How to Avoid Getting Too Comfortable in a Job Interview

woman interviewing man for job

Question: "During a fourth job interview with a company I was confident I'd get hired into, I had a fun and relaxed discussion with the interviewer. We shared war stories, talked about colleagues we both knew and we commiserated about downfalls in our industry. The next day, I was informed I was eliminated from consideration for the job. Did I do something wrong?"

Answer: There's a rule in media training that says, "The microphone is always on." In other words, no matter how comfortable you feel with a reporter, nothing is ever off the record and private. Ever.

The same goes for job interviews. Whether it's an initial phone screening or a formal offer, a job candidate always should treat interactions as professional conversations. Always.

Knowing that candidates typically will be on their best behavior when interviewing for a job, clever interviewers may even try to entice you to reveal your true feelings, beliefs and goals by encouraging overly casual and comfortable rapport. Maybe they're trying to trick you into a sense of complacency, perhaps they're concerned that you haven't truly been authentic. Maybe they're testing your interviewing acumen.

Army veteran-turned management consultant-turned leadership author and trainer Mike Figliuolo describes being on the hiring team of a company when the time came to discuss candidates they'd interviewed:

"As we discussed one candidate, all the associates fawned over how great a hire he'd be. At that point, our receptionist piped in. 'He was really rude. He said, 'How about you grab me a coffee while I'm waiting for my interviewer?' I would never want that individual to work here.' Needless to say, we immediately turned the candidate down. If they thought they were better than someone on our team [regardless of her position in the organization], we didn't want them working with us. The candidate had clearly stepped on the lobby landmine."

Figliuolo points out that candidates can be lulled into a false sense of security, believing their comments are private and "just between us" when in fact, they will be shared with decision-makers. Even front-desk staff, as he notes, can be asked to weigh in on a candidate they interacted with when thinking no one was watching.

To be mindful of this landmine, or trap, remember to:

Always stay professional.

From the person in the elevator that you hold the door for, to the front-desk receptionist who greets you, to the administrative assistant who walks you to the conference room and the actual interviewers, remember your manners. Always stay attuned to your demeanor and politeness.

Stay humble.

If you make a mistake, own it. Never pass blame to others or feel so relaxed in an interview that you share insider knowledge about missteps you've seen or encountered (particularly at your former employer). No interviewer wants to fear you could spill the beans on their own missteps or mistakes in the future.

Keep professional on social media.

A few years ago, I witnessed several job applicants in a veteran transition group complain about the hiring practice at a particular company: The company took too long to respond. Interviews were rescheduled often. Recruiters seemed unknowledgeable about military jobs, and so on. These candidates felt safe sharing their frustrations in a group of fellow veterans online.

Unfortunately, they failed to realize that recruiters were also in the group, many lurking in the shadows, and they heard all the gossip and complaining. It was not good.

While you may struggle to relax and find calm in the interview process, remember that you're always auditioning for the job -- from the beginning of contact until hire. Even after you start work, you'll be showing your new employer why they made a good decision in hiring you by providing value at every step. There's no such thing as "off the record" at work or online.

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