Working Strategies: More interview mistakes, and how to avoid them

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Amy Lindgren

And we’re back. In last week’s column, we reviewed the first half of 20 common interview mistakes — each of which is avoidable, thank goodness. Today we’ll finish up with the second half of this Top 20 list, along with a bonus tip for avoiding mistake number 21.

Mistake 11: Not tying your answers to the job at hand. Skip the one-size-fits-all response and instead provide the details most pertinent to this particular job. For example, if the company does business in a major urban setting and they ask how you build trust with clients, they may be handling multiple cultures or languages every day. How could your answer best reflect this reality?

Mistake 12: Not reading the room. Plowing ahead with a long answer while your interviewer slides under the table? Not good. Watch for signs that you’re still being heard, or alter your presentation accordingly. As an advanced strategy — if you sense interviewers are distracted, try ending your answer with a question to bring them back. For example, “… which covers my process for managing multiple databases. Since you asked me about that, can you describe the databases you’re using, and which one is the most important?”

Mistake 13: Speaking badly about others. You already know this is wrong, but what if the interviewer baits you with a question like, “Describe a conflict you’ve had with colleagues”? Your strategy is easy: Just don’t! Try a more general answer instead: “Conflict is a strong word for professional differences. When my approach differs from my colleague’s, I’ll focus on understanding why and whether it’s something we can compromise on.”

Mistake 14: Presenting solutions instead of options. You don’t know what’s already been tried at this organization, so avoid giving concrete answers to hypothetical questions. Instead of “To improve this process, it’s necessary to…” Practice starting answers with, “Depending on what’s already been tried, one thing I might do…”

Mistake 15: Not asking questions of your own. A few well-considered questions will demonstrate engagement and overall awareness of the employer’s situation, while keeping the conversational ball in play. You can save your questions until the end, but there’s a risk that time could run out. Instead, consider adding questions to the back of some of your answers.

Mistake 16: Not playing to win. Or, put in non-sports terms, not going into every interview as if you want the job. If you’re just taking the interview for practice, then make it count by preparing well and performing your best. If you’re not sure you want the job, you should still do your best, to give you the opportunity to consider an offer.

Mistake 17: Not stating your interest in the job. Remember that your interviewers may have seen candidates who were only practicing (see above), which means they can’t be certain who’s truly excited about the opportunity. When you state clearly, “I’d like to work here,” you make it more difficult for them to say no.

Mistake 18: Not mailing a thank-you card when it’s possible. If you have a physical address that you’re confident the interviewer uses, do send a thank-you card by mail. It may seem quaint, but so what? You certainly won’t lose points by sending a handwritten “I really enjoyed meeting you” note. Sending off your cards immediately means they’ll arrive within a week or two, serving as a pleasant reminder of your meeting.

Mistake 19: Not sending a more formal email or letter within a few days. This letter, usually sent in the body of an email, could consist of two or three short paragraphs. You might start with a thank-you, then reiterate your strengths for the position, closing with an expression of your ongoing interest in the job. Follow-up letters are an essential tool for helping busy interviewers remember you; send them regardless of whether you also send a handwritten note.

Mistake 20: Not staying in contact, even when it seems fruitless. A few weeks without communication could mean you didn’t get the job, but it could also mean they got bogged down. Maintaining contact is not pestering — it’s part of doing business.

Bonus  Mistake 21: Putting too many eggs in this basket. Even if an interview goes wonderfully and you’re invited to more meetings, it’s best to press forward with other employers as well. This keeps you sharp for the negotiating stage, while helping you hedge your bets. Worst case? You’ll have multiple offers at the same time. That’s confusing, but it’s certainly no mistake.

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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at

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