There are many ways to blow a job interview -- from giving a stupid answer to accidentally insulting the interviewer -- but nothing is more important than the impression you give when you walk in the door. If you make a bad impression from the outset, you’ve dug a hole that you may never be able to climb out of. But even if the interview goes badly, you still may have a second chance and, if nothing else, you will have gained experience that you can use at your next interview.
Punctuality equals respect. If you show up late without calling to let the interviewer know that you've run into an unforeseen problem, you convey the message, “Your time is not important.” Your outfit also tells the interviewer what you think of her and the company. If you walk in the door dressed down, you're saying, “My comfort is more important than you are.”
An 'I Don’t Care' Attitude
One of the worst things you can do is to go into an interview with little or no knowledge of the company. This leaves the interviewer wondering why you want to work there and if you'll be committed to the company if you are hired. Similarly, if you answer your cell phone during an interview or cut the interview short because you have somewhere else to be, you're saying that someone or something else is more important than the company and the interviewer.
Preparation is the key to not blowing an interview. Figure out what questions the interviewer is likely to ask and practice answering them. Take the time to research the company so you can speak about how you fit into its mission. Research the company's dress code while you're at it, and pick out an outfit that's at least one step above. Plot your route to the interview site, figure out how much time you'll need to get there, and add an extra an hour for traffic delays, trouble finding parking, getting lost or any other problems that may crop up. If you arrive way too early, stop for tea, coffee or a soda and use the time to get your thoughts in order. And for goodness sake, turn off your cell phone off before you walk into the room.
Getting a Second Chance
Even if you feel you've blown the interview, don't give up. Most interviewers understand that job candidates are nervous and don't always put their best foot forward. A follow up “thank you for the interview” e-mail is a chance to make your case a second time. Make clear that you understand what the company needs and point out what how your skills and experience would fill that gap. Always have someone check your prose for grammatical or typographical errors before you send the message.
If You’re Rejected
If you receive a phone call or e-mail informing you that you did not get the job, ask for feedback regarding what you could have done better. Not only will this help you plan for your next interview, but it also may lead the interviewer to give you a heads-up about other jobs that may be coming open soon.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.