How to be Rubbish at Job Interviews

Job interviews are stressful events in your life that can make a big difference to your future. As part of the How to be Rubbish series this article is designed to help you avoid some of the common mistakes that many people make…

Don’t prepare

If you really want to fail at a job interview, the best thing you can do is turn up completely unprepared. It’s easy to spot the unprepared candidates out there (trust me!), and really sends a strong message to the interviewer about what sort of person you are.

Preparing for a job interview means researching the company, the role, and the industry, and making sure you have a coherent story about your past to talk through (see below).

Prepared candidates appear calm and credible, unprepared candidates appear flushed and flappy – which kind do you want to be?

Don’t create a story

Interviewers want to know about what you’ve been doing previously, and the best way to make your history sound crap is to make it up as you go along (AKA ad libbing – see below). Thinking carefully about turning your career and life history into a story will make you sound credible, authoritative and in control. Prepare 2 versions:

  • The elevator pitch – 30 seconds
  • The 5-minute resume/CV walkthrough

You’re trying to show interviewers that your life has not just been a series of random events that have led you to turning up at this interview. You also need to practice walking through your CV a few times which will make your story flow better when you tell it.

Don’t practice for the interview

Interviews have many different formats, but there are some key things that you can practice if you want to avoid looking like an idiot.

Practice answering questions is the most obvious form of practice – the internet is full of articles listing ‘the most common interview questions’ – look at a few of these and make sure you have practiced answering these. In my opinion it is almost criminal to not have an answer to “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Where do you want to be in 5 years time?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

These days the HR people tell us to use competency based questions, so you’d be stupid not to practice some of these. These questions require you to provide specific example of performance. Frame your answer around the STAR acronym – Situation Task Action Result and you will sound in control. The most important thing about competency based questions is that you make it clear what YOU did – so use “I” and “me”, rather than “us” and “we”.


Don’t dress smartly

Once I had someone turn up to an interview with me who was really trying to be rubbish. He didn’t wear a tie, turned up in jeans and looked really scruffy. My first thought was “this person must have poor levels of attention to detail” (important in finance) and set the guy up to fail. An interview is a time in your life when you need to look as good as you can – so dress to impress.

Don’t be punctual

Being punctual means arriving at the right time. For most people this means don’t be late – even 5 minutes can wreck your interview. Also don’t fall into the trap of turning up too early. I once had someone arrive one hour before scheduled and tried to move the interview forward (he didn’t get the job BTW). This crazy trick doesn’t give a good impression – it just makes you look like you don’t own a watch! I aim to arrive in the area one hour early, and then hole up in a coffee bar until 5 minutes before the interview starts – then I arrive unflustered and in control.

Create a terrible first impression

The first time someone sees you they are forming opinions about whether you would be good in their role. Give a firm (but not too firm) handshake, meet their eyes and say hello. Answer any questions they have about your journey in a polite manner, and perhaps throw in a few questions about the office you’ve just walked into (how many people work here”, etc etc). You can’t win them over in the first two minutes – so don’t try; you’ll come across as pushy and annoying. However you definitely CAN lose them in the first two minutes; make sure that your first impression is good.

Don’t look them in the eye

Eye contact is a great way to increase trust and credibility within an interview – you look far more truthful if you look someone in the eye as you talk to them. So if you want to completely screw up the opportunity, just make sure you keep your eyes downward as you talk to the interviewer. It can be quite intimidating to hold someone else’s gaze – especially if they are not smiling at you – but it’s definitely worth doing.

Slouch in your chair and have rubbish body language

Body language is key in an interview – some great tricks to do this badly include:

  • Slouch in your chair (you look lazy)
  • Fiddle with something (annoying)
  • Fold your arms in a defensive way (what is he hiding?)

Plan how you want to sit, be self-aware of what you are doing with your hands and feet – it really makes a difference.

Be overly familiar

You want the interviewer to like you right? WRONG! You want the interviewer to think that you are a good fit, and that you have the experience commensurate with the position. The interviewer is not looking for new friends. Do not shorten the interviewers name – call them exactly what they introduced themselves as. I always introduce myself as Oliver – and plenty of people I’ve interviewed call me Oli – it doesn’t leave a good impression.

You need to react to the tone of the interview by picking up cues from the interviewer. If they crack a joke early on then you can also follow suit – but if you’re not sure – tend towards being at the more formal end of the spectrum.


A great way to fail in an interview is to use ANY swear word. If I hear one in my interview it is an automatic NO decision.

Tell lies

Telling lies in an interview may feel like a good solution if you have something you want to hide – but it never is. Once you’ve laid your lie it is hard to maintain it if the interviewer starts digging around with further questions. The interview switches in your head from I need to nail this interview, to I need to back up this lie and you start to lose the interviewer.

If you do get a job by telling lies you are setting yourself up to fail. At some point in your future you will let your guard down and uncover the truth – is this how you want your boss to view you? I don’t trust liars.

Ad lib

Clearly if you haven’t prepared for the interview (see above) then most of your interview will be ad libbing. But if you have prepared some really nice sound bites and stories to share during the interview try to stick to them. If you start to ad lib around stories you will find it harder to stay on track, you’ll probably start to gabber/mutter and your interviewer will probably get bored. You’re also quite likely to offer some extra information you didn’t want them to know!

Be emotional or beg

Being emotional has its place – but that place is never a formal job interview. Crying or getting angry about your previous place of work will make the interviewer feel uncomfortable and want to exit the meeting ASAP. Maintain a healthy and professional calm throughout the interview.

Begging is also a bad idea – think of the job interview as the first part of a negotiation. If the interviewer thinks you’re desperate you might get a rubbish salary, or no job offer at all.

Be modest

An interview is a time to be proud of yourself; you have some great examples to share from your history, so tell it loud and proud. Being modest about your achievements makes it sound like someone else has done them and will quickly make your interviewer discount your answer. However being a show-off will also make your interviewer switch off – so aim to strike a balance between sharing your successes and not being too ‘up-yourself’.

Switch off once the official interview is over

That’s it – you’ve answered the last question and are walking down to reception with one of the interviewers – in the bag? NOT YET! You are still being evaluated. Stick to subjects such as your journey home or your next few weeks at work and you will not go far wrong. One candidate once tried to tell me on the way back to reception how great it was that she has bought a house at 21 – that’s really young isn’t it? The information was pointless and annoying and didn’t help her case at all…


See – it’s easy to completely screw up a job interview isn’t it? Why not download my free check-list so you can tick off the areas you are currently being rubbish in and work to eradicate them?

How to be Rubbish at Interviews Checklist