Eight reasons why good candidates perform poorly at interview

By Liam Horan, MD & Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers (Ballinrobe)

This week, I asked four of our experienced career coaches the following question: based on your experience of working with candidates in the interview training setting, what are the two main reasons good candidates perform poorly in interview?

Liam Horan
Liam Horan, BALLINROBE Tel: 094 95 42965

Here are the observations they made, and, in some cases, pointers for improving same – there is some overlap here and there between the points, but I am giving all the observations to outline the variety of perspectives:

  1. They don’t bring enough about the prospective employer into their answers (a) not marrying what skills and experience they have to what the employer is looking for and (b) never referring to the prospective employer at all throughout the session (e.g. I have a passion for research and I know your company bases a lot of its work in research). They “feel” they know the job and understand the organisation, but when pressed they can’t demonstrate any research into either the role or the organisation.
  2. They tend to rely on the fact that they do a similar job and that’s all they need to know.
  3. In competency-based questions they are good at the situation, poor at the action and they forget the result. Competency-based questions require the candidate to tell an in-depth story using words relevant to the competency and they need to capture the attention of their audience throughout – have it interesting, demonstrate they can cope with an obstacle and show pride in one’s own performance at the result stage.
  4. They are too hard on themselves – they beat themselves up if they have one stutter, um or ah. Candidates should accept that they don’t need to be 100 per cent word perfect during the interview. They are not actors who have learned their lines: they are candidates talking on the spot about themselves and the job.
  5. Poor preparation of targeted examples showing how their skills and experience match the criteria as outlined within the job spec. Within this, there can sometimes be an obvious inability to understand and articulate exactly how they match the needs of the employer. Read the job spec – again and again and again!
  6. They rush into answers. They don’t take time to think, because they believe that taking time to think is a sign of weakness or a lack of knowledge. I always tell my candidates to arrange their thoughts as best they can before they start the answer. A second or two is generally all it takes to pull a few ideas together. An interview is a marathon not a sprint.
  7. They leave their personalities outside the door. Remember that people hire people: your technical abilities and previous experience are just part of the story. Your overall make-up as a person – warmth, determination and so on – are also part of the equation. It is important to bring energy, passion and enthusiasm. Candidates often underestimate the importance of likeability and suitability.
  8. Their answers lack the necessary depth – they are too shallow, bereft of the kind of detail that is required of an answer to illustrate what needs to be illustrated. Most people come to interview training believing that they have a tendency to talk too much, whereas I find they generally talk too little. My experience is that an ideal length of an answer is somewhere between 2 ½ and three minutes.

Liam Horan is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers Ltd. You can read more blogs from Sli Nua Careers coaches HERE, and make a booking with Liam for CV Preparation and Interview Training HERE.