We’ve all had interviews that have gone well and some interviews that have totally sucked.. You kick yourself afterwards (hopefully metaphorically speaking not actual kicking) and go over the I wish I’d said this scenarios in your head.. This goes on for a while and then you find peace with the fact that it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve interviews 1000s of people over my 15 year (gasp) career in television and I thought I’d highlight some of my biggest no no’s when it comes to interviews..so here goes.
By this I don’t mean coming into the room and lying on the floor and catching 40 winks although I did have someone fall asleep in a group assessment once, I mean telling lies about what you have done. Whilst it’s great to shout from the roof tops about your accomplishments it’s also really easy to spot when someone is lying.. As an interviewer you think why would they be given that responsibility at that level, so as an interviewer you probe and question and it all becomes apparent. Even if someone is a convincing liar when you are chasing up references then you might get a different picture of the level of responsibility. I’ve seen people change their job titles on cvs and talk about working at a higher level. Now I know in the world of telly everyone tends to work higher than they are but acknowledge that in the interview “I’m contracted as a runner but I’ve had great opportunities to do research on…” It pays to be honest. I’ve known offers withdrawn when it’s been revealed that people haven’t been truthful on their CVs. It’s a small industry and people know each other so don’t let them know you as the person that made up half of their CV.
Bad mouth previous employers
It’s true you might have worked with some difficult people, that last gig was a nightmare but save those conversations for your family and friends. We want to see your resilience on working under difficult circumstances but that doesn’t mean throwing all your colleagues under the bus. I’ve seen people berate companies, colleagues and bosses in interviews and whilst they may have been justified on occasion it smacks of unprofessionalism. Think about how you phrase things and keep it very factual, “we had a limited budget and two weeks to go so I suggested we do..” Think about how you’ve resolved a situation rather than the problems other people have caused. It’s a small industry and lots of people have worked together before and whilst some might agree with your verdict on an individual some might not, in fact some might be close friends, partners or relatives of the person you are slagging off. Try and keep things positive even when the situations were far from positive, think about what you gained and how you dealt with people rather than blaming people.
Name drop excessively
I’ve seen this a number of times from name dropping the CEO to producers to on screen talent.. One candidate waxed lyrical about knowing Cameron Diaz and it transpired later that they had just been in the same restaurant at the same time. Name dropping is a bit of a no no from me, it’s fine to say I worked with such and such that also works here on a certain programme, absolutely fine but when you are calling the Director General of the BBC Tony and talking as if you are best friends when you are a researcher then that doesn’t seem to ring true. Talk about your accomplishments rather than the people that you know and their accomplishments. Being associated with people doing great things doesn’t necessarily mean you are great so talk about what you’ve done and what’s relevant to the role that you are going for.. The same goes for universities as well, it’s fantastic that you went to Cambridge and you are obviously academically gifted but give me more than that as to why you should work in tv.
Be racist/homophobic/ prejudiced in any way
This seems super obvious and you’d think nobody would do that well think again.. Whilst running an assessment centre for the BBC we asked candidates to come up with a radio debate show for a popular programme, some of the titles we heard were “is it ok to be racist?” “Are white people just more intelligent”? and “if same sex marriage is legal can I marry my sister”. These ideas were all from so called educated people who saw nothing wrong with having these debates on a BBC show, they didn’t see that they were being prejudiced. One said because I’ve never been prejudiced against I don’t know understand it.. You are being offensive,Open your eyes love and educate yourself and speak to people was the response I said in a more formal way. Do not presume that your interviewers share your same views “oh there is no creativity up north” said one person to the northerner interviewing them; “i don’t like working with gay guys” said the candidate to the guy gay interviewing them.. To the more subtle “well I’m not sure you’d like rugby”.. Why why is that?
Now trains and buses can run late but if that’s the case email or phone as soon as you know. At least then the panel will not be waiting and wondering where you are. If you are unsure of how to get somewhere then do a dummy run beforehand. Being late makes you flummoxed and you look unprepared. I’ve done it myself going to an interview and getting hideously lost I knew arriving 20 mins late and in a state of panic that the job wasn’t mine. If you are late then apologise as the first thing you do and reiterate that it wasn’t your fault. After waiting 20 minutes for a candidate she turned up and said “oh I was just catching up with Sarah who works here we used to work together”. My eyes rolled to heaven at this level of disrespect and from that moment that candidates card was marked. They didn’t get the job.
Be over familiar
No one wants to interview someone who is stony faced and serious (well depends on the industry but I generally don’t). It’s great to interview a friendly interesting person and the conversation can flow freely as if you are old friends. It’s at this point that you can feel a false sense of security and fell that you are old friends and secrets start coming out. “I love that club near here I was so drunk there the other night” or “I was looking you up on social media and your boyfriend is handsome oh and how was the Beyoncé concert”. You can lose sight of the fact that you are in an interview, so reign it in talk about you and your work accomplishments save those bonding chats for when you are working there. Also this is not X factor, keep your personal tragedy stories for another time.. Be known for what you’ve done rather than what has happened.. Your ex might have been a bastard but the interview is not the right venue to discuss that.
Turn up hungover or still drunk
Again you gasp who would do that? Well I’ve had people attend a 9am interview reeking of booze masked ever so slightly with Lynx body spray.. Or people that have been blatantly too hungover to function and completed the interview in a daze and just ruined their chances. I’ve seen people going to interviews after boozy lunches where the interview becomes a spiral of bravado and nonsense.. It doesn’t look good and that’s what you are remembered for. So cancel plans the night before an interview and get it together.. Go and celebrate all you want after the interview.
Have no knowledge of what the company does/ what the programme is?
This is a favourite of mine and one which happens more often than you might think, and at all levels. There is no excuse not to have done research on the company and the programme. Even if you are away on holiday before the interview find somewhere with wifi and find out more. YouTube, I player and other platforms will probably have old episodes so watch them. Talk about them and share your ideas. You automatically close off when someone doesn’t have a clue what your company does and what the programme is. The excuse of i didn’t have time is not acceptable. Oh and get it right don’t be like a candidate when asked what her favourite BBC programme was she said Downton Abbey.. Know the right output for the right broadcaster.
Under sell yourself
I see this a lot, people giving people credit for their achievements or downplaying their own achievements as being “no big deal”. We are not interviewing a team we are interviewing an individual so tell us what you did. “I don’t want to appear big headed or arrogant” i do get that, it can seem false and weird to talk about our own achievements. We can talk all about what our friends and family have done but when the spotlight is on us it can feel very different. So think about it factually, think about it not being you. Look at what your responsibilities were and what you did and what made you proud. Jot these down as part of your research before the interview so that you are prepared. We just get on and do things that we rarely take the time to reflect and see what we have done so spend some time on you and your achievements.
I’m not talking about wearing a suit or bearing too much flesh, the media industry is relaxed on interview fashion but at the same time what you wear speaks volumes.. Wearing a t shirt saying “I know what boys like” (that happened) creates an impression as does half your lunch down your shirt. I know accidents happen but acknowledge it, I’m so sorry someone spilt coffee on me before the interview.. Be comfortable be you, be confident but not too confident that you have swear words blazoned across your sweatshirt (that also happened).
2 thoughts on “Ten things not to do in an interview ”
Thank you for your words of wisdom, Simon! Speaking of interviews, I would really love to hear your take on the most tricky questions asked during interviews and how to approach them. Too often we end up decoding what the interviewer wanted to hear on the way home.
Candid and useful info Simon.