9 ways you're sabotaging your job interviews

Your resume's in great shape. You've got the experience, the skills and the drive. You're even landing interviews -- but none of them lead to offers. Could you be sabotaging yourself without knowing it?

Stop sabotaging your job interviews

Stop sabotaging your job interviews

Killer resume? Check.
Experience, skills and a drive to succeed? Check.
Landing interviews? Check.

So, why aren't you getting any actual job offers? It could be you're making small mistakes that are inadvertently sabotaging your chances. Here are 10 things to keep in mind.

Hands-free

Hands-free

When you show up for an interview, don't be mistaken for a delivery person. A sweaty iced coffee, a steaming hot coffee, a neon-colored energy drink -- hauling around hydration just seems disrespectful. "You shouldn't bring anything bigger than a small bottle of water with you, and I would even avoid that. The company will probably offer you some water, and that's OK to accept. But, a word of advice, don't take their coffee. This is not your living room or the corner café, it's an interview," says Stu Coleman, partner and senior managing director, financial contracting at executive search, consulting and recruiting firm WinterWyman.

What not to wear

What not to wear

Interviews aren't about your style, they're about your substance, so play it safe and err on the side of caution, says Coleman. Stay true to yourself and be comfortable, but be professional, too. "Interviews are generally not good venues for fashion experimentation. While creative industries may be more open to a fashion statement, I've seen firsthand candidates lose interviews at investment firms because they decided to wear a bow tie with their suit that day," Coleman says.

What's the best way to know what to wear for an interview? Just ask. "It's perfectly appropriate to say, 'I want to make sure I'm dressed appropriately. Can you tell me about your dress code?' and then wear something one level up from what they say. Extremely casual? Wear a polo shirt and khakis. Business casual? Wear slacks, a button-down shirt and a tie," says Jason Berkowitz, vice president of client services at recruiting process outsourcing firm Seven Step RPO.

If you show up for the interview and it's clear you've committed a fashion faux pas, it's perfectly acceptable to own up to it, Berkowitz adds. A simple, "I feel extremely under- or over-dressed and I sincerely apologize," can go a long way toward mending a bad first impression based on your outfit, he says.

A final thought -- many candidates nowadays have tattoos, piercings or other visible body art. Do yourself, and the interviewer, a favor and cover up tattoos or remove as much body jewelry as you can so it's not a distraction during the interview. "Land the interview, nail it, accept the job and then ease your future employer into your personal expression, like tattoos and piercings," says Coleman.

Time is (not) on your side

Time is (not) on your side

Running a few minutes behind schedule, but certain you can make the interview on time? Guess what -- you won't. It's some kind of universal law; even one minute late sets a very bad tone for the rest of the interview. The opposite's true, too -- if you're making great time, chances are you'll be there way too early. "As a rule, you should walk into the office ten to fifteen minutes before your interview time. Anything more, and your interviewer will be antsy at the thought of you sitting in the lobby for so long. Anything less, and they'll be wondering where you are," says Coleman.

No matter what, make sure you have your interviewer's phone number with you. If you are not there in that 10- to 15-minute window, call to let them know why. "Even if you walk in a minute late, it might as well be an hour. Don't risk it. And, if you are early, politely tell the receptionist your name and who you are there to see, followed by, 'I know I'm early; can you let Joe know he does not need to rush?'" says Coleman.

Common sense isn't so common

Common sense isn't so common

Don't forget your identification, especially if you'll have to prove you are who you say you are. "If you haven't tried to get into a city office building in the last 15 years, good luck. Security is high, and at minimum you'll need your ID for admittance. Why someone would walk out the door without their ID is beyond me, but I can't tell you how many people have to call up to our office from security in hopes I will vouch for them. Of course, I have security allow them up, but every time I wonder why I have to. It's not a great first impression," says Coleman.

Be forthcoming

Be forthcoming

Don't make an interviewer pull information out of you. While you should try to keep your answers succinct and relevant, make sure you're adding enough context and anecdotal flavor for the interviewer to get a sense of your thought processes and problem-solving skills. But you can overshare and talk yourself out of a job, so tread carefully.

"The fact is, there aren't many questions asked in an interview where 'yes' or 'no' are satisfactory answers -- you're not in court. Answer the question and add a little color to it as well. 'Why, yes, I did slay dragons in my last position. As a matter of fact, it was a standard procedure I handled once every week. How do you fight the fire-breathers here?'" says Coleman.

Tell the truth

Tell the truth

Any small discrepancy, either on your resume or stated in an interview, will be discovered. Whether you're fudging dates of employment, responsibilities or your job title -- it won't stay secret for long. "If you don't know the answer to a question or haven't done something you perceive the hiring company needs, own up to it. Believe me, the kind of confidence it takes to say, "I don't know," or, "I haven't done that, but I would love to learn it from you," is refreshing," Coleman says.

A case of the 'Gimmes'
Alan Cleaver (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

A case of the 'Gimmes'

Sure, you want to know what the company's vacation policy, benefits and perks are like, but an interview isn't the time to ask. Wait until you've been offered the job before you start to delve into what's in it for you. "What you want to avoid is the 'gimme' mentality. If it's really important to know, you can take a tactful approach by asking your interviewer, 'What do you like best about working here?' and, chances are, the company's generous sabbatical program will come up. Or they'll trot out information about the benefits and the flexibility and you can go from there," says Berkowitz.

Be enthusiastic

Be enthusiastic

Knowing what the company does, its market position and its major competitors are things all candidates should do before an interview. But one aspect many job seekers overlook is a sense of enthusiasm about the firm and their products. "This is part of doing your homework before you get to the interview. You should always have some questions about the company and its competitors for the interviewer, but you also should seem enthusiastic about the opportunity, the job and the firm. Even if it's something that you find mind-numbing, be prepared to demonstrate a passion for how that company uses its technology to help customers. Maybe logistics software doesn't exactly light your fire, but you can say something like, 'I have a cousin who works in a warehouse that uses this product, and she loves how much the tool streamlines her job responsibilities!'" says Berkowitz.

You had me at 'Goodbye'

You had me at 'Goodbye'

Everyone knows -- or should know -- the importance of the "Thank You" note. But something that important shouldn't be sent from your mobile phone (with a "Sent from my iPhone, please excuse typos" footer, no less) or dashed off in haste while you're trying to catch a train home. Treat your thank-you note with the respect and attention it deserves. "What you think of as efficiency can come across as just another task being checked off a to-do list. Wait until you get home, and be thoughtful, genuine, professional and personal. And, for pity's sake, if you are sending more than one 'Thank You' to different people in the company, take some time to make them sufficiently different; they will compare notes," says Coleman.

Knowing the ways you can be your own worst enemy when job hunting will help you avoid silly mistakes and allow the hiring manager to focus on your strengths.