Of course there are lots of ways you can sabotage an interview. But we’re going to assume you know better than to lie on your resume, bash your previous employer, or perhaps worst of all, show up totally unprepared. So let’s talk about one thing you might not realize is hurting your chances of landing a new job: being inconsistent.
Being inconsistent in an interview: think, “not having a consistent story about your background, experience, the reason you’re interested in this company and position, and your motivation for leaving your current one,” lists Glassdoor human resources expert Jamie Hitchens—can crush you during the interview process. That’s because “the recruiter, hiring manager and interviewers all share notes from their time with you,” Hitchens explains, and, “so, you should be telling them all the same thing.”
In other words, you don’t want to tell one manager you’re leaving your current job because you’d like more flexible work hours, only to turn around and tell the VP of the company you’re saying sayonara because you’d like to move up the corporate ladder. Neither answer is wrong, in and of itself, but when those two higher-ups talk, your different answers could inspire confusion, and call into question your honesty.
Saying different things to different people isn’t the only way you can be inconsistent in an interview. As Sharlyn Lauby, founder of HR Bartender, and author of Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers, points out, you can be inconsistent on a resume.
For example, let’s say you’ve held many titles over your career. Your most recent move wasn’t lateral—like going from a customer service representative role at one company to another—but instead, is something that doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper—like moving from a marketing director to a social media manager. That kind of inconsistency on your resume, Lauby says, “might need some explanation.” Same goes for listing skills that don’t mesh, or listing some accomplishments but not all.
All of these inconsistencies can be a red flag to a potential employer. When you’re inconsistent, in any way, “it shows a lack of preparation and in turn a lack of interest or commitment to this role,” warns Hitchens. “It shows a lack of attention to detail, and [a] potential lack of integrity.” After all, she says, “if you’re telling the hiring manager one thing because you think it’s what they want to hear and then telling other interviewers something else, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.”
Instead, you need to show a hiring manager three key things with what you write in your resume and what you say—to everyone involved in the hiring process—during your interview: trust, communication skills, and decision-making skills, Lauby says.
“Inconsistency can erode trust,” Lauby warns. “If a manager gets a different answer every time they speak to [you], they don’t know which response is the right one, and that can impact working relationships.” So, always try to give an honest answer.
When it comes to communication skills, “consistency doesn’t mean that a person’s response will follow a set of norms,” Lauby explains. “It means that the candidate’s responses are explainable and don’t contradict other answers.” In an interview, try to make sure what you say on paper and out loud follows the same story, always.
Lastly, inconsistency won’t let you show off your decision-making skills—a trait employers value in employees. “Companies want to know employees are going to make the consistent decisions when it comes to customer service,” Lauby says. “Being inconsistent can send the message that those skills are not well defined.”