The Top 3 Biggest Mistakes Made by Candidates During an Initial Interview

You found the job announcement. You’ve looked at the website. You’ve spent hours fine-tuning your résumé, drafting your cover letter, and probably filling out a lengthy application. You’ve learned as much as you can about the position, the organization, and the people. Then, after all that hard work, you get the call: they’ve invited you to interview.  

If the recruitment process was like a seesaw, you’ve essentially arrived at the fulcrum. The first part of the process is an uphill slog – you’ve got to prove that you meet the minimum qualifications and have the basic knowledge, skills, and experience to succeed in the position. Making the cut is a great feeling. It confirms your credentials, education, and experience really set you above the pack. However, it is important to realize that you must start relying less on what’s on paper and more about what their ideal candidate is or should bring to the table. In other words, it’s much more about fit than it is about qualifications.  

Before your interview, take a few moments to review any of the recruitment materials that you have available to you: brochures, flyers, job descriptions, ads. Focus on keywords like “ideally”, “preferably”, or “desirable”. Pay attention to details about the organizational structure, culture, and challenges. Then, you need to develop a strategy for your interview that addresses these two key principles:

  1. Organizations want to hire people who are going to help solve their problems.  
  1. Organizations want to hire people who are going to be good team members.

Show who you are and what you bring to the table. After that, it’s really in their hands.  

That’s what you should do. Unfortunately, here’s what I encounter all too often:

Mistake #1 – The Know It All

Some amount of confidence is useful and maybe even encouraged. However, you can very quickly come across as overbearing. That’s a red flag for one of the most important principles the hiring authority is considering: who will be a great team member?  

Instead, consider showing some humility. Be able to admit past mistakes, how you’ve grown as a result of them, and how your organization was improved because of it.  

Mistake #2 – The Rambler

We all know there are multiple ways to answer questions. Choose one. I’ll say it again: choose one.  Once you have identified your response, stick with it. Provide just enough detail to demonstrate that you are familiar with the issue at hand. We do not need to get background on the individual office politics or organizational structure or complex policy objectives at play.  

You want to practice giving responses that are less than five minutes in length to any given question. If the interviewer has additional follow up questions, that is an invitation to provide more detail. The longer your response drags on, the more likely you are to lose your audience. It’s also important to remember that interviewing is a taxing endeavor by itself. Remember, your panelists will appreciate your brevity.

Mistake #3 – The Fisherman

Sometimes, you will have credentials to be competitive in a wide variety of positions. You might casually drop several lines into the water to see what bites. There is nothing wrong with that kind of career search. However, by the time the interview arrives, you should have engaged in some level of research into the organization and the position. Know the players and issues. It will take some time, but having even a rudimentary understanding of the environment in which you will be working demonstrates your commitment to the organization. As an interviewer, there is nothing worse than listening to someone who appears to be wholly disinterested in the position casually try to spin their war stories for the role.  

Andrew Nelson, MPA

Andrew is a highly-rated Executive Recruiter and local government practitioner with experience in municipal finance, court management, transportation planning, and general management of municipal operations. He is a strong human resources professional with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) focused in Local Government Management from Brigham Young University.‍

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