Media recruitment: the five worst things to say or do during an interview

Logo of executive search consultant firm Martin Tripp AssociatesAs specialists in media recruitment we often get asked about interview technique – what are the best ways candidates can present themselves to us and to potential employers. More strikingly, perhaps, we rarely get asked about the howlers, the absolute no nos, the things you really don’t want to say or do say during an interview – yet time and again we see the same issues cropping up.

Quite rightly, candidates focus on the positive aspects of their interviews – the points they intend to raise that show them in a good light to a potential employer – but too often not enough thought is given to the kind of behaviour that is best avoided.

If you want to avoid coming a cropper, it might be worth bearing in mind these few simple things:

Answer the question you’re asked, not the one you want to answer

If you’re asked a question, it should be obvious that the interviewer wants to find out something particular about you. Far too many candidates walk into an interview situation with a pre-prepared story. They attempt to shoehorn that story into their first answer, then talk for ten minutes without answering the original question.

Here’s a hint:  if you start your answer with ‘let me take you further back that that’, you’re probably about to tell the interviewer something they’re not that interested in hearing.

Don’t interrupt the interviewer

It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people do this. Good manners aside, if you don’t let the interviewer ask the questions they want, they’ll be unable to assess you properly. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t finished summarising your career, the chances are the interviewer has things they need to focus on, and you’re not letting them. If you continually interrupt, you give the impression that you just don’t listen to people, and that’s a big red flag in any interview situation.

Don’t endlessly complain about your former employers

No matter how unreasonable you feel your former employer has been, or how frustrating it was working for them, try and focus on the positives. If you spend most of your interview slagging off your last boss, you’ll give the impression you can’t work collaboratively and you have an inability to influence people. Which leads me on to…

Why focus on your failures?

I’ve lost count of the number of interviews where people have fixated on an unsuccessful launch, the number of times they failed to win investment, or when management has scuppered their big project. Why so focused on the negatives? Learning from your mistakes is fine, but employers are looking for people who can identify problems and solve them. It doesn’t matter how annoying it was at the time, you’ve done good things too, so talk about them.

Know your numbers – and avoid bluff if you don’t

This is especially true for candidates looking for roles in commercial and senior management. If you can’t remember your numbers, be honest and say that. It’s far worse if you reel off numbers and then it turns out they don’t add up. Any serious prospective employer can work this out, and when they realise you have just fired off numbers at them, it won’t reflect well on you. It’s an easy enough one to avoid – prepare well, but if you forget something, don’t bluff.

And it’s not just about the numbers. Don’t bluff at all. If you try to take credit for something you really didn’t do, or take the whole credit for something you were partially involved in, or pretend knowledge that you just don’t have, you will fail. You have to assume the interviewer is better briefed than you think. It is better to be yourself and get through the process on that basis than fall flat on your face when someone pulls you up. They will never come back to you again.

This all sounds very arduous. It is not. If you prepare well, don’t moan, play to your strengths, and are honest, you will do well. And if, after all that, you don’t get the job – it probably wasn’t for you in the first place.