We've all experienced it. That sinking feeling that occurs when the job interview that was going so well suddenly goes off track. Maybe it's the expression on the hiring manager's face, or the awkward pause that ensues, but there is little doubt when it happens.
Common interview mistakes, of course, include bad mouthing your former employer, failing to adequately research the company or the position and just plain talking too much. Careerbuilder.com, a job posting site, publishes an annual list of interview blunders, including asking the hiring manager for a ride home or flushing the toilet during a phone interview.
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Thanks to the rise of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, dumb interview moves are taking on a new character. The urge to share everything about one's life with friends and strangers via cyberspace is invading the very private atmosphere of the recruiter's office. Moreover, the need to stand out in the information cacophony of the Web has increased the pressure to seem unique and special.
"We've been socialized to assume that we have to stand out in some way, and we're encouraged to be bold," says Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide" and a New York City-based career coach. "But that is not necessarily what people are looking for in candidates to bring on board. They want people who fit in."
Oversharing has now become an occupational hazard of the job hunt. Here are 5 examples of when too much information was, well, really too much information:
"I'm in anger management because I hit a former co-worker."
"I've had candidates share with me their anger management problems, views on gender, age, and other things that can be damaging in an interview," says Shilonda Downing, owner of Virtual Work Team, which helps business owners find remote workers. "One candidate recently mentioned that he was going through anger management for hitting a co-worker in corporate America, and that is why he would like to work from home going forward."
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Major character flaws, particularly when they are of the physical-harm variety, shouldn't be brought up in an interview. Bringing up disagreements with colleagues or managers as a reason for leaving a former employer doesn't bode well that you'll be reliable and reasonable in a new position--even if it is a remote one. "Mentioning this is typically deemed as someone who is unable to handle situations professionally and without violence," Downing says. Unless you're required to disclose that you're undergoing some kind of psychological treatment, find an honest way to work around it.
"Oh, that's because I just took a Xanax."
"I interviewed someone who swore she'd be great at the job, but she was talking incredibly slowly," says Chenofsky Singer, the career management coach. "A single word would take forever. I wanted to pull them out of her mouth." Concerned that the applicant might be suffering from a legitimate medical issue like low blood sugar, Chenofsky Singer asked if this was the candidate's typical rate of speaking. "'Oh, yes,' she replied, 'I take a Xanax before a meeting or a presentation because I get so nervous. I don't think I'm doing poorly, do you?'"
Having some nerves before an interview is normal, but before medicating, be sure of the effects on your personality and disposition. "More than trying to pick on her individual interviewing style at the time, I was concerned that there was something I should know," Chenofsky Singer says, which served as a distraction from a discussion of her qualifications.
"Just a little itch."
"I was recruiting for a sales director position for my employer," says Dany Bourjolly Smith, who's a recruiter with a professional services firm selling to C-level executives. "I was thrilled to have this candidate in for a live interview based on his resume. During the interview, he was saying all of the right things. Suddenly, he takes his right hand and sticks it inside his sock and shoe and begins scratching under his heel furiously."
Bourjolly Smith described the itching as "aggressive," and the candidate continued it while he was talking and answering questions unfazed. "At the end of the interview, I did my best to be subtle and not shake his hand. This amounted to an awkward bump of elbows. He definitely noticed that I didn't shake his hand."
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For a client-facing position like the one this candidate was interviewing for, but really, for any position at all, behaving in a strange and unprofessional manner--particularly when it's hygiene-related--is a big red flag. "Naturally, I declined him for the position," Bourjolly Smith says. "If he would behave like that in front of a recruiter, I can only imagine what he would do in front of our clients during a sales meeting."
"I locked a mentally ill patient in a room to teach him a lesson."
"A few years ago, I was hired by a nonprofit that provided services for the homeless, the majority of whom were developmentally disabled, to find them a facilities director," says Bruce Hurwitz, author of "A Hooker's Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting." Hurwitz prescreened one well-qualified candidate who didn't raise any red flags, and sent the applicant forward to his clients for a full interview. When asked for examples of how he had interacted with people with psychiatric issues, "he told my client that there was a person living at his facility who refused to stay out of the library.
"One day, the candidate waited for the man to enter the library and locked him in. The man called him numerous times begging to be let out of the room. He refused until the man was about to soil himself. When he promised never to enter the library again, my candidate released him."
When asked for real-life examples of your skills and expertise, it is best to refrain from bringing up wild, controversial examples, like ones of abusing people to keep them in line, particularly when they're developmentally challenged. "The sad part? My candidate actually thought he was telling the client positive things about his judgment, and had no idea why they didn't want him," Hurwitz says.
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"Oh, he was killed in a drug deal."
"I had a woman do an excellent interview," says Holly Wolf, who's currently the chief marketing officer with Conestoga Bank in Pennsylvania, but was formerly responsible for hiring staff for an emergency clinic. At the end of the interview, when she asked why the woman wanted to be a nurse, she explained that she had gone back to school after her husband passed away, and she wanted to serve as a good role model for her young girls.
"She was about 33 so that was an incredible accomplishment," Wolf says, "so I said, 'I'm sure your husband is proud of you and what an excellent role model you are for your daughters.' She looked at me and said, 'He really wasn't a good role model for our children. He was killed in a drug deal that went bad.'"
Bringing up losses of friends or family members in an interview can be a touchy subject. Bringing up the illicit and illegal dealings of your late friend or family member is an example of taking it too far. It can be acceptable if you're careful to bring it up in a casual way, and without so much detail that it makes someone uncomfortable. Despite it being an excellent interview, the candidate tainted it by sharing more than was necessary.
Click here for the full list of Dumb Things People Have Said During Job Interviews.