Here’s the scenario: You’re preparing to interview for the job of your dreams.

An hour or two later, you’re feeling confident. You’ve weathered the pressure and have nearly survived the crucible.

Then it happens — you’re asked a question for which you’re entirely unprepared. You pause, then fumble for words. Your thoughts aren’t cohering. Your answer trails off feebly.

All of the positive momentum you’ve established is lost. The interview ends on a perfunctory note, and you know the job has slipped through your fingers.

Every interview is fraught with risk. It’s impossible to predict whether you’ll have chemistry with your interviewer. In the flow of conversation, you have to make a series of decisions without perfect information. You have to sell yourself in a very brief period of time.

You also have to negotiate this tricky high-wire act without making the kind of instant blunder that immediately ruins your chances.

That’s a lot to consider. Yet with the right preparation prior to the interview, you greatly increase your odds of a successful interaction.

With that in mind, let’s discuss how to avoid some common, career crippling interview mistakes.

Coming across as deliberately vague

Sometimes interviewers put candidates on the defensive by inquiring about sensitive issues such as salary figures or employment gaps. You might tempted to avoid the issue by offering deliberately vague answers that can be interpreted a number of ways.

That’s precisely the wrong approach, however. Interviewers are attuned to even the slightest rhetorical misdirection. Falling back on vague or misleading answers might seem like a way to negotiate your way past unflattering information. Yet the potential for making you seem evasive — and alienating your interviewer — is simply too great.

Not dressing the part

If you’re a hotshot software engineer with dozens of Silicon Valley firms bidding for your services, a certain amount of casualness may be expected.The financial industry, however, remains a relative bastion of conservatism.

You can’t go wrong by overdressing. You can, however, quickly submarine your odds at your dream job by dressing inappropriately. It might seem like an easy thing to master, but every recruiter and HR professional owns a storehouse of stories about absurdly dressed job candidates.

Don’t be a hiring manager’s next anecdote.

Failing to do your homework

Any candidate can show up at an interview and speak at length about the myriad wonderful qualities she possesses. And that’s a good thing, generally — a job interview is a sales pitch. Yet an interview is also an opportunity to put your best qualities on display. By extensively researching the company with which you’re interviewing, you can offer insight and analysis. You can ask intelligent questions about the business and the broader space in which it operates.

Yet too often candidates do very little research at all. Fifteen minutes of cursory research on Google hardly prepares you to offer penetrating insights. If you want to impress, explore in-depth news coverage, SEC filings or anything else that provides a competitive leg up.

Confusing arrogance with confidence

This is always a tricky balance to maintain. You obviously want to exude confidence in your abilities — particularly in the hyper-competitive field of finance. You never want to appear overeager or desperate for a position. Yet you have to be careful to ensure well-founded confidence in your ability isn’t perceived as grating, over-the-top horn blowing.

It’s great to be brimming with marketable skills and confidence. Yet a personality that skews too far toward arrogance or self-aggrandizement is a huge red flag for interviewers. It sends a signal that you may be difficult to work with or not a team player.

Remember, the company’s primary interest isn’t your career development or personal enrichment. They need you to be a single, valuable cog in a profit-making machine.

The takeaway

Job interviews are always going to be a tricky balancing act, and even the best of us can occasionally be tripped up. Yet diligent preparation minimizes the odds of such missteps — and maximizes your chances to land the job you truly desire.

Image Attribution: Alex France

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