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#1 Job Interview Mistake

job interview mistake

Mom’s favorite saying

Job Interview Mistake

There are 100’s of blog posts out there on job interview mistakes. I am usually not one to join a crowded room or try to improve on what 100’s have already done, but I feel this one is important. Hopefully, my insight into the minds and mentality of HOW a hiring manager and VP of the department think is what separates this blog post from the rest of the pack.

What is the one word you should never say in an interview? If you just dropped the “F” bomb, you would be correct but this four letter word doesn’t start with an “F” or an “S”.

You would be surprised how often I mentally or emotionally end an interview when I hear this single word or some version of it. I think that most Sr. leaders hold the same mentality. The decision to end an interview may even be a subconscious when hearing specific words, similar to the trigger word for a hypnotist.  “When I say “X”, you are going to wake up, feel refreshed and not remember a thing”.

For me and many others, the job interview mistake that will end an interview is hearing the word “can’t” during an interview.

If we can put a man on the moon, we can do anything. It may take more hours and more resources, but if put a man on the moon in the 60’s, than ANYTHING can be done.

Speaking of sins

Many of us do not realize we are even speaking of this sin of sins. This word can be so embedded in our everyday vernacular, we don’t realize how often it is said. If you have mentioned the word “can’t” in any of the below contexts, it is probably one of the reasons you didn’t get the job.

Interviewer: “Why are you interested in joining our company?”

Candidate: “Good question, at my current company, there is no career growth. There are no more opportunities for me there and I can’t move my career forward.”

Room for growth

Truth be told, there are always opportunities for hard workers. Companies will find a way to keep the hard workers who have a positive mindset. A little secret: Every employee thinks they are a hard worker and the ones that are getting the opportunities are usually not out looking for jobs because they feel their career stalled. Their manager is making sure they have the opportunity and are fat and happy. If you “can’t” get a new opportunity where you are, it’s probably not the lack of growth in the department or the company. Even if you only work in a department of 1 or 2, there is room for growth.

C word

Interviewer: What is your weakness?

Candidate: I am really good at PowerPoint, I am really good Excel, but Photoshop is impossible for me.

The word “can’t” isn’t in the candidate’s answer, but the “impossible” is the C word’s twin brother.

Interviewer: “I would like to schedule a follow-up interview. Would next Tuesday at 3:00 work for you to meet the hiring manager?”

Candidate: “I can’t make that time, I have an appointment.”

The better answer would have been: “That time is tough for me. I can move things around, but is there any time available just a little earlier OR the next day at the same time?”  It is hard to say “no” when given a choice between two options.

I don’t know what the appointment is, but 99 times out of 100, we CAN make the follow-up interview with the hiring manager, we just don’t want to. Unless mom is in the hospital or at a funeral home, we can make it. In this case, “can’t” will be interpreted as being lazy, and not wanting to move schedules around or not wanting the job enough. If Lena Headly, from Game of Thrones, asks a guy out, you can bet come hell or high water, he will figure out a way to make the date.

job interview mistake

This guy is a problem solver

Problem solver

VP’s and hiring managers that are conducting final interviews all worked their way to where they are because they are problem solvers. These high achievers want to surround themselves with problem solvers. You don’t have to be high achievers yourself (it helps if you are) but being someone who says the word “can’t” or “impossible” on a regular basis is a roadblock that these leaders want no part of.

The VP of Sales solved the problem of selling more product or service than those around him in a tough economy, with an underdeveloped product or while battling government regulations.

The VP of Operations solved problems around company efficiency or server uptime. Despite older equipment, uptime still remained at 99.99%. Even though the software was outdated, efficiency was still up. Despite whacky personalities on the dev-ops team, the leader of this group solved the challenged of putting together a solid team.

The VP of Marketing solved the problem of getting the company message to the desired demographic despite limited resources and underdeveloped product.

Career built on solving problems

Early in their careers, executives and directors started as individual contributors. They built reputations and personal brands for solving smaller problems. As they solved these smaller problems, they were either given or through their own initiative took on larger problems. Taking the initiative to solve problems is a rare quality in an employee because solving problems is more than meets the eye. Solving problems in corporate America shows we were able to motivate people to work together through company politics. Solving problems involves overcoming obstacles and selling new ideas to people resistant to the idea or the unseen value.

The word “can’t” isn’t part of this equation. VP’s and Directors have a history of being told “it can’t be done”, “it will never work”, and “don’t even bother”. The folks that uttered these words were literally roadblocks to not just their success, but the department and the company success. VP’s and Directors have a history of figuring out what “CAN” be done and making the project successful.

Now, as C level execs and VP’s these Sr. leaders are not just solving problems, they are anticipating the problems and rallying the folks around them to solve problems before they happen.

What nationality are you?

As a good friend at Google explained to me. . .you are either an AmeriC-A-N, or an AmeriC-A-N-‘-T.

But Nasty, we need to think about the challenges we are going to face as we solve these problems. We can’t just go solve a problem and not worry about the pitfalls.

Presenting a counter argument is a needed resource when solving problems. We need to think of any objectives we may encounter when proposing an idea. From a personal brand standpoint, try not to start your initial response with anything related to “We can’t”. Start with “we should think about overcoming obstacle X by doing A and B”.

Instead of just saying we can’t do something, try to come to the table with a solution for the anticipated challenge. A wise man once said:

“You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. “Can’t” is rarely part of the solution.”

Problem solvers

Remember, the folks conducting interviews are problem solvers. They think of what CAN be done vs. what CAN’T be done.

The hiring manager and the VP of the department were promoted to where they are because they solved tough problems and delivered results. They are always thinking about the possibility of a situation, not the obstacles and the negatives.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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