10 Ways to lose the job before you’re hired

So you just landed an interview with the job of your dreams. Interviews can be exciting and stressful, and as a potential candidate, you can either sabotage your success or get ahead of other qualified applicants (we’re guessing you’ll choose the latter).

Young female business professional on interview

Photo credit: Chris Ryan / Caiaimage / Getty images

Competition nowadays is fierce, and there are hundreds of people that could be applying for the same position. Before you walk into your next big interview, make sure you use the following tips to avoid losing the job before you’re hired.


“I got this.”

Have you ever felt so confident about a position that you want to just walk into an interview and wing it? Think again. No matter how qualified you are for the job, not doing your homework on the company will show that you are not prepared. Career coach Jill MacFadyen points out that winging it by not researching the company or not practicing makes you look disinterested or lazy. She encourages interviewees to become familiar with the company’s product.


“I hate wearing suits. I want to dress like myself.”

Yes, your potential employer wants you to be authentic, but your appearance still matters, and first impressions say a lot. Whether you like to rock tank tops and flip flops or you prefer stilettos and dresses, you may have to adjust your everyday wear for the interview. You have to look the part to get the part. MacFadyen shares these dos and don’ts for interview attire and appearance.

  • Avoid smelling of cologne or cigarette smoke. One client, a smoker, just couldn’t land an interview until he had his interview outfit dry cleaned and kept in a closet separate from other clothes. He also didn’t smoke on the way to the interview.
  • Think twice before you layer on perfume. Cologne can be equally off-putting. The recruiter won’t tell you that this is why you didn’t proceed to the next round, but it could be the case, and you might never know.
  • If you have a pet, make sure that your interview clothing is free of hair and spots. It is nice to talk about your pets if the interviewer has pictures of his/her pets, but it’s not nice to shed all over the office.

“How much am I getting paid again?”

Sure, you’ll want to know how much you are getting paid, but don’t bring up salary or benefits unless the interviewer talks about them first. Salaries are often talked about once an offer has been made. Check out sites, such as salary.com, to search and compare average salaries for the position in your area and use that knowledge to negotiate if you’re offered the job. “Interviewees should never ask about salary or benefits. It makes them look greedy,” says MacFadyen.


“I’m going to change the entire culture… and the workflow process. And the mission statement could use some work, right?”

Employers love ambition and want applicants to bring amazing ideas to the table, but being too demanding or aggressive can be off-putting. They want to know what you can contribute to the company, but they’ll be turned off if you sound like you want to take over the company. On the other end of the spectrum, MacFadyen points out that being too relaxed or vague can work against applicants as well.


“I mean… I pretty much ran the entire company.”

Most people tend to hype up their résumé by using action words such as “captivated” or “directed,” but lying about your previous work experience and qualifications is a sure way to become the “ex” factor before you even make it to the second round. No matter how much you want to embellish, don’t lie. If you feel you’re not qualified and you’re unsure of your abilities, choose to play up your strengths instead of fabricating reasons why you can do the job.


“I got along with everyone.”

MacFadyen says it is important to adequately answer behavioral/situational questions during the interview. For example, when you are asked, “Tell me about a time you had trouble getting along with a co-worker,” it is best that you give more than a vague response.

“In a strictly behavioral interview you would fail if you merely replied that you get along with everyone. Your answer needs to include SITUATION — what happened, ACTION — what you did and RESULT — why was it good for the company or the customer.”


“My former boss was a joke who didn’t know how to do the job.”

Maybe Miranda Priestly was an angel compared to your former boss, but the interview is not the time to share your feelings about your former boss’ wrongdoings. Bad-mouthing your former employer to a prospective employer during an interview can definitely backfire. You don’t want to come off as the “impossible to please or two-faced employee.” MayFadyen advises job seekers to have a succinct reason why they left their prior job. This reason should not include blaming prior managers or companies.


“It would be nice to let someone know I’m waiting.”

Be mindful of everyone you come in contact with as soon as you walk into the building, whether it’s the CEO or the janitor. The way you interact with other employees within the company before you’re hired is important, so refrain from giving the receptionist the side-eye.

“Being impolite to the receptionist or security guard or being impatient about having to wait for the interview is one way to lose the job before you start. As a recruiter, I always asked the receptionist what she thought of the interviewee.”


“Nope. That’s all I have.”

“Not having questions to ask the interviewer makes the interviewee look disinterested,” says MacFadyen. “Let your interviewer know that you are interested by asking questions, such as “What do you enjoy most about the company?” or “What is the culture of the company?”


“Get the ____ out of here.”

Are you and the interviewer laughing, telling stories and having a good time? Even if it feels like you’re talking to an old friend rather than an employer, don’t forget that you’re in an interview. MacFadyen advises interviewees to always keep it professional and avoid using swear words.

Tips from Jill MacFadyen

  • When asked the infamous “Tell me about yourself?” question, avoid looking at your résumé. Just tell them.
  • Don’t bring messy copies of your résumé. (Instead bring a neat portfolio with several copies of your résumé to hand to anyone who interviews you.) 
  • Make sure you answer “Why do you want to work for our company?” with energy and enthusiasm.
  • Don’t be on time for the interview — be early.

More job interview tips

10 Steps to make a good interview great
The secrets to a successful interview
25 Surprisingly tricky interview questions


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