3 Common Interviewing Mistakes in IT That Can Cost You the Job

woman looking nervous in tech interview

Contributed by Amy Stewart, AIM Consulting

In IT Consulting, we have many stories about hiring managers passing on qualified candidates because they didn’t interview well. This obviously isn’t what anybody wants to happen. You wanted the job. We wanted you to get the job. The hiring manager wanted to fill the position.

So what happened?

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in an interview, but the following are three of the most common mistakes we see that result in hiring mangers  passing on qualified candidates.

1. You didn’t finish

One of the most frustrating mistakes that we see candidates make is talking themselves out of a job simply by talking too much. In an interview, time is limited. If you spend too much time on any one thing, the interviewer can’t properly qualify you for the position. The result is an automatic pass.

Why does this happen?

The main reason people talk too much in an interview is because they haven’t thought about their answers in advance. This results in them having to dig through their thoughts out loud, hunting for an answer. If the interviewee is nervous, the problem is exacerbated, resulting in long pauses or rambling.

The other primary reason people talk too much is because they treat the interview too casually. The interview might get off to a great start, with the interviewer making the interviewee feel comfortable and connecting on a personal level, but when the interviewee gets too comfortable, they can get off track, expounding on their opinions or talking about a side project until the clock runs out.

How do you avoid this?

  1. Prepare your answers in advance.
  2. Know when to stop talking.

An interview is a test. To do well, you not only have to know the material but you have to demonstrate that you know it by answering all the questions.

Prepare by outlining how you will answer certain questions and practicing talking about examples from your work history that demonstrate your abilities. Being prepared will help you be concise, even when you are nervous.

When answering, pause slightly to gather your thoughts to ensure you aren’t coming off as abrupt, interruptive, or over-rehearsed. When you elaborate, pace yourself and don’t be afraid to check in with the interviewer. Saying something like, “Do we have time for me to illustrate one more point?” shows the interviewer that you are aware, prepared, flexible, and communicative.

2. They didn’t get to know you

The flip side of talking too much is either not talking enough or providing very curt, canned, or conventional answers that offer poor insight into what kind of person you are.

Hiring managers are generally looking for the same thing: qualified, reliable, pleasant people who will use their skills to solve problems for the business.

Meeting a candidate in person gives them the opportunity to ascertain what they can expect from you personally and professionally. Being socially competent is often the differentiator that sets winning candidates apart from others with the same technical credentials. This is because all jobs, even highly technical positions, are fundamentally dependent on people skills.

As a candidate, your objective is simple: Convince the interviewer that you are someone who can not only perform technically but work productively alongside the people in the organization. How do you do this?

By showing it.

Treat the interview like any conversation you would have with a human. Relate to the person you are talking to. Relax. Smile. Be confident. When you answer questions, do so with stories that provide insight into your skills, work ethic, priorities, and processes.

If what inhibits you is nervousness, don’t panic. Nervousness is usually an indication that you care about the opportunity and the outcome of the interview. If you are nervous and unable to hide it, admit it. Tell the interviewer that you are a little nervous because you are excited. In most situations, your enthusiasm will be a point in your favor and the honesty will help you relax. The nervousness will dissipate as you get going.

Finally, don’t be desperate. You want the interviewer to be excited about hiring you. You want to show that you are excited about this specific opportunity, not that you will do anything to get any job. Employers expect you to be able to contribute to the business and that requires having self-confidence and a point of view. Remember, you have an agenda too. The interview is your chance to evaluate the opportunity and make sure it is something you really want. Prepare a short list of questions for the interviewer to let them know you are serious.

3. You didn’t meet the technical requirements

Many hiring managers use the interview to dig deeper into your technical background and skill set. Often, hiring managers pass on candidates at this stage because they don’t demonstrate the technical expertise that the company needs.

How do candidates get to the interview stage if they aren’t qualified?

Sometimes the reason lies with hiring managers who don’t list particular requirements, list the wrong requirements, don’t communicate which requirements are important to them, or discover during interviews that they need something different than they were originally looking for.

However, more often it is a result of the candidate indicating somewhere in the process that they have expertise in something that they can’t actually demonstrate.

Don’t embellish.

As a candidate, you should never misrepresent your skills or experience—not on your resume and not in a screening interview. Not even a little bit. Not even a small stretch of the truth. Even white lies throw up red flags. You will lose credibility and trust if you are caught, and so will anyone who vouches for you. If your inability to answer a technical question exposes a deliberate lie, you will not only lose the current opportunity in question but likely be blacklisted from other opportunities that might have been a better fit.

What if you just draw a blank?

Sometimes candidates can’t answer technical questions because they draw a blank. It happens. It can even happen when candidates are prepared.

If it happens to you, take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself the question again with different phrasing. If the blank continues, try doing what you would do on a test—skip the question and come back to it. Tell the interviewer that you know the answer to the question but that you are drawing a blank and ask if you can return to the question later. Often times, it is just the pressure of having to respond on the spot that creates the vacuum. The answer may come to you if you just move on, and if you do a good job answering it at a later point, you may earn the interviewer’s forgiveness and rescue yourself. You might even succeed in demonstrating positive qualities like calm under pressure and resilience.

What if your approach is not the one they want?

There are also occasions where a candidate demonstrates expertise but doesn’t do so in the manner that the hiring manager approves of. This is especially true for developers who are asked to write code as part of the interview. The company may desire a particular approach and pass on a candidate that doesn’t conform to this approach. However, be aware that this is not always the real reason. The interviewer may tell you that they don’t like your approach because they want to test your ability to explain your reasoning in the face of opposition and come to a consensus. This is a common interview tactic because it is very common scenario in an actual working environment.

Whether the interviewer really doesn’t like your approach or just pretends not to, you should respond in the same way. Be honest and communicative and demonstrate your very best work. If you are versatile and can approach solutions in multiple ways, ask for clarification and demonstrate your versatility. If you feel strongly about a particular approach, explain your reasoning but show respect. Understand that if your approach doesn’t meet the company’s expectations and you are unwilling to bend, this particular company just may not be the best place for you.

Finally, remember to practice in a testing environment.

No matter what, practice practice practice. Writing on a white board, especially with people watching you, is very different from typing on a computer screen at your desk. Whatever your expertise, try to practice technical questions in an environment similar to the test environment. Doing so will improve your performance tremendously and could be the difference between getting an offer and being passed over.

In Conclusion

As in any interviewing situation, always keep things in perspective. If you make a mistake, don’t let it shake your confidence or derail the rest of your performance. Interviewers know how nerve-wracking interviews can be. They have interviewed lots of people before you and chances are that they have hired people who make mistakes. Keep your cool and focus. Ask questions and project confidence. Remember too that your AIM representative is your advocate. We submitted you personally and want you to get the job. If you need help, that’s what we are here for!

Read 3 Common Interviewing Mistakes in IT That Can Cost You the Job on AIM Consulting’s blog.


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