November 22, 2019 / Esther Choy

job interview mistakes For a few days about ten years ago, I felt like I was stuck inside a version of the movie Groundhog Day. Except instead of being in the sleepy little town of Punxsutawney, I was in a Hilton hotel in downtown Seoul, South Korea. But I was experiencing a feeling of deja vu quite similar to what Bill Murray’s character goes through in the movie as I listened to interviewees who, unfortunately, fell into several common job interview mistakes.

I was spending eight hours interviewing business school applicants. And they had done everything “right.” Every last one of them checked all the boxes of big, impressive accomplishments. All of them had dressed to impress and had clearly spent hours rehearsing.But doing everything “right” was part of the problem! After my first full day of interviewing, I left that downtown Hilton feeling like I hadn’t had the chance to actually meet any of them. In fact, I felt downright lonely, even though I’d just spent an entire day talking and listening!

The interviewees had focused on their credentials and competence, and this made me feel like I was just having the same conversations over and over, hour after hour… for two days straight.

If they had come out of their over-polished shell just a little bit—just enough to tell a story that illustrated their character—I would have taken special notice! In fact, as the interviews progressed, a few applicants did do this, and I still remember their stories.

Stories make a huge difference in job interviews. But job seekers often avoid sharing them because they’re afraid they might do it wrong. It’s true; there are a few job interview mistakes you’ll want to be sure to avoid. But if you’re avoiding these top five mistakes, you can feel confident sharing your story.

Mistake 1: Oversharing.

Most likely, your interviewer will invite you to reflect on a weakness or failure. A story can be appropriate here, but choose a failure story that suggests that you lacked experience but not character. Never tell a story about treating a team member poorly, procrastinating or doing half hearted work.When sharing any story, find the right level of vulnerability. I encourage clients to choose stories from the realm of “personal” but not “private.”

Mistake 2: Rambling.

Keep your story under two or three minutes. Hook the interviewers’ interest within the first few seconds. And then be sure follow the hook with a clear statement of what your story is about.Use my IRS model to structure your story:

I – Intriguing Beginning (30 seconds)

R – Riveting Middle (1.5 minutes)

S – Satisfying End (3 seconds)

Mistake 3: Limiting yourself to the role of “hero.”

Should you be the hero of every story so you can prove your “fit”? No. You have other options. Interesting stories can just as easily arise from your role as witness to a discovery or a beautiful transformation—or simply your role of friend.

Mistake 4: Forgetting the takeaway.

What do you want the weary hiring manager— who may have seen 14 other candidates before you— to remember? What’s the one thing you hope they’ll remember, even if they forget everything else? Build on this to create an unforgettable ending.

Mistake 5: Replaying the narrative after you leave the interview.

You know how it goes during the job search. You tell yourself the story of the interview again and again, reading into every awkward pause, cough or smile.

But replaying the narrative is one of the most common job interview mistakes. Humans are notoriously bad at reading body language. So we shouldn’t rehash the subtle clues we think we noticed during the interview. Instead, tell yourself: “I did my best. Now I need to keep working.”

Part of that work should be to send a heartfelt, personalized thank you note. Thank the interviewer for their time, mentioning a particular part of the interview experience you appreciated. After writing thank you notes, do something else productive while you wait. Focus on a hobby. Tackle a new challenge. Call your mom.

Ultimately, remember that interviewers are human too. Sure, they have some power over your future, but just like you, they want authentic connections, which means they need to understand who you are as a potential future colleague.Avoiding these five job interview mistakes will make the interview process more successful and enjoyable for you both.

common job interview mistakes

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Preparing for a job interview? Contact us for business storytelling training! Leadership Story Lab trains and coaches managers in leadership storytelling techniques to help them become more engaging and persuasive communicators.Whether you would like to stand out in the interview process, add punch to a presentation, or make a compelling case for a new initiative, we can help. Schedule a complimentary session with us today!

Esther’s book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is now available!

This article originally appeared on

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.

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