Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds if not thousands of candidates for jobs in a variety of industries, roles and countries. There have been countless memorable moments, both good and bad, which is why I am thrilled to share my insights into what I look for in a candidate during interviews.
I can usually get a good idea of who I’m about to meet from the first read of a candidate’s CV, but during the interview, it all comes down to preparation, positive attitude and potential. To me, a successful interview is founded on the combination of things – from verbal to non-verbal – which can all be summed up with one word: confidence.
Confidence is about open and engaged body language – sitting tall, not fidgeting and giving your full attention to the interviewer. Speaking confidently about your experience and letting your passion shine through is key. Knowing how to frame your questions and ask them in a way that gives you the insights you need to make an informed decision about your future also goes a long way in building an aura of confidence.
Let’s take a look at some interview pitfalls that instantly highlight a lack of confidence and a few tips on how to avoid them:
1. "So, you’re in the tech space…" or "So, you’re a leader in the tech space, right?"
If it’s clear that the company you are interviewing with is indeed in the tech space, then you haven’t said anything smart! What you’re doing is making idle small-talk. Throw-away statements like this may put the interviewer on the defensive - and turning this statement into a question demonstrates a lack of confidence in what you’ve said and your need for the interviewer’s validation. You’re either nervous, haven’t done your homework – or both. Avoid this at all costs.
2. "What exactly does the company / this department do?"
Finding the answer to this question is part of your research. Your questions need to show that you’ve put in the time and done some basic research about the company and role. Instead, consider asking what projects the department is currently engaged in or what challenges it faces, with a view to highlighting the value you can bring.
3. "Why did you want to interview me?" or "What did you like most about me from reading my CV?"
Any good interviewer will have read your CV and will have an idea of what makes you a good candidate, but they are unlikely to show you their hand. Instead of asking this, prepare to answer questions like ‘what impression do you think your CV gives me about you?’
4. "What skills do you think I could bring to the role?"
Framed this way, this question subtly defers to the interviewer to highlight your skills, which is the wrong way round. Rather, be prepared to talk about your skills and relate them to the requirements listed in the job description. Work your message into your response if your interviewer says ‘tell me about yourself’ or another appropriate point.
5. "Would I be a good fit for the team?"
This is not a bad question to have in the back of your mind – but it’s not one to ask the interviewer! Other questions to ask yourself before the interview and again on reflection afterward are, Is the company culture aligned with your values? Can you keep up with the pace? Are these the kinds of colleagues you want?
6. "I’m awful at X…"
Don’t work against yourself. Be humble, not self-effacing. Rather than focus on a weakness, re-frame it. Instead, talk about an area you would like to improve and ask about opportunities for training at the company.
7. "I’m amazing at X…"
Statements [like this] can work against you, as well. If you claim to be expert at everything, you’ll give the impression there’s nothing your prospective employer can teach you. Your eagerness to learn is one of the key traits an interviewer looks for.
8. "I’m so excited / thrilled / passionate about…spreadsheets."
Your passion for Excel may know no bounds, but be clear about where your passion truly lies, not where you think the interviewer wants it to be. Hone the message you want to leave behind. Perhaps you’re truly passionate about organization – so say that and give examples of when you turned a chaotic situation into a manageable one.
9. "I liked the blog you wrote on X."
If you’re going to make this statement, qualify it. Say why you liked it or what it meant for you. Perhaps the blog sparked a creative idea which you’d like to talk about? Otherwise, it’s another indicator of nerves – a poor attempt to get your interviewer on your side.
10. "When I worked at company X, I really didn’t like their approach to Y. How does your approach to Y work here?"
Be careful not to ask your questions framed around a negative experience of a current or former employer. Keep things positive and respectful and be delightful. Instead, simply ask ‘how do you approach Y?’
11. "I don’t have an answer for you."
Interviews are not a trip down easy street – so don’t expect them to be. A good interviewer will throw you a curve ball from left field. They’re looking to see how you think on your feet. If you freeze, it’s not ideal, but if you truly don’t have an answer in the moment, tell me you’ll come back to me – and if you say that, make sure you do.
Harriet Green is the General Manager, IBM Watson Internet of Things, Customer Engagement & Education. The Harvard Business School grad splits her time between London and New York.