10 Things That Will Sabotage a Job Interview

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison says don’t ramble, be rude to the receptionist, or don’t bring your mother (yes, it really happened).

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see KFAdvance.com.

In our business, we often get asked how to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. Equally as important, people should also ask how to avoid being noticed for the wrong things. (You don't want to psyche yourself out either, but that's another story). Below are ten examples of how people have absolutely sabotaged their own job interview. These stories, unsealed from our job seekers’ hall of shame, are true, but the details have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

The Job-Seeker Umbilical Cord. There are things to bring to an interview—a stellar resume, stories that showcase your expertise. There are things to leave home—like your mother. The candidate who had Mom wait in the lobby during the interview obviously didn’t get that memo.

Little Johnny’s Veto. Major career moves do impact the family, but not everyone should have veto power. With an offer in hand, a candidate told a recruiter, “I need to discuss this with my son” (a conversation that, by the way, should have occurred before this point). Turns out 8-year-old Johnny said no.

Rambling On…and On… A candidate, brought in for a 30-minute interview, talked nonstop for 20 minutes on the first question, ignoring the subtle signs (interviewers shifting in their chairs) and then also missed the more blatant signals (interviewers looking at their watches) to wrap up. At the end of the filibuster, the candidate said, “Oh, wait, I forgot what my point was.” In short: make a point and be economical with words.

Treating A Receptionist Poorly. You won’t believe the number of job opportunities that are killed because of rudeness to a receptionist. And if you do think the interviewer was inconsiderate or difficult, don’t say so on your cell phone as you are having your parking validated by the receptionist.

No Filter. There are so many ways for you to get into trouble – by words and deed. One candidate who had a glass eye enthusiastically offered an impromptu show and tell – popping his glass eye out of its socket and showing it to his potential employer. Or the candidate, who over a breakfast interview, ate all of his pancakes – with this hands. The point is obvious: think before you act.

"What I Meant to Say…” Everything you say in an interview makes an impression—good or bad. Woe to the candidate, who while interviewing for a job with Pepsi, said he was a bit parched … and asked for a Coke. Or, another candidate, up for a job at Yahoo!, who was stumped by a question, and said definitively, “I’ll Google that one.” And then there was the candidate who met with the CEO of a large fast-food chain, who at the close of what had been a great interview asked, “You don’t really eat this stuff, do you?”

Dressing for Failure. Clothing failures abound! There’s the candidate who showed up in an outfit meant for “Dancing with the Stars,” not “Auditing with the Accountants.” Or the person who, looking to calm his nerves, ordered a Bloody Mary on his inbound flight and spilled it all over himself during turbulence. Then he was late for the interview because he needed to buy another shirt. Ditto the guy who wore jeans and a t-shirt on the plane, and packed his suit in luggage that got lost.

Wardrobe Malfunction. You’d think smart, capable people would know enough to put their pants on. Not so with the guy who, during a video interview, had to get up quickly to shut the door when his dog started barking. Waist up, he was all Brooks Brothers; waist down, only boxers. Or, the person, wearing the Canali suit he bought 20 pounds ago, who blew out the back of his slacks as he sat down in the reception area. He promptly asked the receptionist for a stapler and went into a side office, where an unmistakable “click…click…click…” was heard, as he performed sewing triage.

Wasting People’s Time. After two months of multiple interviews with senior management in different cities, concluding with a board meeting, and a lucrative job offer, a senior executive shook hands on the deal. On the first day of work, though, he was a no-show. When the CEO finally reached him, he was on en route to an ashram in Nepal—he just didn’t think he was “evolved” enough to take the position. Your time is valuable—and so is everyone else’s. If you are fortunate enough to get the job, take it seriously.

Resume “Creativity.” If you didn’t really go to Harvard… if your degree is in interpretive dance and not finance … or if that six months of community service you brag about on your resume was actually time served in prison (yes, these are real stories)… people will find out. And if you think it’s hilarious to post your mug shot, after the bachelor party ended with a drunk and disorderly, on Facebook, know that the “information highway” runs in all directions.

Out of millions of interviews conducted each year, these stories are the outrageous outliers. But they do bring up some valid points for everyone to consider—be prepared, think before you speak, dress for success, and consider what could go wrong as well as what will go right. Sounds like common sense but, as the saying goes, “Common sense isn’t so common.”

A version of this article appears on LinkedIN.