Tech & Work

Job interview noobies: Avoid these 10 mistakes

School may have prepared you to administer a network like a pro, but it may not have taught you how to interview like a pro. Here are some missteps you should watch out for.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/monkeybusinessimages

You've just graduated from college and are about to undertake your first round of interviews for what you hope will be a lifetime career in IT. You know what you're doing. You've got the grades, the skills, and the knowledge to prove it. But did school prepare you for those interviews? Did they give you enough advice to send you into a meeting room with prospective bosses with the confidence and interview savvy to get the job?

If not, let me help to assuage your fears and calm those jangling nerves by telling you what rookie mistakes to avoid. If you follow these bits of advice, you'll be one step ahead of the horde of candidates gathering at the doors of that same meeting room. Here are 10 missteps to avoid.

1: Coming unprepared

This may sound like a no-brainer, but I'm always surprised at the horror stories I hear of interview candidates showing up completely unprepared: Without researching the company, dressed in jeans, having had no sleep the night before, not showered, you name it. If you walk in knowing nothing about the company you are interviewing for, you're sunk. If you're not dressed professionally, you're doomed before you take a seat. If you want to undermine the opportunity, stay up all night before the interview playing Halo. Don't think the bags under your eyes will serve as a badge of honor.

2: Forgetting your resume and letters of recommendation

Yes, you probably already submitted a copy of your CV, which includes your letters of recommendation as well as all earned certificates and such. But what happens when you walk into an interview room to an entire panel of interviewers who want to take a gander at said documents and the only copy is in the hands of the CEO? What's worse, what happens if the CEO left your resume in at home? If you have your portfolio with you, you're safe—hand it over and everyone can have a gander at the incredible details that help make up "you." On top of that, you show that you know the ropes and are, to borrow a motto, always prepared.

3: Talking as if the English language is yours to destroy

On any given day, I hear the back and forth between millennials and sometimes I'm amazed that they know what each other is saying. I get it—every generation abuses the language in different ways. But to come into an interview using your generation's slang and phrases with a group of interviewers who may be old enough to be your parents is a mistake. They may understand you (from years of practice with their own kids). But you don't want to further remind them of your youth or that you are the same age as their children.

4: Not practicing your answers

During the interview, you will be asked some obvious questions and some not-so-obvious questions. Interviewers want to see how well you can think on your feet, how well you react to stress, how well you communicate ideas. If you come in without having practiced fielding some challenging (and even not so challenging) questions, you will fall on your face. This is easy to prepare for. Get a friend or two, have them come up with a list questions, sit in a room, and have them toss everything at you but the kitchen sink. Once you've gone through a round or two like that, you'll be ready when the CEO asks, "Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?"

5: Showing your desperation

Interviewers are like dogs: They can smell fear and desperation. If you walk into that interview desperate for the job, it'll show. You need to muster all the confidence you can. Walk into the interview as if you don't need the job but more that the job needs you. However, do not walk into the interview overly confident. There's already an abundance of cocky IT pros out there—and for many that's a major turnoff. Just know you are right for the job and it would be a win-win if the company hired you.

6: Being negative

Negativity can manifest itself in many ways. For instance, say your interviewer asks about your experience in school. Instead of discussing all the positive things you took out of those four years in college, you focus on one particularly bad thing—maybe a class that nearly caused you to quit. Don't drop those pessimism bombs in the meeting room. Stay positive during every twist and turn of the interview. If those hosting the interview seeing you spinning everything with a positive light, your chances of being hired greatly improve.

7: Leaving your cell phone on

Your phone may be your lifeline to the universe. It may contain every secret humankind desires to fully understand. Doesn't matter. Turn it off. The last thing you need is for that smartphone to be blowing up on the table with encouraging or distracting messages. "Dude, nail that interview!" "OMG Shelly just got busted doing the walk of shame!" "Boost your post to reach more likes." If you need to have your phone on (for instance, if your wife might go into labor), inform those interviewing you of the situation before the interview starts.

8: Not asking questions

The interviewers will, at some point, give you the opportunity to ask questions. You should have questions and you should get them answered. Are there opportunities to rise in the ranks? What's the benefit package like? What is your policy on... You get the idea. When you ask questions of them, they know you mean business. And those interviewers expect questions. In some cases they hope for questions because it means you have done your research on the world of business and you are serious about your career.

9: Bringing reinforcements

Don't take your parents, siblings, BFF, boyfriend/girlfriend along with you. Nothing says "I need my hand held" like dragging along moral support. Stand alone and stand proud as you enter that building. If having someone along is a necessity, leave those folks in the car or have them wait at a nearby coffee shop. Just don't bring them in—not even into the company waiting room. The second those interviewers (or the receptionist) sees your support group along for the ride, they'll assume you actually need that support group. Don't be that person.

10: Forgetting to pay for parking

If you're in the middle of your interview and you remember that your meter is about to run out you're sunk. Most likely those holding the interview are busy and aren't going to be able to wait for you to run back to the meter and pump it full of quarters. If you have to park at a meter, make sure you pay for double the time you think you'll need. Even better, drop the cash to pay for a parking garage where time won't run out. Things happen. The interview before yours may run long and you're already in the hole on that meter—even before you start.

As you head out into the job market...

You may have laughed at some of these points. You may have thought to yourself, "I'd never do that!" If that's the case, I applaud you. But many candidates are coming out of college with no idea how to prepare for an interview. If you avoid these mistakes, and you couple that with a solid resume and understanding of technology, you're sure to nail that interview.

Best of luck!

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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