Money

How to Totally Bomb a Job Interview

Nothing to worry about, college grad, just what will determine the quality of your life.
Illustration by Daniel Zender

The latest cohort of workers entering the job market this May—welcome to the world, college graduates!—may feel as though years in school has provided them with the skills to excel. And maybe they have. But they’ll never know if they don’t get past the first obstacle in the gauntlet.

“The job interview determines the quality of your life,” says Michael Neece, CEO of Interview Mastery. “And most people don’t prepare very well.”

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It’s a nerve-wracking experience, the person across the table deciding if you are worth the money they will be giving you. And these nerves have odd ways of manifesting themselves.

Conversations with hiring managers about the worst interviews they’ve been a part of include candidates puking onto their shoes, dabbing at brow sweat with cheap tissue so often their faces looked like “Hansel and Gretel and the trail of breadcrumbs,” and one interviewee deciding to have a Happy Hour halfway through. “The candidate reached into his suit coat pocket, pulled out a beautiful little flask, took a hit of whisky, and put it back,” says Neece.

But these are the obvious ways to bomb interviews. What’s more valuable—for new college grads and longtime workers alike—is knowing the subtle mistakes made during interviews that shift resumes into the “we’ll keep it on file” brush-off pile.

Failing to prepare for basic questions

Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach at SixFigureStart, remembers one candidate for a non-profit fundraising position who was a superb interviewee, until she was asked about her greatest accomplishment. The candidate answered with the tale of something she did during her first job right out of school.

“This type of response has several problems,” Ceniza-Levine says. “You don’t want your greatest accomplishment to be so far in the past. Her first job out of school wasn’t in fundraising, so she undercut her value by saying her greatest win was in some other job. And finally, picking anything else but a win that is directly related to what you’re interviewing for suggests you aren’t really interested in the job.”

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Ceniza-Levine also stresses that candidates realize that the interview is more than the actual interview itself. She recalls an investment professional who was another great interviewer, but while communicating before and after, he sent emails chock-full of typos and grammatical mistakes. “This completely undercut this professional’s reputation,” she says.

Not interviewing the interviewer

But by far the most common way to bomb an interview is not asking questions.

Neece preaches something he calls the “10-K technique,” which refers to a document companies must submit to the SEC about their financial performance. Inside the document is a section called “risk factors,” where the company lists the potential risks to investors. Neece recommends candidates go through them and pick out one that relates to the discipline they’re interviewing for.

“When the moment comes during the end where they ask if you have any questions, that’s when you say, I was reading your 10-K, and can you tell me what’s being done to mitigate whatever,” says Neece. “The interviewer will say, holy shit, I dont even know what 10-K is! And it took less than 5 minutes to differentiate yourself.”

Neece also recommends a simple hack to shift the interview from a one-sided interrogation into the two-sided conversation it should be. “After you respond to the interviewer’s question, ask your own tiny little question,” he says. “‘Did i give you enough information? Was I clear on that?’ That’s it. The interviewer responds, and you have a conversation going.”

Not treating the job interview as a fact-finding mission

One final tip is to make sure you leave the interview with one important piece of information: What the actual job you’ll be doing is?

“Day one, week one, first month, actually hands on, what would you be doing?” says Corcodilos, a professional recruiter and writer at Ask The Headhunter. This is the question he asks every candidate that he sends out on an interview after they return for a debrief. If they don’t have a good sense of the actual specifics of the job, Corcodilos knows that they bombed it. “Most people couldn’t tell you what the actual work is because they never ask, and the manager never tells them,” he says.

So: Go into your interview with the goal of trying to figure out what you’d be doing if hired. If you can answer that, congrats, you didn’t bomb it! If you can’t, well, maybe see what answers are to be found at the bottom of that hidden flask of whisky.