10 Avoidable IT Interview Flubs

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-08-31

10 Avoidable IT Interview Flubs

A study released the week of Aug. 28 by Menlo Park, Calif., staffing firm Accountemps found that one of the most common mistakes made by candidates in job interviews was having little or no knowledge of the company, according to 47 percent of the senior executives surveyed.

While IT recruiters and managers still peg a lack of preparation near the top of their lists of interview gaffes, they cited many others that turned interviewees from dream candidates to inevitable nightmare employees in a matter of moments.

Below, eWEEK rounds up some of the worst offenses, and while were certain that none of you would ever make such obvious errors, it never hurts to review before your next interview.

1. Late to the interview means late on projects and deadlines

Youd think in this day and age that something as simple as showing up to the right place on time would be a no-brainer, and yet, hiring managers said that candidates arrive tardy all the time.

Brian Gabrielson, national practice director for Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professional services in Mountain View, Calif., said that interviewees sometimes forget that when the competition is tough, it often comes down to the little things like punctuality.

"All things being equal, Im going to pick the person who showed up on time, looked me in the eye and had manners," said Gabrielson.

Showing up on time is more than the icing on the cake, however. It conveys to potential employers that you will be equally punctual with deadlines, and that you will be organized enough to keep projects in line.

2. Lack of enthusiasm means you dont care about your work

One of the most aggravating interview gaffes noted by IT recruiters was a lack of enthusiasm for the job.

"One of them actually said, I dont want to work with people. I just want to be left alone to do my job," Gabrielson told eWEEK. "Can you imagine the impression that left?"

This lack of interest in the job also applies to individuals too eager to move up the ladder; even if a company has high hopes for you, they still need you to start with the task at hand.

Heather Galler, CEO of JobKite, a Land O Lakes, Fla., national job site said: "A client told me about someone interviewing for a help desk position, and when asked what kind of work they wanted to do, he said I sure dont want to get stuck answering phones all day!"

While Galler attributed this comment to the risk that sometimes comes when a more senior person says that they are willing to do simpler work, needless to say, this individuals chance at getting the job was immediately nixed.

3. Little to no company knowledge means you lack research skills

Do your homework, hiring professionals told eWEEK, or risk embarrassment.

"Ive seen guys who said I really want to work here and what you guys do is great and then when asked what we do that interests them, they cant answer. They havent read your Web site and they dont know your product and then theyre shocked that someone tried to quiz them on it," Josh Coates, founder and CEO of software company Berkeley Data Systems, based in American Fork, Utah, told eWEEK.

Click here to read up on salary negotiation tips.

It shouldnt come as a surprise that companies are impressed when youve done your research on them before you walked in the door, and as an IT professional, this should extend to their technical systems.

"Out of sheer curiosity, one would expect that as an IT professional who wants this job, youre going to want to know what systems they are using, and yet we hear that this doesnt always happen," said Galler.

4. Inappropriate dress translates to inappropriate work

Dressing inappropriately for an interview goes both ways: A candidate, either overly-scrubbed or not neat enough, loses points.

It behooves workers to find out the dress code of an office before they arrive. A lot of newer companies have a more casual atmosphere, and the once-required suit will cause an individual to stick out or make others uncomfortable.

"I see a lot of people way overdressed for interviews, wearing a three-piece suit or even strong cologne. Its important that you dress for the culture where you are interviewing," said Coates.

More common, however, is the "waist-up" dress code often seen in IT pros, where the shirt looks neat but below the desk lie worn out shoes and old jeans.

Next Page: Leave the negativity at the door.

Leave the Negativity at

the Door"> 5. Too negative is too much: Spells P-R-O-B-L-E-M

No matter how rough you had it after the dot-com bust; no matter how inefficient your current department is, and no matter how bitter you are that your career may not be where you imagined it would be, do everything in your power to shut your yap about it in an interview.

"Negativity is not going to get you a job—at all. Even if youve been laid off, bitterness is never going to make you seem like an appealing candidate," said Galler.

Simply put, complaining and negativity sets off alarms in the minds of hiring managers, and signifies the type of problem employee nobody wants on their team.

6. Arrogance or dominating the interview signals conflict on teams

While confidence in your work and skills is near-universally desired in the workplace—what better to assure your future employers that you can get the job done—arrogance, confidences extreme cousin, is a repellant.

"Lets not forget that you are interviewing for a job—youre not entitled to it. Maintaining a professional composure is very important," said Gabrielson.

Self-importance in an interview environment also begs for a "take-down," as one manager noted.

"Speak only about what you were personally responsible for at your last job, because it will only take a few specific questions to uncover a lie," said Coates.

7. Too quiet means you lack confidence in your work

Nobody expects all techies to be extroverts, but the days of working in a dark room in the end of the hall are over. Companies want their IT professionals to be able to speak up and offer solutions in meetings, and appearing too shy and mumbling in an interview will not land you that job.

"A while back it was more okay for a techie to be an introvert. There were a lot of coders tucked away in cubes all day. But the market has changed and now people are looking for business acumen and a knowledge of what their business is about," Gabrielson said.

Furthermore, not looking your interviewers in the eye can make them uncomfortable.

"When theres no eye contact, you kind of wonder whats going on in there," said Gabrielson.

8. Misstating qualifications means, well, youre a liar

Dishonestly stating qualifications on IT resumes came up as a frequent mistake, even fibs of the white lie variety.

"When I was an IT recruiter, I used to see a lot of overstating of qualifications. For example, people would say they had Java experience but they meant Java script. People would often have quickie or dumbed down versions of the technologies wed requested," said Galler.

Click here for 10 ways to improve your tech resume.

Worse yet, your co-workers are going to find out if youre not the expert you purport to be, which will cause friction, delayed projects and worse, loss of respect.

9. Speaking only tech-ese means you wont work well with others

If you think it will impress interviewers to speak in all "ones and zeroes," consider the way you felt that last time someone spoke to you in a language they knew you didnt understand. Very likely, you felt condescended to, and this will be the effect you will have on that HR hiring manager.

"In order to have a successful interview, you need to be able to style flex-speak to your audience," said Galler.

Doing so shows that you will be able to do the same when speaking to business team members or CEOs, and it shows an adaptability desired in candidates.

10. Not saying thank you is not welcome

While the once-rigueur sending of a formal thank you note after every interview may have been replaced these days by e-mails, every hiring manager mentioned the importance of this step.

"The thank you is very important. Its one of those things that could show that youre different from other candidates with the same qualifications. And dont forget to use that grammar and spelling checker," said Gabrielson.

The thank you note is also a chance to win bonus points, or correct errors made in the interview.

"Sometimes a candidate will follow-up with an e-mail that says that they thought up the question you had stumped them on, and now have a better answer. That really impresses me," said Coates.

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