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BY petevanepps

The 6 Most Common Interviewing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

One of the things that I get to do often is help military officers prepare to interview. The interesting thing is every JMO that I help is preparing to interview for roles that are outside of their current industry (government).

They are making a hard pivot to Corporate America. Here are 6 common interviewing mistakes that I see officers make (and how to avoid them).

  1. Self-deprecation: Comparison can be a powerful tool in many cases but sometimes I hear officers say something like, “I don’t have much experience in business, but I’m a really hard worker and I won’t let you down.” It’s easy to understand why someone would say that. They are basically acknowledging their lack of experience, but making a plea for the hiring manager to take a chance on them. Instead of verbally acknowledging your lack of experience, just go straight to the point that you are trying to make. “I am a hard worker and won’t let you down!”
  2. The “What can you do for me” mentality: In every interview, the hiring manager or decision maker is basically representing a problem – that is they have an open position that brings value to the company. In an interview, your first priority is to help them see a solution to their problem, namely your ability, interest and desire to fill their open position and deliver results. The mistake people make? They invert the process, thinking the interview is initially about solving their own problem. Certainly if you are interviewing, you do have a problem that you are trying to solve but the flow is this: solve their problem (by demonstrating your ability, interest and desire) and they will solve your problem (by offering you the position.)
  3. Pronouns: The pronouns “you” and “we” can severely diminish your ability to effectively deliver an interview answer. When you can, you should use “I”. I know why officers use “you” and “we.” They don’t want to sound like an egotist or take all the credit. This mentality has been ingrained in an officer since ROTC, the Academy or OCS and it’s good. You shouldn’t be an egotist and you should give credit where credit is due. When interviewing, however, it is important that you clearly explain either what YOU did or how YOU did it. So, instead of saying “we met as a team to come up with a solution” say, “I led my team through a brainstorming exercise to come up with a solution.” Instead of saying, “When you lead a team, you should first get to know your team” say, “When I lead a team, the first thing that is important to me as a leader is to get to know my team on an individual basis.” In an interview, your answers are much more effective when you own your answer. As a side note, the best way to diffuse any perceptions of coming off like an egotist is to give credit to others…often!
  4. Bottom line up front (BLUF): The tip is specific to answering questions focused toward accomplishments like “Tell me about a time when you led your team to reach a goal.” Most of the time I hear officers start the answer by giving a bunch of context – where they were, who was there, what was around them, why they were there. I completely understand the tendency to start the answer this way – it’s how we tell stories. We rarely lead with what you did and why you did it. Instead we try to “set the scene.” In an interview, you are so much more effective starting with the bottom line up front  – what you did and what was the outcome. That IS the answer to the question! It is also the anchor for the listener to now better understand the context. When answering accomplishment-based questions, always lead with the BLUF!
  5. Memorize the method, don’t memorize the answer: Often when I ask an officer how their interview preparation is coming along, I hear, “Great! I have almost all of my answers memorized.” I am not saying that being intimately familiar with interview answers is not an important part of the process, but you are so much better off memorizing HOW you should go about answering questions. Here’s a drill – have a friend ask you an interview question – any interview question. Before you think about WHAT you are going to say, determine HOW you will answer it. What method, format or outline will you use? BLUF STAR? What-How-Why? Sequence? There are a handful of powerful techniques to use in a conversation interview. The key is to first pick the right method, THEN pick the story that best relates to the functional nature of the position.
  6. Missing the boat on asking questions: In my experience at Cameron-Brooks, some of the best interviewers that I have met are those who know how to ask good questions in the interview. Asking questions (or failing to do so) can make or break an interview!  When an interviewer asks if you have any questions, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot when you say, “No, you’ve answered all of my questions.” First, understand the purpose of asking questions – to demonstrate interest in the position, not to satisfy your curiosity. Next, treat your question like a tennis serve. Ask the question, allow the interviewer to answer the question, then based on what they say, ask another question, make a statement of interest or connect your experience. Last, ask questions about YOU in the role. Here’s a technique to come up with good questions: read the job description like you have already accepted the position and you start tomorrow. When you read the description, there are going to be duties and responsibilities in there that you need to know more about to be effective in the role. Use that to form some preliminary questions (conversation starters).

Interviewing can be intimidating. Follow these steps to make the process easier and convert more interviews to offers.

To learn more about how Cameron-Brooks can help you prepare to interview, contact us at (210) 874-1500.


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