You breezed through the phone screening and your first interview went surprisingly well.
But weeks go by and you never hear back. If you do end up getting a rejection email, you’re left staring numbly at an auto-response with too many clichés and not a single explanation of why you didn’t make the cut.
And so, the vicious circle continues. How can you improve your interview game when no one is telling you what you’re doing wrong?
1. You were unprepared.
Before speculating on a whole host of things that you could have done wrong, ask yourself honestly if you did everything you could to prepare for the interview.
According to Hichens, coming to your first interview unprepared is an immediate red flag. “While some things like personality and culture fit are harder to control, anyone can look up interview questions on Glassdoor, check out the LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of your interviewers, and do a Google deep dive on all aspects of the industry.”
“Arriving to your interview at least 10-15 minutes early and bringing extra copies of your resume are also a must,” adds Hichens.
2. You didn’t convey enough passion.
The first interview is an incredibly important way for an interviewer to gauge if you are truly interested in working there as opposed to just looking for any old job. That’s why Hichens says it’s “crucial to prepare a solid explanation as to why you are interested in the company and position.” Ask yourself: What first attracted you this company? What about the company’s mission/industry resonates with you? How does this position fit into your professional journey and your career aspirations?
Visit the company’s press page and see what big news it’s being featured in. Look up the profiles of key leaders in the company and see if the specific work they are doing inspires you. If you have mutual connections that are company employees, reach out to them and get to know more about why they love working there. “Showing that you have gone above and beyond to make sure this company and position is the one for you will definitely set you apart.”
3. You were too passive.
Along with preparation and passion, make sure to stay proactive throughout the entire interview process. Interviewers want to see you ‘walk the walk’, and asking insightful questions and sending thank you emails are great ways for you to show them just how interested and responsible you are. Hichens is always impressed when candidates ask interviewers questions that help them better understand the job. Bring a notebook and take notes on their answers.
After you finish your first interview, Hichens says it is vital to send a thank you email to your interviews within 24-48 hours. “Hiring managers always share a candidate’s thank you email with me when they receive one.” Handwritten notes can go far as well, although only as a supplement to thank you emails.
4. You were too aggressive.
If being passive is not your problem, then be wary of having too much of a presence during the interview process. Acting too eager or arrogant will give the interviewer the impression that you are hard to manage.
During the interview, your hyper-excited or know-it-all tendencies may compel you to cut the interviewer off mid-question, but avoid interrupting at all costs. It says a lot more if you take a moment to develop a well-thought-out answer with concrete examples. “Avoid saying Like and Um repeatedly,” Hichens further advises. “If you get flustered, take a minute to gather your thoughts and start your answer again.”
As for emails, quick response times and occasional follow-ups are a plus, but make sure not to overdo it on the communication, Hichens warns. “When a candidate overly emails, it’s a turn-off.”
5. You failed the first impression.
According to Hichens, first impressions are everything. “Eye contact is very important as is a firm handshake. Don’t slouch or cross your arms – you can keep your hands folded on your lap or right in front of you on the table.”
As for interview attire, Hichens recommends always dressing a notch up from the dress code (and cleavage is never appropriate). “Avoid distracters such as large amounts of makeup/jewelry, strong perfume or flashy hair so that the interviewer can truly focus on what you’re saying.” And lastly, always practice proper hygiene protocol.
6. You didn’t show them you’re here to stay.
During the first interview, it’s really critical for an interviewer to assess a candidate’s long-run potential for the position. It’s always a hiring manager’s worst nightmare to invest time and resources on an employee who doesn’t intend on sticking around. Be prepared to answer questions such as Where do you see yourself in 2/5/10 years?
According to Hichens, questions like these “help the interviewer understand what your career aspirations and progression plans are and if that fits into what they can offer you as well as if you’ll stick around long term.”
7. You were a poor culture fit.
When it comes to personality, different types of companies are looking for different types of candidates. “For example, at a more formal company (i.e. a bank or law firm) a big personality and sense of humor might not go over as well as it would at an ad agency,” Hichens says. Make sure to do some corporate culture research to see how your social skills fit into the picture. It will save time and energy for both parties involved and help you get closer to the job that is best for you.
It’s also important to learn more about the social dynamics of the specific team you are applying for. If your interviewer says that communal efforts are critical to the team’s success, your independent work habits may not be considered a big plus.
8. You had a less-than-positive attitude.
Hichens notes that being rude or having a bad attitude can be a huge red flag in the first interview. Avoid badmouthing your current company or manager/peers. Treat everyone you encounter with at the company – whether it be the front desk manager or the CEO – with friendliness and respect. It definitely won’t go unnoticed.
Moreover, always be gracious and appreciative of the interviewer’s time, even if you decide halfway through the interview that this isn’t the best position or company fit. Hichens explains, “Making a positive lasting impression will help you not only in this situation but in the future if you cross paths with these people again, even if you don’t get the job.”
9. You arrived late and seemed unenthused.
Unless there has been a death in the family or a critical emergency, canceling an interview on the day of is tantamount to saying “I don’t really want this job and I don’t respect you or your time.”
If you need to adjust the time or you’re running late, be transparent. “Being late to an interview with no explanation or without emailing or calling ahead to say they are running late. This one will knock out 99% of interviewees,” says Jamie Hichens. Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Glassdoor. “At the very least, if you’re running late, call and offer an ETA, an explanation, or an offer to reschedule. And remember to apologize for the inconvenience.”