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

10 thoughts on “We Speak HR: Instant Interview Turnoffs.

  1. Very insightful indeed. However, would be interested in the flip side view. Turnoffs from interviewee perspective. I for one note that most of the issues raised focused on personal outlook but for ‘mismatch’ which touches on some aspects of the individuals ability to perform. I think interviewers sometimes miss the best candidates because they focus on such little things that can be fixed and ignore what really matters, competence and ability to perform. For instance, poor dressing & poor outlook may be that that person’s financial status does not allow them to have certain quality of life but improving their financial position automatically improves their quality of life they are better dressed, smell good if you like and much happier. People change with circumstances so to disqualify someone based on poor outlook alone may seem as shortsightedness to me. Some people are extroverts and talk much but average performers, some are introverts are do not properly articulate or present themselves freely but are strategic thinkers & above average performers. I feel interviews tend to put all in one common bracket but people ain’t like that. From my own experience I have noted the following weaknesses with some interviewers I have come across to: 1) inability to recognize that there is usually no direct relationship between a certain desired higher degree and performance. For instance turning down a qualified, experienced better candidate because they have a degree and you want a masters and so employing a less competent person who has the desired qualification. I believe the right person can be given the job with a condition to make the qualification. 2) turning down someone because of their age. How young/old someone is should not matter but maturity, dedication, competence and suitability. Interviewers sometimes tend to be intimidated/ skeptical of young candidates. 3) Dishonest by interviewers. The candidate is in most cases very open and honest but only to get shocked when you are employed of obvious information that could have influenced your decision had you had been given correct information. Sometimes interviewers like a candidate & give selective information so as not to make that person have a negative view of the organization forgetting that any contract is a two way relationship which requires both parties to be happy and have goal congruence. An interview is similarly two fold not only is the candidate selling themselves but so is the interviewers because all form opinions and perceptions as they interact. I recall excusing myself out of an interview because I realized five questions into the interview that this was not a place for me. But again, I am not an HR practitioner so may get it wrong & would love to hear from experts in this field.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is quite insightful Kennedy, especially about interviewers presenting themselves honestly. I do agree that the interview process is a two way street and should be seen and taken as such, and that does entail a certain amount of honesty from both parties, however I was only focusing on one side of the coin in this article and that’s a great idea for a follow up article. In terms of attributes things such time keeping and appearance, unfortunately first impressions do matter. Agreed that social economic status does play a part in these things but just do the best with what you have, there are great second hand shopping places in Zambia that would allow one to be presentable on a budget. And factors such as showing up drunk to an interview I think should just not be tolerated. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your feedback as well.


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