Biggest job interview blunders to avoid

Aug 30, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. ET

We all know how stressful job interviews can be and we’d be hard pressed to find someone who don't fear them. But they are a necessary evil and something that should always be taken seriously. Whether you’ve only been to a handful of job interviews or you’ve fielded questions at so many that you’ve lost count, there are some important things to keep in mind every time you get called into a potential employer's office. Read on for a look at some of the biggest blunders to avoid during your next job interview.

Bad job impressions

1Not answering a question

Even if you've been caught off-guard, freeze up or genuinely have no idea how to answer something you've been asked during a job interview, avoiding the question and saying "I don't know" is not an option. The person interviewing you for the job wants to know you can think on your feet, and passing on a question creates the impression that you aren't cut out for the job.

What to do instead:

If the question is unclear, don't be shy about asking for clarification. This is a far better option than not being able to answer. If you're asked about how you handled a specific situation that you've actually never been in, simply say while you've never had to do X, you have done Y and handled it this way. The point is to consistently provide examples of what you've done in the past that make you an asset for this particular position.

2Fidgeting too much

Playing with your hair, moving around in your seat, biting your nails – all of these are nervous habits and you might not even realize you do them, but the person interviewing you will notice and judge you on your behaviour. Job interviews are nerve-wracking but you have to do your best not to wear your anxiety on your sleeve.

What to do instead:

The easiest way to avoid fidgeting or spending the entire interview absent-mindedly twirling your hair is to loosely clasp your hands in your lap.

3Being late

Being late is probably the No. 1 job interview offense you can make. If you can't be trusted to get to the interview on time, how can you be trusted with clients or customers? If you want to make a good first impression you have to be on time. Not almost on time, not just a few minutes late – on time, or better yet, early.

What to do instead:

Set your alarm and give yourself extra time to get to the interview. Even if you get there 30 minutes early, find a coffee shop, walk around the block or sit in the car if you have to. Giving yourself ample time to make your way to the venue means you won't have to worry about traffic or other delays eating into your arrival time.

4Not dressing for success

You've likely heard the saying "Dress like you already have the job," and there really isn't any other way to put it. Looking polished and professional is the only way to go -- and being overdressed (everyone else in the office is wearing jeans) is better than being underdressed (everyone in the office is wearing a suit and you've come to the interview in a sundress). Dressing for success and wearing something neat and pulled together will make a positive first impression on your potential employer.

To avoid rushing around the day of the interview and grabbing something too casual in haste, lay out your outfit the night before. If you're not sure what to wear ask a style-savvy friend for job interview fashion suggestions.

5Being unprepared

You might think you're fast on your feet and have never met a question you can't answer, but it's always best to be as prepared as possible for your interview. Read up on the company (make notes so you retain the information) and if possible, learn a little about the person who will be interviewing you. At the very least see if they have a LinkedIn profile you can check out pre-interview to get a better sense of what – and who – you'll be dealing with. The more you know about the company, the better your chances of getting the job.

Have a friend or your spouse stage a mock interview, asking standard interview questions and questions about the company so you're better prepared on the big day.

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