The past few months have been rough, sitting at your computer in your underwear, sending resumes out into the ether and never hearing back. You are the very picture of despair, languishing on a futon in various states of undress, resigning yourself to having joined the ranks of the terminally unemployed.
And today, all of that changes: you got an interview. This is your big chance. This is what it feels like to wear clothes again. You’ve got this (and a crisp, extra copy of your curriculum vitae) in the bag.
But if you’re anything like me, you don’t have this in the bag. In fact when it comes to interviews, ‘the bag’ isn’t even an option. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people asking you questions about your resume.” I’m inclined to agree.
Don’t let my infamous litany of mistakes have been for naught. Below is a cautionary list of 10 interview faux pas, waiting, like those cartoon bear-traps in Fox and the Hound, to snap you up at the ankles. Study them. Learn from them. Even mock them, if you must — God knows plenty of HR employees in the Greater New York City Area already have.
1. Touch Interviewer’s Belongings
Common sense know-how, right? Wrong. That dolphin paperweight atop a stack of files will begin beckoning to you. Then a secretary calls your interviewer away from their desk for “half a minute,” returning just in time to catch you in the act of running your index finger up and down the dorsal fin of that glassy-backed sea mammal — and it’s over.
2. Get Down On The Floor To Pet Interviewer’s Dog, Who Isn’t Even That Cute
According to industry standards for first impressions, 96% of employers consider the submissive, all-fours position to be a less-than-ideal introduction. And as for that remaining 4%… you probably wouldn’t want to work for them in the first place.
Also, it’s likely you dressed up for this interview. Never underestimate the fragility of pencil skirt seams. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
3. Sweat Profusely
Nothing like a cold, clammy handshake to give away how pants-wettingly nervous you are. But to achieve that unholy trinity of body perspiration (palms, cranium, and underarms), just wait until the interrogation really starts: the onslaught of totally intrusive questions about your basic computer skills and cursory understanding of HTML; the barrage of poorly enshrouded cheap-shots aimed at your Masters Degree in Poetry (as they banefully misquote Plath in the process); the Puritanical witch-hunt for your “worst qualities” as both a member of the corporate workforce and the human race; and the inevitable, lachrymosely existential question: Where do you see yourself in five years? Apparently, “lead vocalist in a successful Dolly Parton cover band” is not the honest sort of response these people are looking for. Note taken.
4. Make Crucial Spelling Errors On Application Forms You Fill Out In The Waiting Room
As if your application’s misspelling of education as edjucation isn’t malignant enough, it’s even worse when the résumé you provide brags about your “unwavering attention to detail.” Good luck bouncing back from this one. What? You were nervous and flustered and you uncharacteristically fumbled under the pressure? No one cares. Unsalvageable is the most accurate description (and proper spelling) of this situation.
5. Act Like You & Interviewer Have Inside Jokes With Each Other
So sometimes I like to act inappropriately casual with complete strangers who hold my professional future in their hands. Sue me.
6. Allow Interviewer To Use You As A Temporary Therapist
On rare occasions (but occasions nonetheless) the interview veers into unmarked territory, the conversation becoming less about your qualifications for the job, and more about your interviewer’s current emotional disarray. The only thing missing from the scenario will be a chaise lounge for them to lay on while you meticulously take notes in a palm-sized, spiral notepad.
As entertaining as this situation often is, don’t let the conversation stray in that direction. The minute you leave, the interviewer will be filled with sudden chagrin, realizing that you now know too much to work with them professionally. You will never hear from them again.
Autobiographical examples of conversational Red Flags in an interview:
- Tiffs with their mother-in-law
- Their father's parenting philosophy, and how it's affected their adult life
- Being a fan of stomach tattoos
- Their Shitzu's gluten allergy, and the best places to buy wheat-free dog chow
- Their conjugal fantasies with a taco food truck employee
- Recent online dating disasters
- Their routine violation of the day-of-the-week underwear policy--opting instead to wear whatever days they want, whenever they want.
- Their conspiracy theory that Lady Gaga is a member of the Illuminati
- The Ziplock Baggie of marijuana they found in their son's backpack last night
- Their overall lack of enthusiasm for the concept of monogamy
I plead the fifth!
8. ‘Gallows Laugh’ At Something Interviewer Said When They Were Definitely Being Serious
A clarification of this term is probably in order. A ‘gallows laugh’ is laughter (usually deriving from stressful or traumatic situations) when it is not only highly inappropriate to do so, but, further, unsuitable to even think that the circumstance being laughed at was funny in the first place.
Takeaway message: if your interviewer explains they’re running late because their elderly aunt fell down the apartment stairs that morning, always assume they aren’t kidding.
9. Ask Invasive Questions About Interviewer’s Daily Skin Care Routine
Apparently this sort of inquiry tends rubs the Average Professional-Jane the wrong way. Who in their right mind turns down a perfectly good compliment about their pores? Robots, that’s who.
10. Give Interviewer A Nickname
Bringing this short history of humiliations to a close, I’d advise you not make up new names for your interviewer. I suppose should re-title this: Give Interviewer A Nickname AKA Forget Their Real Name And Try And Pass It Off Like You Haven’t, Failing Miserably In The Process. Seriously, memorize their name backwards and forward before you go in there.
While there is a big difference between giving someone a nickname and calling someone the completely wrong name by accident, from the interviewer’s point of view these ultimately seem like the same things. To avoid making my own crippling unprofessional mistakes, when in doubt, stick to using basic, 2nd person singular pronouns.
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An entering 2017 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Courtney Kampa's first book "Our Lady of Not Asking Why" was selected by Mary Szybist for New Issues Press 2016 First Book Award. She is from Virginia and received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work has received awards and distinctions [...]