The most common mistakes in job interviews and how to avoid them

We asked five recruitment experts in the corporate, digital and public sectors how avoid common pitfalls

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The Independent Online

September is the busiest time for recruiters.

It's the end of the summer and businesses are taking stock of their staff. Those staff, meanwhile, have had time to reflect on their career over the summer. Some may have decided to look for a new job. At the same time students, fresh from graduation ceremonies, flood the job market with new candidates.

If you're one of those candidates, it can be a daunting time to apply. So we asked some top recruiters from the public, digital and corporate sectors to tell us their secrets.

Here's what they had to say when we asked: What’s the most common mistake in job interviews and how can candidates avoid it?

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of job search engine Adzuna:

Candidates who are informed, prepared and knowledgeable automatically win points with prospective employers. There are few things more discouraging for a recruiting manager than interviewing a candidate with limited knowledge of what your business does, or what the role actually entails. Personalising your applications will help employers see your dedication to their specific company or industry. Generic or copy-and-paste applications are a fast-track from inbox to the bin.    

Ben Broughton CEO of IT specialist Premier Recruitment group:

Failure to prepare. The number of candidates that walk into an interview without researching the company, the person/people they are meeting and the role itself is staggering. Potential candidates have access to an unlimited amount of data now on the web and through sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor they should be walking into the interview tooled up with exactly what the business is about.

Paula Marsh, Strategic HR Manager at Wiltshire Council:

• Don't look thrown by the question “what attracted you to this job”. Prepare your answer, be real and genuine, sound like you DO really want it!

• Make sure you understand the industry – i.e. what makes public sector different from private sector.  In particular not understanding the political dimension to decision in local government. Suggesting spending lots of money on something without considering the reputational risk to the council would be a mistake, for example.

• Never say you don’t have an example – think wider – if you are asked about a project you managed and you haven’t got a work-based example, think about a gap year or trip you organised and explain how the skills you used for that would be useful in managing a project.

• Don't think the interviewers are infallible – not all interviewers are used to it or good at it - if you aren’t clear what they mean, they mumble the question etc. then ask them to repeat or clarify!

• Try not to ramble and go off topic – the interviewer needs to be able to assess your answer – help them by trying to bullet point it – and maybe summarise key points at the end.

• Don't apologise or lower expectations at the start of the interview - e.g. never start by saying "I am rubbish at presentations" or "I am really nervous"– if you put that in their heads that is what they will see!

Om Ruparel, Managing Director and Founder of digital recruitment agency, Recruitmentology:

The most common mistake, particularly in digital recruitment, is not knowing how to use social media and digital products. Such platforms provide invaluable information when preparing for an interview. Linkedin can supply information on your interviewer, your potential new colleagues, and their backgrounds.  Knowing how to use various digital platforms and mobile applications will show your future employer you have a fairly decent understanding of the digital landscape and you’re tech savvy. A lot of employers demand this especially in a digital and technology environment.

You can also do some snooping on a potential employer. You can check out photos on their Instagram and see what they have been up to and what they do socially.

Funny story – we have had a candidate interview with us who doesn’t like using mobile phones when applying to work for a digital mobile company. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job…

Andrew McNeilis, COO at Phaidon International:

The most common mistake is not being prepared and not having a good understanding of what the business is. They can better prepare by using the internet and organisational sites to get more information. Candidates should find someone to talk to in the organisation that they want to join. If someone called me up I would absolutely make time for that person. We underestimate our own network and how we can get to the people we want to talk to.