to answer it if a particular person’s name comes up, rather than risking the interview going pear-shaped.”

Badmouthing your old boss

Leaving your old job because you’re unhappy?

Resist the urge to use an interview with a rival company to get the boot into your old boss.

Employers prefer workers who are sparky, not snarky, the experts agree.

“That is something to avoid for sure,” says James Sweetman ( “The focus should always be on moving forward rather than looking backwards.

“If you do have to allude to why you left, it is about keeping that as neutral as possible.

“For example, instead of saying, ‘I needed to get out because it was a toxic work environment’, try: ‘I like to think my skillset is a better match for what you’re looking for’.

“You always want to be able to tell the story of your CV — but you have to do it in a positive light.”

Telling porkies

You’re under pressure and trying to make a good impression but, tempting as it might be, don’t fabricate qualifications or job titles. In the age of Google, you will get found out, ruling out your chances of ever working for the company which is interviewing you.

Polishing your CV is one thing, says Measurability’s Paul Mullan. Being caught telling outright lies is quite another.

“At the end of the day, you’re selling yourself to try and get the job,” says Mullan. “And the company is selling their role.

“Does the company disclose all their warts? No, they don’t. Should you disclose all your warts?

“Obviously coming out point blank and saying, ‘I’ve got a degree in business’, when you don’t, is not a good idea.

“Whereas is it a lie when you say you’re really interested in a role, when you’re probably not, but you need to work because you’re going to lose your house?

“This falls on both sides of the table.”

How to work the interview process

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