The Search Committee In-Person Interview: Part 4: The Runaway Interview and What Not To Do

Category: Search Process

A great resume and cover letter will get you through the door, but the final step in the process – the in-person interview – is what ultimately secures you the job position. Whether it should or not, the interview is what leaves the biggest (and final) impression on the search committee, and is your best opportunity to cement your candidacy.

In Spelman Johnson’s Four Part Blog Series on the Search Committee In-Person Interview we talk about how to effectively prepare for your interview, how to handle interview curveballs, what to ask and what to avoid, along with other tips and tricks to keep in your interview arsenal. Have comments, additions, or suggestions? Please leave them in our comments section

The Runaway Interview and What Not To Do

Along with all the things one must do to prepare for and ace an interview, there are plenty of “don’ts” to add to the list. A survey of the worst job interview mistakes found that 51 percent of hiring managers listed “dressing inappropriately” as the most common and damaging interview mistake that applicants make. So despite the most obvious or conventional wisdom that circulates regarding proper interviewing etiquette, job applicants are still routinely making mistakes.

Here we offer some conventional higher education interviewing mistakes to avoid.

1. Mistake: Inappropriate grooming or attire.
An obvious point, but one that isn’t worse for wear, is to arrive looking clean, pressed, and professional. Professional attire and a well-groomed appearance should always be the assumed preference for a job interview.

Runaway Interview Cue: The reaction when you first arrive. An unprofessional appearance will probably register as confusion or surprise on the faces of those who are interviewing you.

Tip: Men should be clean-shaven and women should pull their hair back, if it will hide their face. Make sure not to wear cologne/perfume, flashy jewelry, or anything else that will be distracting to the interviewers.

2. Interview Mistake: Talking too much
Rambling is a common interview mistake, often stemming from nervousness. Unfortunately, it can hinder the flow of an interview and reveal a lack of focus or preparation. Keep your answers succinct and to the point, while making sure to answer the question completely. Expand only where necessary, or upon request.

Runaway Interview Cue: Your interviewer has a furrowed brow, hasn’t spoken in awhile, or you find you can’t remember the original question that was asked of you.

Tip: To help prevent rambling, stay in the present moment. Don’t review the last response you made for mistakes, or start preparing for a question that hasn’t been asked yet. Staying focused on the conversation at hand will prevent segues into uncharted territory.

3. Interviewing Mistake: Talking too little
If you’re talking too little in an interview, you may be providing insufficient answers. This reflects poorly on your ability to answer questions, and is also frustrating for interviewers.

Runaway Interview Cue: The interviewer consistently asks you to expand on your answers, or you complete the interview in 20 minutes, when at the outset you were told that the interview would last 30-40 minutes.

Tip: Avoid one-word answers. Have examples and anecdotes from your past professional experiences at hand, to provide context to any answers you may be asked to expand on.

4. Interviewing Mistake: Not asking good questions, or any questions at all.
A failure to ask questions at a job interview can convey a lack of serious interest in the position. It’s also a terrible waste of an opportunity for you to figure out whether this position is a good fit. Your questions should be of substance and specific to the position and institution that you are interviewing for.

Runaway Interview Cue: The search committee asks you if you have any questions for them, and you say no.

Tip: Follow our tips on what to ask at an interview.

5. Interviewing Mistake: Discussing personal issues.
Keep it professional at all times and avoid discussing personal issues, even if they somehow come up. Most job-related personal discussions can and should be reserved for after you have been offered the job position.

Runaway Interview Cue: If you find yourself talking about anything personal or unrelated to your professional experience.

Tip: If a personal topic is somehow broached during the interview, it is okay to explain that the topic may be inappropriate during that present conversation, and that you would prefer to defer your answer to another time.

6. Interview Mistake: Interruptions
This means interruptions of any kind, from technology beeps and buzzes, to bathroom breaks. Communication device interruptions are especially disturbing and inconsiderate, and should be avoided at all costs.

Runaway Interview Cue: Your cell phone rings or vibrates.

Tip: Right before the interview, go to the bathroom and double check that all communication devices are set to their silent setting. If you’re especially forgetful, have a friend send you a reminder text or set your own vibration reminder to right before your interview.

7. Interview Mistake: Speaking poorly of past employers or co-workers.
This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about past negative experiences, but mind the line between constructive criticism and bad-mouthing (or just plain criticism).

Runaway Interview Cue: You find yourself using names, discussing personalities, or talking about specific people in a negative context.

Tip: Be prepared to couch every negative professional experience with a positive side, such as what you learned from the experience. Avoid talking about any kind of office drama or pointing at specific people.

8. Interview Mistake: Lying, Covering Up and/or Not Owning Up
It is absolutely never a good idea to lie during an interview. Attempts to cover up or excuse past mistakes are also a bad idea. Candidates should understand that a failure to recognize one’s own weaknesses or accept accountability for past mistakes is a sign of poor character and leadership abilities.

Runaway Interview Cue: You defer responsibility or assign blame to someone else for a past mistake, or you find yourself glossing over the mistake by rushing through your answer or failing to address it fully.

Tip: Make sure to explain any gaps or deficiencies in your resume, and confront all career mistakes directly with a prepared statement about the lessons learned from those mistakes.

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James Norfleet

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

Jim Norfleet earned his B.B.A. degree in business and marketing from Pace University and completed all coursework for an EdD in educational leadership at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined Spelman Johnson after three decades in higher education, most recently as vice president for student affairs at The College of New Jersey. Previously, Jim served in several capacities at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, including associate vice president for student services and executive director of educational equity services. Earlier in his career, he worked in academic affairs at Nyack College where he directed the Higher Education Opportunity Program and served as associate dean of the college and director of the Office of Academic Development. Jim has served as an independent consultant to mission-driven organizations and leaders across the career spectrum. Active in professional and civic organizations, he speaks on higher education and social justice issues and has received numerous awards for his leadership, advocacy, and community service.