What is incorrect behavior at a job interview?

A lot of material has been produced over the years on the subject of body language, projecting self confidence, appearance, communication, and various aspects of presentation.

All of this translates as guides to correct behavior. Not a lot of attention seems to have been given to incorrect behavior.

Interviewees get a lot of information regarding their presentation, and it's not surprising that while they may do the correct things, they can also continue doing the incorrect things.

In some cases they can overdo the correct things to the point they become incorrect.

Let's look at how they turn assets into liabilities:

Body language

You'd think sitting in a chair was a relatively easy thing to do. Some people can turn it into a terrifying spectacle. People have been known to sit sideways at interviews, not consciously, but as if they've simply rotated.

Imagine the sight, as an interviewer, of a person with perfect posture, facing at right angles to the chair. This is a nervous reaction, not a conscious action. They just don't know they're doing it.

Sliding down the chair is another fairly grim process, where the interviewee, who was fine at the first question, and is fully engaged in answering the questions, is now six inches or so shorter as they slide. Again, it's not even conscious behavior.

Some people are able to lean forward in chairs to the point of looking much too intense. As body language, it can be interpreted as threatening, or just plain weird, when a person is halfway across the table while leaning.

There are many variations on this, but the basic effect is an unnatural position, and it's really not great presentation.

The correct approach in all cases is to sit normally in the chair, with the feet apart to act as a counter balance against movement in any direction. You have to move your feet to move your position. If you just make sure your feet are in the right position, there really shouldn't be a problem.

Projecting self confidence

This one can be overdone to a degree few people might believe. It can also be underdone, and look even stranger.

The overdone version is a person who's clearly being assertive. Sadly, while being assertive, they're destroying any possible rapport with the interviewers.

Assertiveness training is given to people to cope with quite serious problems in their social interactions. It is not, however, particularly useful in situations where the social interactions include being asked how you solve problems.

If you sound too assertive, you're quite likely to sound as if you created the problems, or are explaining how to create more problems.

Another version of overdone self confidence is the Too Laid Back, Too Informal approach. The interviewee is informal to the point of being annoying, and just too casual, cracking jokes at the wrong times.

Some people can crack jokes at interviews and wind up as CEOs. It's because they're extremely good at their jobs, and excellent interviewees who can answer anything completely in ten seconds, and have time for the jokes. They're so convincing that they can afford to be relaxed.

Being too casual at an interview is a serious faux pas. The interviewers, who are doing their jobs, can resent anyone using up their time like this. The probable result will be that the person who gave this person the OK for an interview will be in trouble.

The underdone version of projecting self confidence is quite bizarre.

People somehow manage to project themselves as if they're being apologetic for being alive, while describing very important things about their skills.

You'll hear things like I have extensive experience in state of the art advanced systems development, but said as if the person is being defensive, and the statement is made under duress. The statement I have an MBA is made as if it's an excuse, with no further information.

These statements, which should be an excuse for the interviewee to really show their stuff, go nowhere. The interviewers are left wondering whether the system designer is able to put two sentences together, and if the MBA has ever had any real use for the interviewee, whose communication skills are hopeless.


Books have been written on appearance at job interviews. Every known cliché is trotted out as if it's a revelation to the public. The secret of personal hygiene is revealed, presumably for the first time, to a fascinated readership, generation after generation.

It's a matter of opinion how effective all this verbosity has been.

People still show up at interviews looking like something the cat could only have dragged in by mistake, or if there was nothing more interesting to drag in.

The so called secret to appearance at interview is Dress Down. Be a bit understated. Normal business attire is quite adequate, and you shouldn't need an encyclopedia to tell you that.

Some very strange ensembles have been known.

Men are often guilty of ties which could only be described as murderous, and suits which should have been shot several years prior to the interview. Tennis shoes or joggers don't go with suits, guys.

Women are frequently guilty of outfits which belong in coroners courts, with or without their inhabitants. Deafening lipstick is another sure fire way of getting attention, and immediately losing it.

Both have been know to attack innocent interviewers with hairstyles which could only be called unforgivable.

At the other extreme, we have what could be described as the Forgettable Ensemble.

One case that springs to mind is of what could only have been the most uninspired wardrobe in human history, on a sad looking woman.

A cardigan, nondescript, possibly brown. A brown dress, notable for its resemblance to a potato sack, completed the vision. If there was anything else noticeable, we didn't notice it.

Unfortunately the presentation matched the person, perfectly. By the time the interview was completed we couldn't even remember her name. She had a small voice, and answered everything in one sentence. It was impossible to get more than twenty words out of her on any subject. We discovered that was because she had practically nothing to say on any subject we could find.

One important tip: Don't do that.

When you go to a job interview, be clearly identifiable as a person.


Communication is a science for a very good reason. It's incredibly complex, and communications are an extremely important skill set.

At interviews, communications are the main reason people don't get jobs.

One of the hazards of living in a buzzword saturated world is that so many of them keep showing up in the workplace. That usually confuses people, some badly, and the disease spreads to their interviews:

How do you solve problems in the workplace?

I go looking for good outcomes, push the envelope, reinvent the paradigm, work for consensus on key issues and try to develop synergies.

That would be a good answer, if any single word of it actually answered anything, was in context with anything, or if the sentence meant anything at all to anyone in the room.

Some people can spend whole careers speaking like that, and if you ever find anyone who's understood a word of it, consider yourself lucky.

It's more likely, though, that you'll encounter someone who uses buzzwords they don't understand in the course of answering a question.

What are your strengths?

I'm proactive. I'm a team player. I take pride in my work. I work by the book.

Which is a great answer, except the person has told the interview panel he's currently a shelf stacker.

The answer barely stays in context with the work, and is largely rhetorical. If anything had been said about managing workloads, doing quality control, or anything remotely specific, the interviewers would have received some actual information.

One point might be scored for Team player, and perhaps another for taking pride in the work, however vaguely connected to strengths and job skills that may be.

At an interview, anyone else who understands the question will do much better.

Never use words you don't understand.

Bad communication is usually self inflicted.

Try to avoid using buzzwords at all, if you can.

Incorrect behavior at interviews is usually a result of:

  • Trying to be something or someone you're not
  • Lack of focus and self awareness
  • Misunderstanding concepts
  • Interview nerves or Interview Phobia

There's one more very important tip to avoid incorrect behavior at interviews:

Be yourself.