We Speak HR: Instant Interview Turnoffs.

There’s nothing like a first impression. That’s why our parents insisted we brush our shoes and teeth on the first day of school,  and that’s why we put on our Sunday best when the ‘current’ one says he would like us to meet his family. This is because we know that you do not get a second chance at making a first impression.

Thus, following Marvels example with the Avengers, I assembled a team of experts and asked them what their biggest instant interview turnoffs are. Joining me was Russell Saunders – Project Director at Vodafone Zambia, Wiza Ngambia – Founder of the Wesbr Foundation and Economics Wiz,  Owen Katongo Kabanda – Senior Human Capital at Industrial Development Corporation and Elias Issac Phiri – Co-Founder of the Agora Code Community.

What would make you perceive a candidate negatively from the word go?

This is what they had to say;

  1. Looks Matter –  Whether it’s being scruffy or dressing unprofessionally inappropriately for the occasion,  Owen, Russell and Wiza all stated that how you look and appear coming into an interview room really does matter. When dressing for your interview, err on the side of caution. Dress professionally and conservatively unless you’re absolutely sure it’s detrimental for the role you’re applying for or the organisation you’re applying to doesn’t care. “It has to work; clean and fit for Monday at the office for a 1 on 1 with the CEO”  says Wiza.Job-Interview-Training-Centre-15
  2. Lack of Confidence – Confidence is absolutely mandatory in a job interview. As nerve wreaking as it maybe, they saw something in your CV/aptitude test/letter that they are trying to see in you in person.  Confidence, or a lack thereof does reflect in your body language. Wiza says evading eyes, slouching and slow paces would make him think twice about an interview candidate. Russell added that a weak handshake is an absolute interview pariah. From the second you walk through that door make sure you exude confidence starting from a firm dry handshake, making eye contact, good posturing, and having a legitimate smile.
  3. Poor time keeping –  You know how your CV says ‘has great attention to detail and can meet deadlines’,  being on time for your interview is the first test of that. Russell explained that a candidate coming late for an interview will paint them in a negative light from the word go.  In some organisations, being late for an interview simply means you have no interview because it shows a lack of respect, responsibility and planning.Too late One way to avoid this is by planning for it. The day before your interview call the organisation and ask for directions or ask a friend who lives in that area, wake up early and start off for your interview to avoid any eventualities, and in the unfortunate case that you are going to be late, call and tell them what time they should expect you while profusely apologizing.
  4. Poor personal hygiene – More than once I’ve encountered a candidate walking into an interview room emanating what I can only assume was copious amounts of alcohol. Needless to say showing up hangover, sweaty, or smelly for a job interview can end it before it begins. Owen agrees that poor personal hygiene can disadvantage a candidate from the very beginning. It also makes it hard to concentrate on what the candidate is saying if you’re wondering if they took a bath that morning. To quote Wiza again “clean and fit for Monday at the office for a 1 on 1 with the CEO.”
  5. Disorganization“Can we please see your certificates” I asked, a look of panic washed over his face as he opened his bag and I understood why as soon as he started to remove numerous scrunched up documents in search of what I had requested. Owen says, disorganization is a major interview turnoff. It shows a lack of commitment and planning on the candidates part, which is the absolute opposite of what you want to see in a potential employee.  There are certain steps you can take to plan for an interview;
  • Carry your certificates and references in an orderly and easy to find manner, they may not always be required but its better to have them than not.
  • Carry an extra Curriculum Vitae (CV).
  • Carry a pen and a notebook! Sometimes you’ll be asked to fill in something and it shows preparedness and maintains your own confidence to not ask for a pen.

6. Mismatching – Sometimes people seem really amazing on paper but not so great in person. Elias says his biggest interview turnoff is people who don’t live up to their CVs. Imagine being asked about that job you said you had, or that thing you said you could do but not being able to back it up…would you hire you?

The next time you go for an interview, make sure that the first impression is the best impression by avoiding these interview blunders.


Thank you Russell Saunders , Wiza Ngambia, Owen Katongo Kabanda and Elias Issac Phiri so much for your time and contributions. 

For more on interview do’s and don’ts checkout Dear 20 Somethings: Twenty Interview Do’s & Don’ts