Why You Lost the Interview You Thought You Won

Perhaps the worst part of competing for a job is to come out of an interview believing that you nailed it, only to find out that you didn’t make the cut. If this should ever happen to you, you might think “How could they not have liked me? I had a great answer to all of their questions. My stories were awesome and on point. I nailed the STAR (Situation – Task – Actions – Result) format. What went wrong?”

Simply put, interviewing is more than just answering questions. If companies conducted interviews just to see how well you can answer questions, then they could save a ton of time and money and just email you a list of questions. The reality is that there are vital components to a face-to-face or video interview that allow them to see your personality, how well you connect, and how compatible you may be with their organization. Many subjective things for sure, but each is of critical importance.

Without further ado, here is a list of questions to ask yourself if you feel that you lost an interview while having all the right answers.

  1. Did you greet the interviewer by his/her first name? The military culture is such that veterans are ingrained with the formalities of ranks, titles, sirs, & ma’ams. Consequently, they may not be sure what to call the interviewer, so they play it safe and don’t call him/her anything. Or they default to sir or ma’am. The fact is that if you want to form a connection, make use of first names. Perhaps Dale Carnegie said it best: “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
  2. Did you smile?  Yes, interviewing is serious business, but that doesn’t mean that you should treat it like an interrogation. You may be surprised how a genuine smile can brighten the room and help you form a better connection with the interviewing team.
  3. Did you make good eye contact?  All too often, an interviewee neglects this important nonverbal communication mechanism because they are nervous. Here’s the thing – many interviewers will cut you some slack if you are nervous. But unfortunately, the interviewer may also interpret that specific behavior as a sign of insincerity or shiftiness instead of nerves. That doesn’t mean you should engage in a staring contest with the interviewer. Simply maintain the same type of eye contact that you would have if you were chatting over lunch with your best friend.
  4. Were you dressed appropriately? This may seem like a small thing, but oftentimes small things cause you to lose interviews. Look at it this way: once you get to the interviewing stage, you are competing against a more elite group of candidates. So maybe the interviewing team may have their list whittled down to five people that they believe can do the job. In a case like this, the interview isn’t always about finding the right person. It’s finding something negative in a candidate to break a close tie. 
  5. Did you show enthusiasm and positive energy? I can’t stress this point enough. When you bring energy and enthusiasm to an interview, it is infectious. The people in the room just feel better being around you. Of course, don’t take this advice the wrong way and consume a six-pack of Red Bull before your interview. But do your best to add some spark to the room instead of sucking the life out of it.
  6. Did you address the “So What?” of your stories? You might think that you told a fantastic story about your military exploits, but the interviewer was left thinking “So what? You are a great military veteran, but I’m not sure what we can do with you in our organization.” Make sure to clearly connect your stories to the transferable skills that the position requires.
  7. Did you ask good questions? Most people know that it’s important to have a list of questions to ask the interviewer.  Plain and simple: the lack of questions shows a lack of interest. But when we say good questions, we mean those that:
    • Show insight into the company and the role. 
    • Reveal that you’ve done your homework on the company.
    • Are actually interesting! 

    Do your best to stay away from the garden variety questions that you could ask of any company simply by interchanging the name, such as “Can you describe a typical day at Acme?” “Why do you like working for Acme?” or “What is the company culture like?” To be clear, none of these questions are bad, per se.  But they are very generic ones that do not demonstrate much more than “I checked that block.”
  8. Did you show interest? This is an essential part of the end of the interview which is commonly called “The Close.” But you should not wait until the end of the interview to communicate that interest. All too often when doing practice interviews, I hear candidates saying all the right things when answering questions, but they never give any clues that they are actually interested. Instead, they are simply going through the motions instead of using words and phrases to effectively show their interest. Doing so doesn’t have to be anything particularly elegant or original. It could be something as simple as telling the interviewer that you’ve really been looking forward to the interview. But here’s the thing – and this is very important: That alone may not cut it. You have to combine that with some of the other points above. So instead of just telling them you have been looking forward to the interview, look them in the eye (point 3), smile (point 2), call them by their name (point 1), and then tell them about your interest. That’s a winning combination!

These are all relatively small yet incredibly important elements of interviewing effectively. They take as much time and practice as anything else so that they will come naturally during the actual interview. And rest assured that these are things that Alliance team members know to look for when we are putting you through your practice interviews.