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Career and Interview Tips

15 of the Most Careless Interview Mistakes People Make

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A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.

Cameron Chapman, Skillcrush

There's nothing quite like the feeling of opening an email that says: "You got an interview!"

But that sense of elation melts away when you start to think about the interview. It's the kind of dread you only feel when you're afraid you won't get something you really really want.

I've been there! Interviews are nerve-wracking, especially if you haven't done one for awhile. It had been almost a decade since I'd had an interview when I started looking for a more traditional job after years of freelancing. And I'd never even done a video job interview before I started interviewing with tech companies last summer. Extra scary.

Below, I pulled out some of our top tips from our Ultimate Guide to Interviewing for Your First Tech Job, so that you won't blow your tech job interview with any of these common mistakes. Get the full ebook here for even more great advice on nailing your interview—it's free!

1. BEING UNPREPARED FOR A CODE TEST

Putting your coding skills to the test in front of a potential employer is nerve-wracking. There's no doubt about it. But if you're applying for any kind of developer job, you're almost certainly going to be asked to do some kind of code test, likely at the interview. How else will prospective employers be able to tell if your real-life skills match those you listed on your resume?

2. PANICKING WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER TO SOMETHING

Whether it's on the code test or during the interview itself, there's a chance you won't know the answer to a question you're asked. That's okay. Employers don't expect you to know everything. What they do expect is that you'll keep cool under pressure and you won't freak out. So remember, when you don't know the answer, just stay calm, take a deep breath, and then deal with it rationally. In some cases, interviewers ask you things you're unlikely to know just to see how you cope.

3. NOT RESEARCHING THE COMPANY

Before you step into any interview, be sure you've researched the company you're interviewing with. Find out exactly what the company's mission is and how you can help them.

4. NOT BEING FAMILIAR WITH THE JOB DESCRIPTION

Make sure you know exactly what the original job description said. Re-read it before the interview, and mark any areas that you have questions about so you remember to ask in the interview.

5. HAVING AN OUTDATED PORTFOLIO OR WEBSITE

Your portfolio and website both need to be up to date before your interview (they should really be up to date before you start applying for jobs, but definitely before the interview). Make sure all your projects are prominently displayed in your portfolio, and check that your site looks great on different screens and devices and is free from glitches or missing links.

6. BEING UNPROFESSIONAL

The impression you make at your interview can make or break whether you get the job. Showing up late, being dressed sloppily, or otherwise coming across as not being professional (or not taking the job seriously) are going to seriously hurt your chances of getting hired.

7. NOT ASKING ANY QUESTIONS

I'll admit, I'm guilty of this one. Sometimes an interviewer is so thorough about explaining the job and the company that you can't think of any questions to ask. But you should think up some questions ahead of time so that when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, you'll have some ready to go.

8. NOT BEING FAMILIAR WITH THE COMPANY CULTURE

This ties into first impressions, but if you want to work for a company, you should have an idea of what the company culture is like. After all, if you show up to a casual startup office wearing a suit, you may come across as not understanding what the company is like, and also looking very out of place (the reverse is also true).

9. NEGATIVITY

Being negative is a buzzkill. Talking down about yourself, your past work, or anything else during an interview is a really bad idea. It will make the interviewer question whether you're going to say negative things about them down the road. Besides, no one wants to work with someone who's always negative.

10. NOT PREPPING BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

I already talked about researching the company and familiarizing yourself with the company's culture. But prepping also includes more basic things. Make sure you know where you're going, how to get there, and where to park (there's nothing worse than showing up early and then spending 15 minutes trying to find parking).

Be sure you eat something, too! You don't want to listen to your stomach rumbling during an interview and wonder if the interviewer can hear it, too. You might want to avoid the onion bagel, though.

11. NOT BEING FAMILAR WITH TECH TERMS THAT MIGHT POP UP

Especially if you're new to tech, be sure to familiarize yourself with common terms that might pop up in the interview. Things like agile, scope, lean, and MVP, among tons of others. Read Kelli Orrela's 99 Terms You Need To Know When You're New To Tech for a comprehensive list of terms that might come up.

12. DOWNPLAYING YOUR GOALS AND POTENTIAL

Companies want to know that you have career goals and ambition. People who have career goals work harder and do more for the companies they work for than those who are happy to stay put in the first job they get.

That said, if your big goal is to become a tour boat captain in the Bahamas and you're applying for a web developer job, you might want to keep those plans under wraps.

13. GIVING "STOCK" ANSWERS TO COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

In most cases, the person interviewing you has interviewed quite a few people before you, for the position you're applying for or for others in the past. They've heard all the stock answers to the questions you're most likely to be asked.

You need to come up with something different. When they ask you something like, "what's your biggest weakness?" don't answer with, "I'm a perfectionist."

14. NOT FOLLOWING UP AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You HAVE to follow up after a job interview. Send a thank you email after the interview, and include any questions you may have thought of. Not following up can make the difference between you and another candidate if the interviewer is having a hard time deciding. Just keep it short and sweet, and don't suck up.

15. NOT BEING PREPARED FOR A VIDEO INTERVIEW

Since so many tech jobs are remote, you may find yourself doing some interviews via video chat. There are some special considerations you need to think about before your video interview, including making sure you're familiar with the the software you'll be using (likely either Google Hangouts or Skype), and making sure that you've found a good place to actually have the interview. Make sure you check out these 11 Tech Tips for a Stress-Free Video Interview.

If you want even more great tips for nailing the interview for your first tech job, be sure to download our FREE Ultimate Guide to Interviewing for Your First Tech Job!

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