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21 Interview Mistakes to Avoid 

Published on: Mar 28, 2024

Sometimes we learn from someone’s advice but more often we learn from their mistakes. With that in mind, here are 21 mistakes candidates commonly make in their interviews. It’s not a comprehensive list, but if you can avoid these errors, then the ones you do make can seem a little less egregious. 

Mistake 1: Doing any of the things you’ve seen on television sit-coms. 

Just to get these out of the way: Don’t spill coffee on anyone. Don’t call interviewers by the wrong name. Don’t push past someone in the elevator only to discover that’s the person interviewing you. Don’t wear clothes that are prone to “wardrobe malfunctions”… you get the idea. These are the low-hanging fruit of interview mistakes, so they should be easy to avoid by being patient and keeping calm as you head into your interview. 

Now read on for the subtler mistakes, which you might not even know you’re committing. 

Mistake 2: Not asking for details when the interview is scheduled. 

It can be exciting to land an interview, but excitement can lead to dropped details. While the basics are likely to be covered in the invitation (when and where), there are many other details to consider. For example, the length of the interview lets you estimate how many questions they’ll ask (anticipate five per 30 minutes). Likewise, knowing who will be there and their titles can help you anticipate the questions themselves. 

To get these details, just ask at the time the interview is scheduled. Too late for that? You can also contact the person making the arrangements at a later point. If that person is helpful, try for a little more information. For example, are multiple interviews planned in the process? How many candidates are scheduled? Be polite and gracious and you may learn a surprising amount to help you prepare. 

Mistake 3: Scheduling too tightly around the interview. 

This won’t be a problem if you’re spending the day with the physician group at a clinic or hospital since your schedule will be in their hands. But now that many interviews are conducted online, you might be tempted to squeeze a meeting into an already tight day. That’s a bad idea, but it’s even worse if you do that with an in-person meeting. To understand why, consider that a one-hour interview could easily become two if you’re invited to talk with another work group or take a tour. These are opportunities you’d have to decline if you were overbooked. 

Mistake 4: Not researching the organization (and local competitors) before the meeting. 

The more you know, the better your answers will be. For example, if you were asked about the possibility of helping to start a headache clinic, knowing this group already had experience with specialized clinics would make your answer richer—and more so if you knew about other headache clinics already operating in the same geographic area. 

Mistake 5: Not preparing a strategy. 

Most people wouldn’t go into a meeting without knowing what they plan to say. And yet, candidates often head into interviews with a wait-and-see attitude. (As in, “I’ll wait to see what questions they ask.”) That’s not very strategic. To ensure that employers learn what they need to know about you, plan to include two or three key messages and examples of previous successes. If you take the time to identify your best skills for this job and then practice getting that information across, your chances of success will increase exponentially. 

Mistake 6: Not bringing anything along to in-person interviews. 

At a minimum, bring note paper, a pen, and extra resumes, all tucked neatly into a professional-looking portfolio or briefcase. For extra credit, include something to leave behind, such as letters of recommendation or perhaps a publication or research abstract. 

Mistake 7: Seeming disorganized. 

For in-person meetings, disorganization looks like this: Carrying too many things to shake hands, shuffling through papers, reaching into your bag or pocket continuously for things you need, or looking rumpled like a television detective. For online meetings, disorganization looks like not having your camera aligned with your face, not knowing where the microphone or mute buttons are, using bad lighting, having kids or pets in the background, or looking down while you shuffle papers. 

To avoid looking disorganized, trim away as many “extras” as you can. That means leaving your coat in the car or lobby for in-person meetings and carrying one simple case that you pull things out of immediately after sitting at the interview table. Trimming things down for online meetings means practicing in advance and choosing a closed-door space without distractions. 

Mistake 8: Not greeting everyone. 

For an in-person meeting, giving a warm, professional handshake traditionally indicates confidence and reliability. You’ll need your judgment on whether physical contact would be welcome, but everyone should be greeted in some way. This is trickier in online meetings, where eye contact can be especially challenging. One option is to make a short statement at your first opportunity, such as: “I’m so glad to talk with you as a group today, and I’m looking forward to individual conversations as well. You have an exciting team at ABC Hospital.” 

Mistake 9: Not managing your cell phone. 

If there’s a reason you need to be reachable, such as being on call during an online meeting (this should mostly be avoidable!), tell interviewers when the meeting starts so they understand why you’ve placed your phone where you can see it. Otherwise, whether the meeting is in-person or remote, your ringer should be turned off and your phone should be out of visual range to ensure you don’t glance at it out of habit. 

Mistake 10: Not listening to the question before answering. 

Nerves can lead to fast answers. But it’s essential to truly hear the question before giving your response. Otherwise, you risk providing a partial answer or the wrong information altogether. 

That’s not a great look for an aspiring physician. In the same light, it’s better to ask for clarification than to blunder forward if you’re not sure you understood the question. 

Mistake 11: Not tying your answers to the job at hand. 

Skip the one-size-fits-all response and strive instead to provide the details most pertinent to this job. For example, if the practice is in a densely populated urban area and they ask how you build trust with patients, consider that they may be encountering multiple cultures or languages on a daily basis. How could your answer best reflect this reality? 

Mistake 12: Not reading the interviewer’s body language. 

Plowing ahead with a long answer while your interviewer slides under the table is never good. Watch for signs that you’re still being heard or alter your presentation accordingly. As an advanced strategy, if you sense the interviewer isn’t listening for some other reason, such as being distracted, try ending your answer with a question to bring them back. For example, “…which covers what I’ve learned so far about diagnosing patients with Parkinson’s. Since you asked me about that, can you explain more about your Parkinson’s caseload?” 

Mistake 13: Talking down a former employer, boss, or colleague. 

You already know this is wrong, but what if the interviewer tries to bait you with a question like, “Describe a conflict you’ve had with colleagues”? Your strategy is easy: Don’t do it! Instead of describing a conflict explicitly, try a more general answer: “Conflict is a strong word for professional differences. When my approach differs from my colleague’s, I’ll focus on understanding why and whether it’s something I can learn from.” 

Mistake 14: Presenting solutions instead of options. 

You don’t know what has already been tried at this organization, so avoid giving firm answers to hypothetical questions. Instead of “To improve the records process, I would first…,” practice starting answers with, “Depending on what’s already been tried, one thing I might do…” 

Mistake 15: Not asking questions of your own. 

A few well-considered questions will demonstrate your engagement and overall awareness of the employer’s situation, while keeping the conversational ball in play. You can save your questions until the end, but there’s a risk that time could run out before you can ask them. Instead, consider adding questions to the back of some of your answers (as demonstrated in #12 above). 

Mistake 16: Not playing to win. 

Or, put in non-sports terms, not going into every interview as if you want the job badly. If you’re just taking the interview for practice, then really practice by preparing well and performing your best. If you only think you want the job (but you’re not sure), then do your best so you can have the opportunity to consider an offer. Doing anything less than your best robs both you and the employer of knowing about the future you could have together. Not to mention, after all these years of training and striving for excellence, it’s just not you. 

Mistake 17: Not stating your interest in the job. 

Even if you think that participating in an interview makes it obvious you want the job, remember that interviewers aren’t mind readers. They may have experienced candidates who were only practicing (see above), which means they can’t be certain who is truly excited about the opportunity. When you clearly say, “I’d like to work here,” you make it more difficult for them to choose someone else. 

Mistake 18: Not immediately sending snail mail thank you notes to each interviewer. 

Since medicine is a physical profession, it’s nearly always conducted in a physical place, which means you can usually send a thank you card with confidence that you have the right address. It may seem unnecessary or quaint in these days of email, but so what? You certainly won’t lose any points by sending a handwritten “I really enjoyed meeting you” note. The reason to mail off your cards immediately is so that they arrive within a week or two, serving as a pleasant reminder of your meeting.  

Mistake 19: Not sending a more formal email or letter within a few days 

of the interview. 

This letter, usually sent in the body of an email, generally consists of two or three short paragraphs. You might start with a thank you, then reiterate your strengths for the position and your thoughts from the meeting, closing with an expression of your ongoing interest in the job. This follow-up letter is an essential tool for helping busy interviewers remember you. It’s fine to send one letter cc’d to the group. If you don’t have all the email addresses, you can also send to just one person and ask that they share it with the others. 

Mistake 20: Not staying in contact, even when it seems fruitless. 

A few weeks without communication from the interviewers could mean you didn’t get the job, but it could also mean they got bogged down. Stay in contact until you are told the job has been filled. To do that, it’s fine to send an email every 7-10 days, expressing your ongoing interest and then asking, “Is there anything else I can provide for this process?” 

Mistake 21: Putting too many eggs in one basket. 

Even if an interview goes wonderfully and you’re invited to second meetings, it’s best to press forward with other employers, as well. This will keep you sharp for the negotiating stage, while also hedging your bets in case an offer doesn’t appear. Worst case scenario? You will have multiple offers at the same time. 

That’s confusing but make no mistake: It’s a good problem to have!