December 15, 2023

Career AdviceLeadership

What You Don’t Know Isn’t an Excuse and Other Mistakes Made in Interviews

By: Leah Nalepa

In a moment of brutal honesty, my favorite boss told me years ago that what I don’t know isn’t an excuse. She was referring to a mistake I made in a project where I was supposed to collaborate with other teams and evidently hadn’t asked the right questions to get the best solution. While the comment stung and I didn’t fully understand it at the time, that advice has proved tremendously helpful throughout my career. Now, I’m turning it to my focus: interviews.

I don’t know what I don’t know simply isn’t an excuse in an interview. Ideally, you’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this interview. While there are facts you won’t have knowledge of simply by the nature of not being an employee of the company, there is a basic standard of knowledge that is expected by reviewing the company’s website, LinkedIn page, social media platforms, and blog posts (if they exist). Bonus points for Googling the company and digesting its public image or reaching out to current employees and customers to learn more about their experience. 

If there’s ever been a time to improve your interview game, it’s now. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb (but in a good way) among everyone else who doesn’t know what they don’t know. Here are 5 mistakes I’ve seen recently that you should avoid at all costs during your next interview (or any for that matter).

Not understanding the mission of the organization and saying it aligns with your values. 

How do you know an organization aligns with your values if you don’t understand its core mission? If you don’t understand that, you’re dead in the water. Not that you have to repeat an institution’s mission, but you do have to comprehend what it’s doing because of it. What is its higher calling, its ethos, and how does that specifically speak to you?  

Not having a basic knowledge of the projects, clientele, role expectations, or industry the company serves. 

While this is closely related to not understanding the mission of the employer, lacking a basic knowledge of its industry, customer base, project focus, or even the role you’re applying for can be equally damning. Don’t be afraid to spend several hours preparing for an interview, gathering knowledge of a company and its competitors, perusing Glassdoor for salary expectations and employee reviews, and reaching out to contacts on LinkedIn. The more you know, and the more employees who can speak positively about you, the better. 

Being late to an interview and not apologizing for it. 

This may seem like a given, but it isn’t. Don’t be late to an interview. Leave early, ensure you have the correct address, and wait in your car or outside the building until about 5-10 minutes beforehand. If you’re meeting at a third-party location like a coffee shop, be the first one there and wait for the interviewer by the door or better yet grab a table. For Zoom, you should login a minute or two early. That being said, life happens, car accidents occur, the train gets stopped, and sometimes you’re late for an interviewer. Once you realize you might be late, immediately contact your HR representative or the interviewer directly to let them know. After you arrive, apologize for making them wait because of particular unforeseen circumstances. This goes a long way for someone who otherwise may dismiss you. 

Not dressing appropriately for an interview, even via Zoom. 

A lot of people, including myself, have written ad nauseam about why it’s important to dress well for an interview. Yet, I continually see inappropriate clothing being worn. 90 percent of the time, business professional is the way to go in an interview. Don’t wear a dress that’s too tight or pants that are too short. Interviews are not the time to show your flashy or fashion-forward side (unless, of course, you’re interviewing in the fashion industry or something similar). You can express your personality, but do it in a respectful, modest, and tailored way. 

While Zoom interviews are seemingly lower stakes, it’s just as crucial to bring your best self to the camera. Ensure your background and overall image are professional and polished. Business professional is still recommended unless you knowingly should wear something a bit more business casual. 

Being too candid and telling your potential future employer that you’re using this interview as leverage at your current company. 

We live in an increasingly casual environment, and clothes aren’t the only category that have become more laid back. As a society, our language, respect, and demeanor has also become more casual and that’s usually unacceptable for an interview. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t swear in an interview (this may be tough for some who have made swearing a habit). What may not have been a learned skill for Zoomers is how to draw the line for being too candid in an interview. 

You have to play the game to win. Meaning, many people interview at other organizations to use a job offer as leverage for a better title or raise at their current company. At all costs, don’t share this with the employer that’s interviewing you, no matter how respectful you think it may beThere are a myriad of reasons for this, but mainly you won’t get the offer and you’re disrespecting a potential employer and future business contact as a result. Don’t waste their time if you’re only going to show your full hand. That’s not how to play the game. 

Like I stated earlier at the beginning, what you don’t know isn’t an excuse in an interview. There are too many resources to take advantage of to learn how to interview well and become familiar with an employer: career services, resume and interview consultants, LinkedIn, company websites, online videos and courses, blogs, and the list goes on. Knowing how to interview well takes time and practice, but once you get there it makes getting the job of your dreams much easier.