If you have ever left a job interview saying, “I could have answered that question better than I did,” you are not alone. Even those with a strong skill set and years of experience do not always know how to sell their qualifications effectively to hiring managers.
If you are looking for a new position or plan to do so in the future, it is important to carefully consider your interviewing techniques. Following are five common mistakes candidates make when meeting with potential employers and advice on how to avoid these stumbling blocks:
- Failing to research a company:
You will put yourself at a disadvantage before you even walk into an interviewer’s office if you fail to prepare for the discussion in advance. Primarily, this means learning as much as possible about a prospective employer.Hiring managers will assume that you have, at minimum, investigated their organization’s website, so expand the scope of your research efforts. Use your professional network and industry publications to determine the company’s business priorities, competitors and market position. This will help you translate your expertise into concrete examples of how you can make a difference at the firm.
- Saying too little/too much:
As you respond to interview questions, you do not want to gloss over vital information but you also do not want to go into too much detail. Both extremes can create a negative impression with hiring managers. If your responses are too brief, interviewers may wonder if you are hiding something; if they are too lengthy, people may tune you out.Here again, the key to achieving the right balance is advance preparation — and practice. Before the interview, think about your answers to questions an interviewer is likely to ask about your background. Be prepared to support broader statements with specific examples that showcase your accounting and leadership skills.Consider practicing your responses with friends, family and trusted colleagues. They can provide candid feedback that can help you refine your answers and ensure they are the appropriate length.
- Ignoring cues from the interviewer:
One of the most valuable, and underrated, interviewing skills is the ability to listen, pay attention to, understand and absorb what the other person is saying. If you concentrate too intently on forming your responses, you can miss critical information offered by the hiring manager.Throughout the discussion, interviewers may provide useful clues as to what they are looking for in candidates, allowing you to tailor your answers to their requirements. For example, a chief financial officer might mention that the company is undergoing rapid growth — which can indicate a need for employees who adapt easily to a fast-paced environment and assume challenging demands.
- Not being yourself:
Even though you want to customize your answers based on what you learn from the interviewer to emphasize skills most applicable to the position, be careful not to overstate your case. Not only do you want to avoid stretching the truth, but the hiring manager may not reveal every aspect that is important for the winning candidate to possess. In other words, don’t get so focused on saying the “right thing” that you do not give an accurate portrayal of your skills and interests.For instance, you might exaggerate your role in analyzing operating metrics because you think that is what the job calls for, while failing to place emphasis on your proven ability to identify cost-savings opportunities — a competency the firm may actually value more. Remember, it behooves both you and the hiring manager if you present an accurate picture of your qualifications so an appropriate match can be made to the position.
- Failing to take the opportunity to ask questions:
Interviews are a two-way street, so be ready with your own questions at the end of the discussion. Prepare a few before you arrive and write down any additional issues that arise as the conversation progresses.
Make certain you ask specific questions about a company’s mission and business practices and expectations to determine whether they are realistic and in line with your own preferences. Also find out about the organization’s long-term priorities and how your contributions would impact those plans.