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How I Bombed a Sure-Thing Interview

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The best (and only) verbs you want to hear on the job hunt are “finding,” “interviewing” and “getting.” Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple—even when the stars align and you think you’re an overqualified shoe-in.

And yes, I’m speaking from experience. I thought I was a sure thing for a position, but when it came time to interview, I bombed the most basic questions of all.

Here are my worst offenses. Learn from my mistakes and follow these tips so you’ll have a success story to tell.

Mistake No 1: I couldn’t describe myself

You’d think I’d know myself, since I am myself. Yet for some reason, when that question emerged in the interview, I froze and struggled to think of any identifying features that might set me apart.

Avoid this mistake by drafting an elevator pitch that sums up who you are as a professional and as a human being. Here are a few good examples to start with. Just add your own details and a life experience or two:

“For the past 15 years, I was a supervisor at ABC Manufacturing. You might wonder why I want to move into sales at this stage in my career, but much of my time has been spent negotiating with vendors and meeting with CEOs. Although the industries might be different, the skills are the same.”

“I just received my B.A. in marketing with a 3.9 GPA. My courses in account management give me a strong foundation to begin my career with XYZ company, and I’m excited to learn from the industry leaders here.” (Examples from CNN.)

Don’t talk about your current job or your husband (that was my mistake). Instead, tell a clear, compelling story that highlights significant experiences in your life that led you to the moment when you’re sitting in front of the interviewer answering this question. If you can creatively incorporate some personal history and humor, all the better.

Mistake No. 2: I did the hard prep, but not the easy prep

When I sat down to interview for this social media position at a large radio company, I had statistics, figures and ideas for growth for the social media of the company I was interviewing with—and I was excited to share my ideas. But during our small chit chat and socializing, it became clear that I hadn’t actually listened to the radio station.

When it comes to interview preparation, start small and build up. Play around on the company website. Test out their products (if applicable) and talk about the pros and cons of the company with a close friend. Prepare a small summary about what the company does and who their primary market is—and then get some experience with that primary market by role-playing as a customer.

Mistake No. 3: I wasn’t a smooth player

Hopefully you’ve gotten beyond feeling super-nervous midway through the interview. But even if you are comfortable, there’s still an ultimate interviewee level known as the “smooth player.”

No, this is not someone who brings baked goods to the interview. Smooth players are confident and put-together interview candidates who ask game-changing questions like, “If you were forced to say yes or no to hiring me right now, what would be your biggest hesitation in offering me this position?” and “Can you offer me a tour of the office?”

Smooth players do not awkwardly shake hands and thank the interviewer for their time.

When the end of the interview approaches, assess how you think you did. If you feel strongly that you’re still the prime candidate, ask any one of the following analytical questions (or more, if appropriate) to be seen as a slick character:

  • “May I have a tour of the office?”
  • “If you were forced to say yes or no to hiring me right now, what would be your biggest hesitation in offering me this position?”
  • “May I ask why you are interested in me for this position?”
  • “What are the most important characteristics you are looking for in the person you plan to hire for this position?”

And if you need more ideas about questions to ask, don’t forget the basics like “What would a typical work day look like for someone in this position?”

What’s the worst thing you’ve done during an interview? Did it cost you the job?

Sarah Greesonbach is a Content Management Specialist with a lot on the back burner (if you count LOLcats and Words with Friends). She curates and writes the lifestyle and personal finance blog Life [Comma] Etc and is studying to be an Accredited Personal Financial Counselor.

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