When it comes to interviewing, there’s no such thing as one recipe for success — what a recruiter is looking for will largely depend on a company’s needs, job requirements and culture fit.
But even though the things recruiters like to see in a candidate aren’t widely agreed upon, the things they don’t like to see often are — few recruiters, for example, would disagree that being late is a turnoff. And if you’re hoping to ace the interview, the more of these pet peeves you avoid, the better.
We reached out to a handful of career experts to see which traits and habits drive recruiters crazy — read on to learn more, and avoid them like the plague.
When evaluating candidates, recruiters want to get into the nitty-gritty: metrics that illustrate the results you’ve achieved, specific ideas you have for the company, anecdotes from your previous work experience.
“The interviewer is trying to gauge your skill and ability level from a short meeting — not an easy task,” says Jessie West of West Coaching and Consulting. “If you cannot provide examples and stories that prove you really have the abilities you promoted on your resume, they will not believe you are a good fit for the role.”
Make sure to “prepare examples from past jobs that will highlight what you can do for the company and the type of employee you will be in the position. Practice telling the story of a past accomplishment to a friend and get their feedback,” West recommends.
2. A Lack of Loyalty
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: even if your former employer was really, truly awful, trash talking them will get you nowhere.
“It’s never a good idea to bash your old employer or throw your former boss under the bus because it just makes you look petty… Employers are looking for versatile and adaptive employees, so harping on the bad things at your prior company will only make you look like a Debbie Downer,” says Wendi Weiner, Resume Writer & Career Transition Coach.
Beyond that, “being a jerk will make us question whether you’ll do the same if someone asks you about us,” adds Bill Kennedy, Senior Recruiter at AWeber.
Instead, if asked about why you’re searching for a new opportunity, “rephrase the negative into a positive. Consider focusing on the things [about the current company] that elicited you to search for a new role, such as a solid work culture, better growth opportunities or even work-life balance,” Weiner recommends.
The honest reason why you’re applying for a job might be that you need a paycheck — but even if that’s your primary motivation, don’t highlight it. It suggests a lack of enthusiasm for the company and opportunity at hand, which is guaranteed to rub employers the wrong way.
“Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to hire candidates who are looking for any job. Candidates who aren’t really interested in the job aren’t likely to perform well or stay long,” explains Chrysta Bairre, Career Coach at Live Love Work. “Throughout the hiring process, including [in] your cover letter, interview, etc., be sure to indicate why you’re interested in that particular job. Show your enthusiasm and interest in the opportunity and organization!”
4. Excessive Agreeability
Just because a company wants you to fit in with their culture doesn’t mean they want you to be a yes man (or woman).
“Recruiters don’t want to see candidates that don’t have their own opinions or parrot things back,” says Elizabeth Becker, Client Partner and Career Expert at PROTECH. “Hiring managers want strong thinkers who can provide their own insight — not someone who simply says what they think is expected.”
That being said, you want to make sure that you don’t come off as a steamroller, either.
“Finding respectful ways to present counter-opinions to a recruiter or hiring manager is still essential,” Becker says. So share your thoughts, but don’t come across as insulting or condescending.
Don’t arrive on time, have your resume on hand or remember the key achievements you want to highlight? Don’t expect a call back from a recruiter.
“Interviewers never want candidates who are unprepared, as that suggests you might be unprepared when you show up for work,” Bairre says. “Come to your interview prepared with 3-5 talking points [and] supporting stories and accomplishments that highlight how you are uniquely qualified for the specific job you applied for.”
It’s pretty tough to find a job where you primarily work on your own without interacting with others — most companies today are highly collaborative. Because of this, verifying in an interview that you play nice with others is often top-of-mind for recruiters and hiring managers.
“Being rude or disrespectful is a good way to remove yourself from consideration,” Becker says. “Since good recruiters have a strong relationship with their clients and hiring managers, it can reflect poorly on them to present a candidate with a poor attitude.”
So make sure to say “please” and “thank you”, practice active listening and generally treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Another way to prove that you’re a team player is showing humility. Otherwise, you risk looking like a know-it-all.
“Confidence is a great skill to have — however, there’s a fine line between being confident and arrogant,” Becker says. “As a recruiter, I’ve had candidate proudly tell me their six months in the industry is equal to someone with three years of experience” — a major no-no.
You want to flaunt your skills without making it sound like it’s your way or the highway. To do this, be realistic about your abilities, share stories that illustrate your wins rather than just saying “I’m awesome at XYZ” and make sure to give credit where credit is due.
When you first meet with a recruiter or hiring manager, you probably have about 15-30 minutes to make a lasting impression — so make it count. Avoid the flowery language and details, and get straight to the meat.
“Recruiters and hiring managers never want your entire life story. Candidates who include too much information… make it harder for the hiring manager to sort through all the information and decide what information may be relevant,” Bairre says.
Instead, Bairre recommends sticking strictly to your relevant experience and leaving out the rest.
9. Ignorance About the Company
If there’s one way to become forgettable in an interview, it’s to reveal that you haven’t done your research on a company. Learning the basic facts about a company — like their industry, competitors and names of their executives — as well as a little interview prep is a must if you want to impress.
“Always do your research about the position, department and company where you are interviewing. Read company websites, reviews on Glassdoor and ask your contacts for information” ahead of an interview, West advises.
“Come prepared with questions like ‘What makes your most successful employees in this role thrive?’ or ‘What pain points/challenges can the right candidate in this role solve?’” adds Kennedy. “Coming with a pre-written list of questions and taking notes on the answers will really show me you are motivated for the role.”
10. A Lack of Professionalism
No matter how casual the office, you always want to mind your Ps and Qs. I’ve worked at places where employees dropped the F-bomb on a daily basis and hoodies were practically a required uniform, but if you displayed that same behavior in an interview, there’s no way you’d move past the first round. Interviews are all about showing your best self to your potential employer.
“Using profanity or slang, mentioning personal or health problems, talking bad about a past employer are all considered unprofessional,” West says. “If you are not on your best behavior in the most professional of arenas (a job interview), hiring managers will see you as too much of a risk to represent the company to clients.”
And “if you have any doubt whether something is okay to say in an interview, err on the side of caution and don’t say it,” West adds.