Job searches, much like first dates, are about giving the other party — in this case the employer — a once-over and presenting yourself in the best possible way. Also similar to first dates, job searches give you several opportunities to make a single mistake that is a real turnoff.
You’re on your own when it comes to finding true love, but for staying in an employer’s good graces, we’ve got you covered. So put on your best clothes, style your hair and make sure you don’t make one of these job interview gaffes that are certain to turn off an employer:
Turnoff No. 1: Arriving too early for an interview
The reason: Interviews are scheduled at specific times for a reason. Hiring managers have other meetings and responsibilities to deal with throughout the day, so they can’t interrupt their schedule just to meet with you. Also, interviews often have multiple components. If you’re scheduled to meet the hiring manager first, then have a conversation with some potential colleagues, followed by a tour of the company and finally a drug test, an early (or late) arrival disrupts everyone’s schedule.
The solution: By all means, arriving early is better than arriving late. However, from an interviewer’s perspective, arriving 45 minutes early and letting the receptionist know you’ve arrived is just as bothersome as showing up 45 minutes late. If you get to the interview location too early, go to a nearby coffee shop, take a walk around the block or sit in your car to pass the time. Checking in with the front desk five or even 15 minutes early is acceptable and shows the employer you’re punctual.
Turnoff No. 2: Letting your desperation show
The reason: Although you have been looking for a job for several months or even longer, don’t let your frustration become the interviewer’s problem. A negative attitude that causes you to vent about the hardships of being unemployed can leave you reeking of bitterness and repel employers.
The solution: Don’t get us wrong — being unemployed can be one of the worst experiences a person goes through, and anyone who has been there understands that eventually you reach a point where you want to scream. Nevertheless, do your screaming before you get to the interview.
When you’re preparing for the interview, think like an employer. Do you want to hire the person with amazing qualification, a great personality and the potential to grow with the company? Or do you want to hire the person whose primary concern is getting a paycheck, who sounds angry and who might quit the moment a better job comes along? Enthusiasm impresses an employer; desperation does not.
Turnoff No. 3: Being too aggressive with your follow-up
The reason: Employers want to see enthusiasm from job seekers, but they don’t want to be inconvenienced by said enthusiasm. Two e-mails, a handwritten note, a few phone calls and a quick visit to the office just to see how things are going will not impress a hiring manager. That approach will scare them.
The solution: Again, enthusiasm wins over desperation every time. You need to send a thank-you note, and you can send both an e-mail and a postal letter to cover your bases. Pestering employers doesn’t just make you look desperate, it also annoys them. They don’t have time for so many distractions and eventually the first thing they’ll think of when they see your name is, “Oh, that’s the one who wouldn’t leave me alone.” Prove you have common sense, which includes knowing when to stop.
Turnoff No. 4: Talking trash about anyone
The reason: You probably have plenty to say about your incompetent former boss and inept co-workers, but you know better than to say it. You’ve been told that employers hear you talk negatively about a past boss and think, “One day you’ll be talking that way about me.” You might forget that the same thoughts run through their mind when you talk about other organizations, too. If you’re interviewing with the No. 2 company in a specific industry, you shouldn’t take cheap shots at the No. 1 company every chance you get. Employers know you’re job hunting and that you’ve probably been just as unkind about them in other interviews.
The solution: Stay positive. Explain why you want to work for the company. Point out how your experience has prepared you for this move. You don’t need to pretend that your former employer is a personal hero, but you should demonstrate that you are bringing something from the company other than your 401(k). Rather than belittle the competition, promote this company. Say, “I know your competitor is doing this, and they’ve had some success, but you have the ability to do this and that to beat them.” The focus remains on this company and also on your ideas.
Turnoff No. 5: Lacking direction
The reason: Whether or not they are micromanagers, employers like to have some trust in their employees. If your résumé, cover letter or interview suggests that you have no goals, you are not an attractive candidate. If you don’t even know where you want your career to go, how can you know this job is for you? A cover letter looking for a job instead of this job implies that you’re floating from gig to gig until you get bored.
The solution: If you’re not positive what your future looks like, at least create a narrative that satisfies you. This job might not be your ideal one, but do you see yourself learning from it and putting you on a path to something better? What could you do after you spend some time working here? Figure out what that path is so you can show an employer you know where you’re going. You don’t need to promise that you’ll stay at this position forever, but you can suggest that you are eager to learn and want to move forward. Employers like ambition because these workers tend to care about their jobs and ultimately improve the business in some capacity.
Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder.com writer