The Painful Lesson That A Job Interview Mistake Taught Me

The biggest lessons come from mistakes. Three writers for the Motley Fool shared what they’ve learned after screwing up in a job interview.


Job interviews are scary under the best of circumstances. Even if you’ve thoroughly prepared, you never know when an interviewer will pull a bizarre question out of his or her bag of tricks, or when some unexpected test might be thrown at you.

Even if you’ve learned everything about the company and the role, it’s possible to kill your own candidacy. No matter your degrees, skills, or experience, making a single big mistake during an interview can sink your job prospects in a hurry.

The goal of any job candidate is to impress the interviewer. But in an effort to do just that, I once wound up botching an otherwise great opportunity.

Years ago, I was interviewing for a position that I was told would involve occasional travel, which I was okay with. However, once I sat down with the hiring manager, he informed me that he was looking to expand the role, and with that came the potential for travel around 50% of the time.

Not wanting to seem inflexible, I played along and made it seem like I’d be open to that. Except I wasn’t. At the time, I had a dog and fiancé, and I wasn’t looking to abandon them two weeks out of every month.

A few days later, that company extended an offer, the details of which sure enough included regular travel. Rather than accept, I declined on the basis of not wanting to be away too often. I conveyed this sentiment to the HR person who called to extend the offer, and a couple of days later, he called to let me know that the hiring manager was surprised at how things played out. It turns out that had I just been more open about my willingness to travel, the company may have accommodated me, as I was a pretty strong candidate. In the end, however, they gave the job to someone else.

The takeaway? It pays to be honest about what you want and don’t want in a job. You never know what steps a company might take to get you to sign on.–Maurie Backman

The biggest job interview mistake I’ve made has been applying for the wrong jobs. For example, I got an MBA many years ago, and like my classmates, I then began applying and interviewing for a host of jobs in finance or marketing that weren’t necessarily the best fits for me.

I wasn’t passionately interested in either subject, and the interviewers may have been able to discern that. I wasn’t yawning, of course, and I was trying to convey how interested I was — but I’m sure other candidates were more genuinely jazzed.

Later, I much more easily landed a job at the Motley Fool. Why? Well, I really was passionate about the company’s mission–helping the world invest better –and it showed. It would have been clear that I was very familiar with all of the company’s offerings, its writers, and its investing philosophies–and that I believed in them, too. It would also have been clear that I had the skills needed, namely, the ability to write and a familiarity with business and investing.

Give some serious thought to which jobs you pursue. If you apply for positions that you feel passionate about and qualified for, then you’ll have a much easier time marketing yourself to that employer.–Selena Maranjian

There have been times in my career, especially in the early days, when I simply needed a job. When that happened, I cast my net far and wide, applying for jobs I didn’t even want all that much. In some cases, that lack of enthusiasm showed during the job interviews, which can be a major problem if the interview changes your mind and you decide you want the job.

After I had that experience, I made a decision to approach every job as if I really wanted it. That paid off when I accepted an interview to be the general manager of a toy store. I had pictured a strip mall with a handful of employees, but when I went to the offsite interview with a recruiting company, I learned that the store was a giant old factory building housing everything from train sets to doll houses, toys, and radio control vehicles. It was as much a museum as a store, and once I saw it, I very much wanted the job.

Fortunately, I had acted like I was all in from the first interview, despite the fact that I wasn’t that excited at first. That put me in a strong position when the job became one I really wanted, and I was hired.

You can’t tell everything about a job from a “help wanted” ad. Go into each interview assuming that you’ll like the people, the work, and the company. If you don’t, you can always turn down the job or say no to a second interview.–Daniel B. Kline

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