I’ve interviewed thousands of people – these 20 mistakes turn me off the most.

As a senior leader, I have been on both sides of the interview panel for many job openings, promotions, and specialty detail selection processes. I currently lead a global resource management department for a sales and marketing technology company. Helping recruit, retain, and career path a global workforce involves a lot of interviewing.

From my two decades in management or leadership roles, I have found that certain skills or techniques are commonly missing among job candidates that turn me off. More so, some of the lacking skills or techniques are basic job search etiquette.

I get that interviewing is stressful, especially so in a tight labor market where opportunity is rare. Also, not lost to me is how nerve-racking it can be to put yourself out there for a promotion. However, there are certain habits and actions that job candidates do that will totally turn me off. In some cases, I’ve had to end the interview after a measly fifteen minutes. Use these tips to avoid making a negative impact during your next job interview.


1. Arriving too early

While it is important to arrive on time, and some would argue to arrive a bit early, you can be too early. The earliest you should arrive is 10-15 minutes before the start of the job interview. Arriving on time shows the interviewer you are punctual and value their time. I once had a job candidate show up 45 minutes early, which interrupted the flow of my day. It also made me feel obligated to start sooner than I was prepared to.

2. Inappropriate appearance

This turnoff happens more with internal promotions because, for the most part, external candidates are well-groomed. When applying for a promotion, lateral move, or even a specialty project, come dressed a level above what you commonly wear to work. Even if the company dress code is casual, you want to look professional and stand out. It shows you are serious about the role and have a sense of professionalism. Additionally, you will feel more confident.

3. Poor posture and fidgeting

I expect some fidgeting due to the nervousness of the interview process. However, constant bouncing, rocking, hand ringing, etc. are distracting and can cause red flags. Sit up straight, try to keep your hands clasped in front of you in your lap or under the tabled. Keeping your hands under the table is great because you can cover up your hand ringing. Slouching indicates you could care less if you got the position. Additionally, appearing too relaxed is a sign you are careless and not committed. Sit up straight, poised, and professional.


4. Knowing very little to nothing about the company

I once had a candidate tell me they couldn’t find anything in Google on the company. Naturally, that was a blatant lie. Start researching the company and the people who will conduct your interview as soon as it is scheduled. Who are their clients, what their specialties are, their workplace culture, and the career histories of the interviewers. Knowing these things helps you answer, “why are you interested in this position.” Furthermore, this information enables you to link your experience to their current problems and initiatives.

5. Displaying low energy

Low enthusiasm during a job interview is a turnoff. Why should you be considered for a position when you aren’t displaying any passion or enthusiasm for the company or the role? Having a disinterested tone, lack of attention, and no eye contact will eliminate you from moving forward in the interview process. It isn’t about jumping up and down with exuberant enthusiasm but do display some passion for the opportunity.

6. Being a chatty Cathy or Colin

Yes, during an interview, you should talk more than the interviewer. But no one likes someone who talks too much. Talking too much is a sign of someone unprepared, lying, or doesn’t have an answer to the question. For me, being a chatty Colin during an interview makes me wonder if you can focus while at work or if you would be a social butterfly and disrupt the rest of the team. When an interviewer asks a question, they want a straightforward answer in the form of a story—the situation, challenge, solution, and results. Even more, chatty Cathys’ are often not good listeners, and as a result, not good team players.


7. Overselling yourself

Overselling yourself is cocky, unflattering, and a sign of a narcissist. Yes, of course, you are supposed to sell yourself during an interview. However, grabbing every opportunity to compliment yourself during an interview is a turnoff. It makes me wonder if you are trying too hard to look too good. Additionally, it makes me wonder why you are out of a job if you are so great.

8. Avoiding the question, “what is your biggest weakness?”

Rookie job candidates get a pass on this one because they think it is a trick question. However, everyone has weaknesses, and when I am interviewing, I want someone to compliment mine and my team’s. If you aren’t giving me a real answer, then I can’t evaluate how you would fit into the group’s weaknesses. Fake answers aren’t fooling anyone, and it is a turnoff in a job interview. Either you aren’t aware of them, or worse, you are hiding them. In both cases, it is a turnoff.

9. Sharing personal details

Again, nervousness enables this job interview turnoff. It can cause you to babble on about irrelevant personal details. It is okay to build rapport and bond with the interviewer around a shared passion. However, sharing things that the interviewer doesn’t care about, has no impact on the hiring decision, or doesn’t connect to the role or company you are applying for are interview turnoffs.


10. Making the interview all about you

Although an interview is a two-way street because you are interviewing them as much as we are you, it isn’t just about you any more than it is just about the interviewer. The interviewer is evaluating how you will add value to the business. Don’t start the conversation with your wants and needs. Instead, focus on the value you bring and how you want to help the company achieve its goals and then talk about what you want. Making it all about you is a turnoff during the job interview.

11. Not answering the question

Another issue caused by nervousness is not answering the question, and it is a turnoff during an interview. Additionally, if the answer doesn’t match your resume, it will kill your credibility. The interviewer is asking questions to determine how you would respond in certain situations, or because they currently have a gap in a particular area and want to see if you would fill it. Make sure to answer the question by telling a story that relates to your previous roles.

12. Not practicing for the interview

Practice makes perfect, and most interviewers ask the same or similar questions. There is no excuse not to practice delivering answers to common interview questions. Preparation for job interviews is half the battle to winning them. Being unprepared or unable to answer a question in a way that demonstrates the value you bring is a turnoff during the job interview. Remember, situation, challenge, solution, and result. Give a deep dive into your thought process when explaining your answer.


13. Being bigoted

Yes, this, too, has happened, and it results in a five-minute interview. A job interview isn’t your opportunity to break out your controversial opinions or lewd sense of humor. Being bigoted during the job interview is a huge turnoff. Stay away from topics that are sure to make your interviewer uncomfortable.

14. Demonstrating a lack of understanding for industry terms or jargon

A job candidate who doesn’t understand fundamental industry language, terms, or jargon is a turnoff and results in not moving forward in the interview process. Misunderstanding the basic industry language of the role you are applying for makes it hard for you to demonstrate how your past experience will fit and gives the appearance you are applying for the job without purpose.

15. Being too personal with the interviewer

Interviewing for a job isn’t speed dating. Don’t ask your interviewer personal questions, flirt, or behaving inappropriately. Avoid questions about their family, personal life, or career aspirations. Being a flirt during the interview process is a turnoff and red flag. Keep the conversation contextually aligned to the topics of the job.


16. Using your mobile device

While this may seem like a no-brainer, some candidates have turned me off by whipping out their phone during the interview. Even entering the interview with it in your hand is a no-no. Additionally, make sure it is on silent because a ringing or chirping phone is a distraction during the interview. I applaud job candidates who take notes but make sure you take your notes on paper with a pen.

17. Using cliches to make your job interview answers seem sophisticated

This interview turnoff is also more isolated to first-time job seekers. We’ve all said things like “I’m detailed oriented,” “I’m a strategic thinker,” or “I’m a team player,” and while they may be true, they are generic at best. Overused buzzwords mean nothing, are a turnoff during the job interview, and are disregarded.

18. Speaking poorly of previous employers or bosses

A job candidate who speaks poorly of previous employers or bosses is avoiding talking about their skills and what they’ve learned from their work experience. We all know there are horrible bosses and organizations out there. We all know there are unprofessional teams and coworkers. Maybe that was why you quit or were fired. When I am interviewing you, it is a turnoff if you speak poorly of your previous employers or bosses.


19. Failing to sell yourself as the ideal candidate to fill the job posting

Some candidates have gone the polar opposite of overselling themselves to not selling themselves at all. Often they do so as an attempt not to sound cocky or to appear humble. It can be fake, disingenuous, and is a turnoff during the interview process. The job interview is a selling pitch on your previous achievements. To close the deal and move to the next step, show confidence, and give yourself adequate praise.

20. Failing to ask questions during the job interview

Nothing and I mean nothing, is a bigger turnoff than a job candidate not asking questions after the interview. Even more so, not asking sophisticated questions. The number of candidates whose only questions were around benefits or work schedules is appalling. Yes, of course, those questions are crucial in determining a fit for your lifestyle; they cannot be the only ones you ask of the interviewer. Questions demonstrate your curiosity about the role, culture, company, and it’s employees. Avoiding questions so you can end the interview will eliminate you from moving forward in the process.

Believe it or not, I am rooting for you, and I want you to do your best during the job interview. Further, I don’t want to see you fail. Avoid these 20 things that will turn me off in your next job interview. Avoiding them will make you shine and stand out against all the candidates with poor interview skills.


Get the Weekly Roundup

Join thousands of other career-minded people who receive early access to my career-changing articles.

Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

Need advice or help with your boss? Click to Learn More.