November 5, 2019

3 common job interview mistakes and how to avoid them

Mathilde Patmon

Director of People

One of the toughest parts about interviewing for jobs is when a company tells you that they won’t move forward with you, but they don’t tell you why. All you want is to improve your skills and do better at the next interview, but how can you do that if nobody tells you what you’ve done wrong?

With over 100 candidates applying and interviewing at Smartcar in any given week, we try our best to be as transparent as possible about our interview process. Every candidate who gets to the challenge stage or further, and who does not get accepted for the job, receives a personal phone call explaining why the team made their decision.

Out of time constraints, applicants who we don’t move forward with before the challenge stage receive less detailed feedback via email. However, we encourage every candidate to email us back with any questions.

If you are preparing to apply for a job at Smartcar or any other company, we have put together the 3 most common mistakes that candidates have made in the early stages of our interview process. Here’s what you should pay attention to, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes that many other applicants have made before you.

1. Not filling out the application

The first step of Smartcar’s interview process starts with filling out an online application. We don’t ask for a cover letter, but we do ask applicants to answer a few short questions. Our recruiting team often receives applications with blank answers to all of those questions. Missing answers show us that a candidate is mass applying to a lot of companies and that they aren’t thoughtful about where they would like to work.

Our goal is not only to see whether candidates are serious about applying to our company. We also want to get to know applicants a little better before we invite them to the next step of the interview process. Without a complete application, we are unable to do either of those things. This is why we always prioritize candidates who have completed the application form.

If you are applying to a company and you want to increase your chances of landing an interview, show them that you are serious about the job. Fill out the online application or provide any other information the company is asking for. This small extra effort can go a long way.

2. Not “selling” yourself

In all job interviews and especially on an initial phone call, it can be hard to balance being humble with emphasizing your skills and strengths. More often than not, we talk to candidates that are too humble and don’t explain their experience well enough.

When candidates describe the projects they’ve worked on in the past, they often use the pronoun “we.” For example, they might say: “We worked on building an end-to-end web app that allows people to play Scrabble with other users.” While the word “we” indicates that the candidate worked as part of a team, it is difficult for the interviewer to know exactly which part of the project the candidate was responsible for. Even when we specifically ask “What were you responsible for?” a lot of applicants resort back to saying “we.”

A job interview is your time to really show off the work you have done and the skill set you have acquired in your past work experience. Don’t be shy. Be proud of what you’ve done in your career so far. Don’t discredit that you’ve worked as part of a bigger team, but be specific about how you worked with others and which tasks you were responsible for on your own. For example, you could say something like: “I was on the front-end team and we were building and iterating on the Scrabble user experience and user interface. There were 10 people on the front-end team. What I was specifically responsible for was building an interface that lets users browse and invite other users to play together.”

3. Not asking questions

No matter which stage of the interview process you are at, it’s never too early to ask questions. There is nothing more unfortunate than an interview call that goes amazingly well, up until the last question: “Do you have any questions about our company?” The awkward silence that sometimes follows this question is unnecessary and easy to avoid.

When interviewing for a company, do your research, but don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer questions. Just because you are being interviewed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also interview the company to make sure it is a good fit for you.

By asking questions, you show that you are interested in the company and engaged in the conversation. You also imply that you are not just mass applying and taking the first offer that lands on your desk. Asking the right questions can prove that you are passionate and genuinely thoughtful about making the career choice that’s right for you.

Tip: Your questions don’t have to be limited to the job interview itself. At Smartcar, we encourage applicants to reach out and ask the recruiting team questions before and after the interview as well. Are you wondering what to expect from the hiring manager screen? Is there a question you forgot to ask the interviewer while you two were talking on the phone? There’s nothing that the recruiting team wants more than for a candidate to get hired. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask all the questions that help you be a more successful job applicant.

Here are some questions that can get you started:

  1. I would love to hear some success stories on the kind of career trajectory that your employees have had in this role. (This allows you to see if people have been promoted in the past or not.)
  2. Which new product initiatives are on the roadmap for this year? (This helps you assess the longevity of the company. Is the company stagnant and not doing anything new? Or are they adding new features or iterating on existing ones?)
  3. How did the idea for this company initially start? (This question is more on the fun side, but it never hurts to know how a company started. Who knows - maybe there’s a story that you find interesting and can relate to!)
  4. What are some pain points that the team is currently facing? (All companies face different challenges. This question allows you to see if the interviewer is honest with you and whether the company is facing challenges that you feel comfortable working on.)
  5. What’s the most fun offsite you’ve been to this year? (This helps you get a sense of the company’s work culture.)

Those are the 3 most common mistakes we see candidates make during job interviews at Smartcar, and how you can avoid them. Was this blog post helpful for you? Are there other mistakes that you think are far more important? Please let us know your feedback. We’d be happy to chat!

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