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Interview pitfalls to avoid

In a world where the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 9.1 percent unemployment rate in August, one might think that every job candidate would display proper interview etiquette. After all, competition for employment is at an all-time high. However, many people arrive for an interview unprepared to fulfill professional expectations of the process. For those fortunate enough to land an interview, there are a few rules you can follow to help avoid common interview pitfalls.

Micki Holliday, director of career services at Brown Mackie College – Kansas City, works daily to provide students and alumni with career and employment assistance, and to expand the college’s network of professional externship sites. She often speaks with recruiters and human resources experts to initiate business affiliations and request feedback on interview performance. This professional interaction offers insight into expectations of interview behavior. Here, she outlines a few simple rules to help ensure you make the most of every interview opportunity.

Arrive on time
Arriving late for an interview does not bode well for your claims of responsibility. In fact, Holliday recommends making a dry run from your home to the job site at the same time of day you are to be there.

“This allows you to gauge traffic flow and parking availability. You’ll find out if you should give yourself extra time on the day of the interview,” Holliday says.

Wear appropriate business attire
“What you wear to an interview factors in to the impression you make,” says Holliday. “It is important to dress business appropriate.” It may not be appropriate to wear a suit and tie for every interview, as some positions do not require this formality. However, if wearing a tie to an interview, career website cvtips.com recommends choosing one that is darker than your suit.

Rule No. 1 for the ladies? No revealing blouses. “Don’t show one little bit of cleavage,” Holiday says. “Some companies may refuse to proceed with an interview. They want to steer clear of any possibility of a sexual harassment lawsuit.”

Shoes are every bit as important as clothes. “Recruiters look at shoes. If they’re dirty, scuffed, and unpolished, it’s a sign that the candidate is not attentive to his or her own professionalism,” Holliday says.

Don’t smell like smoke
“Many different employers have told me that smokers do not get top priority,” Holliday says. Workers who take smoke breaks are less productive than their counterparts are, and in general, smokers cost employers more in health care. A study by the American Lung Association quantifies the cost of lost productivity and health care expenditures, in addition to costs related to premature deaths. Total cost to the U.S. economy each year? More than $3 billion.

“As more and more businesses prohibit smoking both inside and outside of the building, smoking is a growing issue in the workplace,” she adds. Forbes.com concurs with this advice, adding that the smell of smoke connotes irresponsibility.

Limit jewelry
Too much jewelry can be a distraction. Some people fiddle with jewelry during the interview, which is often interpreted as nervousness. Holliday recommends limiting jewelry to three pieces. While it is common today to see young people on the street with facial piercings, and even tongue piercings, Holliday sees this as less than professional and appealing to the employer. “If you usually wear five earrings, just wear one on each ear for an interview,” she advises.

No cell phone calls
“Answering a cell phone call during an interview will not make you seem important. Chances are it will lower your chances of being hired,” Holliday says. A Monster.com survey indicates this as one of the six most common interview mistakes. Holliday recommends turning off your cell phone before an interview or just don’t take it in an interview. What do you do if you forget and it happens to ring? “Silence the phone at once and apologize for the interruption,” she says.

Focus on specific competencies
Many interviewers begin with a general question just to break the ice. When an interviewer says, “Tell me something about yourself,” Holliday recommends relating your answer to an aspect of the job rather than talking about your hobbies. “This is a good opportunity to talk about a specific strength or accomplishment that qualifies you for the position,” she says.

A CareerBuilders.com 2011 survey found that a common mistake many candidates make is to not answer the specific question asked. “Listen carefully to the question and keep answers brief. Don’t speak for longer than 90 seconds,” says Holliday.

Some interviews end with, “Is there anything you want to add concerning your appropriateness for the job?” Again, the answer should focus on the position you are there to secure. A word of caution here: Holliday doesn’t recommend responding with a statement like, “I’m the best person you could hire.”

“This display of ego generally kills any chance you may have had to work there,” she says.

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