10 Ways to Ruin a Job Interview

Job interviews are stressful enough without you sabotaging yourself. But you'd probably be surprised how many strikes job seekers put up against themselves before they ever answer a single question.

I wasn't looking for a job, having already committed myself to the vagaries of a freelancer's life. But when a huge publishing house in New York City asked me to interview for a position, I couldn't say no. If nothing else, perhaps, I could walk away with some contract work.

As I sat in the lobby, my prospective boss came out to greet me. She was young. So young. Too young. Very young. Not that I have anything against young people -- I used to be one myself. Yet, when I see a person her age in a management position, I know she isn't making a lot of money, which means, neither will I.


We walked into the conference room where two other Lil' Rascals were waiting. Suddenly, I wanted out, but it was too late. We went through the usual pleasantries and got down to business. As far as job interviews go, it went well. I told them all the right things and nodded my head at all the right times, all the while staring at their un-wrinkled faces and trendy haircuts. I even managed to seem excited.

Then I decided to commit hari-kari. When I thought the time was right, I tactfully asked Darla, Alfalfa and Spanky what the job paid. Perhaps it was arrogance, perhaps pride. Maybe I wanted to show that I was doing them a favor by interviewing. It didn't matter. I smirked, or perhaps grimaced, when they told me. I thanked them for their time and off I went.

I never heard back. Go figure! While I purposely sabotaged that interview, many people don't know any better. One colleague said she received a resume from a person where every line was a different color. "We just HAD to write her back and tell her how unprofessional it was." Then there was the candidate who sent in her resume on a cake. Yummy, yes. Interview? No!

If you want to see the best ways to ruin a job interview -- and who doesn't really? -- keep reading.

10: Be Late

The jet sat on the tarmac. It was the coldest day of the year in Burlington, Vt. I had a 10 a.m. interview in Syracuse, N.Y. I got to the Burlington airport early for the 8 a.m. flight. The plane tried to start. It wanted to start. "Rrrrrrrrrrrrw. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrw." But the growling engines just wouldn't turn over. Then out came the jumper cables. "They jump start planes?" I asked. I'm going to die. Five hours later, I was in Syracuse, by way of Long Island.

I didn't get the job. In hindsight, I should have left the day before and stayed in a hotel. Being on time to an interview is rule No. 1. It doesn't matter if you follow all the other rules. If you're late, you're won't be hired. A job interview is the time where a prospective employer should see you at your best. Being late, for whatever reason, screams unreliable.


The only excuse to being late for a job interview is if a natural calamity, such as an earthquake, flooding or blizzard strikes, and even then, it better be big. With that in mind, make sure you leave enough time for traffic, bad weather, getting lost and malfunctioning planes. Scout out the place the day before, just so you know where you're going [source: AOL].

9: Be Rude

Being a jerk doesn't help your chances of landing a job. Not only shouldn't you be rude to your interviewer, but be nice to the receptionist [source: Green]. Yet, rudeness is a two-way street. Here's another story from my "How to Blow a Job Interview" file.

I had set up an interview with the owner of the company through a head-hunter named Sandy. I arrived at the interview about a half hour early, per rule No. 1. I waited, and waited and waited some more. The receptionist was the only person to greet me. Thirty minutes or so later, the owner came out, looking as if she had just survived an explosion at Talbots. I was a bit steamed at this point. We sat down and she told me that I wasn't on her schedule.


"Sandy called me last Monday and set up our appointment for today," I explained in my oh-so-nice voice. "And then she confirmed it yesterday. She wanted to get it done before she left for Italy."

"She never told me," Talbots said curtly.

"Well, Sandy set it up, and here I am," I said, with an annoyed chuckle.

"I wasn't expecting you," Talbots barked as she fidgeted in her chair. Talbots wanted out. So did I. Any thought of getting the job evaporated from my consciousness.

"And that's my problem, how?"

The next 10 minutes, I hope, were as painful for her as they were for me. Talbots didn't respect me as a potential employee, so there was zero chance I was going to respect her. Although I probably could have been more professional and pleasant (naw!), so could she.

Still, this story withstanding, try not to be rude.

8: Sound Bitter

Today's job environment is tough, and if you've been unemployed for a while, you might be bitter. It's understandable, and even expected. Yet, being bitter is not a trait a prospective employer likes in a job candidate. When asked, "why are you looking for a new job," never say "my boss is stupid," or "I hate dealing with customers." Instead, try to spin the positive. Say you're looking for new challenges, or you can't go any farther with your current employer [source: Goulet].

Leave the bitterness for your buddies at the bar.


7: Answer Your Cell Phone

Seriously? You're going to answer your cell phone during a job interview? Then consider the interview over. Period.

The woman was interviewing when her cell phone rang. Her husband was serving in the military overseas, so she answered the call. Because military spouses can go for long periods without hearing from their significant other, the woman jumped at the chance to talk. Although the interviewer was taken aback, the woman excused herself and spoke privately to her husband. Even though she now knew she would never get the job, the woman had a long discussion with her spouse [source: Job Interview 101].

In most cases, however, answering a cell phone, or even keeping the ringer on during a job interview, is a huge mistake. While interviewers are often interrupted by phone calls, interviewees should keep the phone turned off. Most people know days ahead of time that they are going to a job interview. While there is no easy way to deal with an unavoidable phone call, you need to arrange your life so no one is ringing you -- or texting you -- during an interview [source: Job Interview 101].


6: Lie About Anything

Don't lie during a job interview. The truth will come out -- eventually. And you'll probably get sacked for it.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Most of us, at one time or another, have left jobs not under the best of conditions. Some even exaggerate their resumes. While we all wish we could go back and change things, what's done is done. The best we can do is tell the truth. Employers want employees with integrity, and if they find out that you lied in the hiring process -- and they will -- they'll show you the door.

Look at what happened to Yale football coach Tom Williams in 2011. Williams, first hired in 2009, put on his resume that he was a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship. It wasn't a small lie...it was a whopper. When Yale started investigating whether the claim was fabricated, Williams resigned [source: ESPN].


So how do you explain bad things away and still not screw up the interview? Experts say honesty is the best policy, although many people may have to shade the truth. Spinning is an art form not just reserved for politicians. Your answers should show responsibility and paint you in the best possible light no matter the situation [source: Zupek].

5: Swear and Cuss

I'm one of those anachronistic journalists that cut their teeth in dirty, grimy newspaper newsrooms, where people smoked cigarettes, took a shot of Jack and swore. Yes, I have been known in the heat of deadline to unleash a few F-bombs. Yet, I've never sworn in a job interview.

A job interview is not a casual conversation between friends in bar. Instead, it is a highly formal exchange where profanity is verboten. Even if your interviewer swears, don't get comfortable and swear, too. There will be plenty of opportunities to cuss when you land the job. And if you don't.


4: Be Too Quiet or Too Talkative

You never want to be too talkative during your job interview. You could end up slipping and saying something you aren't supposed to.

The job interview is your time to shine. Someone is interested in hearing your story. Don't clam up. Everyone has varying degrees of shyness, but you need to talk about your employment experiences concisely and in an interesting way.

Conversely, don't ramble, even when there's a pause in the conversation. If you ramble, you might tell the interviewer something you don't want them to hear. Just give enough detail to answer the question. Rambling also raises doubts about your ability to organize information [source: U.S. News].


Sometimes interviewers will be silent on purpose. There's nothing more uncomfortable than dead air. As a result, the interviewee starts talking because they figure there's something wrong with the answer they have just given. If the interviewer gives you the silent treatment after you answered a question, shut your pie hole and show confidence in your previous answer. If the interviewer is still silent, ask a question such as "Did I answer your question?" or "Would you like me tell you more?" [source: Adamchik].

3: Show Indifferent Body Language

Although you might be mindful of what you are saying and how you are saying it, your body could be telling a different story. The first indication of what kind of person you are is the handshake. A firm handshake says, "I'm glad to be here and doubly glad to meet you."

When you sit down, never rock, or rub the back of your head or neck, drum your fingers or shake your leg. Not only is it rude, it says you are disinterested. Rubbing your nose, even if it itches, could mean you're dishonest. Folding your arms across your chest is a big mistake. It makes you look mad and disengaged. Slouching says "unprepared" [source: Career Builder].


What should you do? Sitting up straight and leaning forward slightly shows you are interested and engaged. Nodding in agreement and other positive gestures shows that you're enthusiastic. Look people straight in the eye, even if you're being interviewed by more than one person. When you leave, be graceful. Shake hands confidently [source: Career Builder].

2: Ask About Perks and Vacations

Vacations, flextime, 401(k)s, health insurance and other benefits are important. Yet, the experts say you shouldn't ask about perks right away. If the prospective employer brings it up, then go for it. Some employers want to get the basics out of the way quickly. They don't want to waste anyone's time. An HR person might call you up and ask you what your salary requirements are. I say huzzah if that happens [source: Balderrama].

Sometimes a person can go through two or three interviewers and still not know how much the job pays or what the benefits are. Experts say you have a right to know what you will and won't get before the second interview is over. Just be tactful and polite. Asking about perks in the wrong way could prove disastrous. Wait for the right moment. Say something good and positive first, then hit them with the hard questions. End on an uplifting and positive note [source: Balderrama].


1: Don't Know the Company

Do your homework before going on an interview. Educate yourself about the company and prepare questions and answers based on what that company or organization does. Never ask, "What does your company do?"

Try to use appropriate terminology in the interview. That will make you stand out from the rest. Also, asking questions of an interviewer shows that you are engaged and interested in the position. Never ask questions that are clearly answered on the company's Web site. This just says that you didn't prepare for the interview. Some of these questions might be answered during the interview [source: Virginia Tech].

Of course, it should go without saying that you should never, ever ask inappropriate questions during your interview, but then I got this gem in an e-mail from my editor. "I had a guy ask me how many 'hot chicks' worked at the company." Really?

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Ways to Ruin a Job Interview

I have been on both sides of the job interview throughout my career. Some interviews have been painful and disastrous. Others have turned out great. The key is to learn from both experiences.

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Adamchik, Wally. "It's Ok to be Quiet in an Interview." Military.com. Sept. 14, 2007. (Feb. 18, 2012). http://www.military.com/opinion/0,15202,149321,00.html
  • AOL.com. "How to Handle Being Late for a Job Interview." (Feb. 16, 2012. http://www.aol.com/video/how-to-handle-being-late-for-a-job-interview/155909819/
  • Balderrama, Anthony. "How to ask touchy interview questions." MSN.com. (Feb. 18, 2012). http://msn.careerbuilder.com/Article/MSN-2662-Interviewing-How-to-ask-touchy-interview-questions/
  • Best Interview Strategies. "During Job Interviews You'll Need These Strategies." (Feb 18, 2012). http://www.best-interview-strategies.com/during-job-interviews.html
  • Career Builder. "The Interview: Body Language Do's and Don'ts." (Feb. 17, 2012). http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-746-Getting-Hired-The-Interview-Body-Language-Dos-and-Donts/
  • Daily Mail. "How a little too much cleavage can cost you a job interview." Sept. 1, 2010. (Feb. 18, 2012). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1307319/How-little-cleavage-cost-job-interview.html
  • ESPN.com. "Yale coach Tom Williams resigns." Dec. 21, 2011. (Feb. 17, 2012). http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7375538/yale-bulldogs-coach-tom-williams-resigns-due-rhodes-scholarship-fib
  • Goulet, Tag and Catherine. "What Not to Say in a Job Interview." (Feb. 18, 2012). http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-744-Getting-Hired-What-Not-to-Say-in-a-Job-Interview/
  • Green, Alison. "10 Ways to Ruin a Job Interview." U.S. News and World Report. Feb. 8, 2012. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/02/08/10-ways-to-ruin-a-job-interview
  • Job Interview 101. "Cell Phone Usage During a Job Interview." (Feb. 18, 2012). http://www.jobinterview101.com/cell-phones.php
  • Kilgannon, Corey. "When Tattoos Hurt Job Prospects." The New York Times. April 1, 2009. (Feb. 18, 2012). http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/when-tattoos-hurt-job-prospects/
  • U.S. News and World Report. "9 Ways to Ruin a Job Interview." Dec. 22, 2008. (Feb. 17, 2012). http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2008/12/22/9-ways-to-ruin-a-job-interview
  • Virginia Tech. "Questions to ask employers during interviews." (Feb. 18, 2012). http://www.career.vt.edu/interviewing/askquestions.html
  • Zupek, Rachel. "Should you ever lie in a job interview?" July 27, 2009. (Feb. 16, 2012). http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/worklife/07/27/cb.lie.in.job.interview/index.html