Make Your Best Impression: What Not To Do When Applying for a Job

Oct. 31, 2017

Applying and interviewing for jobs is a bit like dating. You're going to be judged, regardless of what you do; assessing whether a candidate has the right combination of experience and enthusiasm is the essence of making a hiring decision. What can you do to make sure that judgment is positive overall? Just as in dating, it's important to avoid behaviors and mistakes that are going to leave a bad impression—these "tells" aren't often discussed explicitly, but they can knock you out of contention for your dream job.

Applying for the Job:

  1. Don't make sloppy mistakes. Small errors like writing "American Society of Microbiology" might not seem like a big deal, but they invite speculation about what went wrong. Is it that you lack attention to detail in general? (Bad!) Or are you just not that invested in the position? (Even worse!) Getting the fundamentals correct demonstrates your skills and a genuine interest in this position at this organization.
  2. Don't inflate your CV or resume. Know the difference between highlighting your qualifications and misrepresenting them. For example, listing adjunct positions under "teaching experience" is completely appropriate, but they must be clearly marked as such. Do not conflate adjunct with professor positions, either explicitly or through ambiguity. You never know who is looking at your materials and what background knowledge they possess, so err on the side of openness and honesty.
  3. Don't overcommunicate. An open position means the organization is understaffed, and those in charge of hiring are probably pretty busy. Extraneous emails or resumes that are not submitted through the application channel unintentionally annoy the very people you want to impress. Read the job posting thoroughly and follow the established application process. Communicate directly with staff only for questions that are not addressed in the job posting. And remember, hiring often takes weeks, if not months, so patience is a virtue.

In the Interview:

  1. Don't skirt around questions. If you don't know how to answer a question, don't feel around in the dark. Most interviewers would rather have someone admit the limits of his or her knowledge or experience than bluff their way through an answer. If you don't understand the question, say so, or rephrase it in your own words to verify what exactly you're being asked. Whenever possible, give concrete examples to illustrate your answer. Finally, if you're unsure whether your answer was sufficient, there's no harm in asking "Did that answer your question?"
  2. Don't namedrop. Only mention a program or product if you have some history with it. It's good interview preparation to check out the organization's website, but if you mention an organizational program or product as if you know it well, the interviewer is likely to dig deeper. Unless you know this area, you can get yourself into trouble. Instead, focus on representing yourself, including your limits, accurately.

Just like in dating, organizations try to find the best match for a position. But regardless of the job, they are looking for someone who is invested in the organization, who is transparent and honest and who displays good judgment. Be courteous, patient and sincere in your enthusiasm to leave the best possible impression. Don't be your own worst enemy!

Apply for jobs today using ASM's Job Board, Career Connections!

Author: Katherine Lontok, Ph.D.

Katherine Lontok, Ph.D.
Dr. Katherine Lontok joined the American Society for Microbiology as the Public Outreach Manager in January 2016, and transitioned to the Scientific and Digital Editor in Feb. 2020.