9 Interviewing Mistakes Security Cleared Job Seekers Should Avoid

You’ve been called in for an interview. As you know, first impressions are critical. The people you interview with will unknowingly make judgments about you within the first 30 seconds of meeting you. Those impressions may be based on how you shake hands or how you’re dressed, among other things. Bad impressions are very difficult to overcome, so strive to make a positive first impression.

Some interviewing mistakes to avoid:

1. Being Late. Promptness is important. Otherwise you’re wasting the interviewer’s time and placing seeds of doubt in the interviewer’s mind as to whether you can be trusted. If you’re going to be late, call your contact. Apologize and let them know when you think you’ll arrive. When you do arrive address the issue head on and apologize again for being late. If you are a late person by nature, leave early. A plan to be on time is a plan to be late.

2. Your cell phone. So back to that phone, make sure you turn it off. If you forget and it rings, apologize and turn it off. Do not answer the phone. The most important thing at this moment is your future and your potential employer sitting in front of you.

3. Inappropriate appearance. This includes both dressing appropriately and grooming. A job interview is not the time to show your fashion bent, particularly in the conservative security cleared government contractor realm. Looking your best shows the employer that you take the interview seriously. If you’re transitioning military and used to wearing a uniform, here is some guidance on Veterans Dressing for Civilian Interview Success.

4. Bringing up pay or benefits before the employer does. For security cleared job seekers pay is often discussed much earlier than in other industries due to contract requirements. But let the employer bring up the subject first. You don’t want to present the impression that your salary and vacation are the only things you’re really interested in. Review Preparing Your Job Search Salary Strategy.

5. Throwing your previous or current employer under the bus. Take the high road. Never speak poorly of employers or co-workers. When discussing difficult situations you’ve encountered choose your words carefully. Don’t finger point, and don’t blame. You’re a team player focused on finding solutions and problem solving. Check out Difficult Interview Questions to help you prepare.

6. Not asking questions. This could either show that you’re not interested in the position or bored (see #7). Even if you think all the bases have been covered, you need to ask the interviewer something. Unsure what to ask? Check out Interviewing What to Ask.

7. Not paying attention or appearing to be bored. Think of your future, and focus. Focus on the interviewer and listen attentively. Look the interviewer in the eye when you speak, and when the interviewer speaks. Smile when appropriate. Appearing bored or disinterested is not a skill set that employers are seeking for any position.

8. Talking too much or too little. A job interview is a two-way street. Both sides need to gather information from the other to make informed decisions. Strive for a balanced conversation.

9. Bad attitude. A positive attitude is critically important. In general, companies are looking for team players with positive, can-do attitudes. Having said that, you need to be genuine and authentic as well.

Keep these things in mind for any interaction you have with an employer, whether it’s an initial phone interview, a conversation at a Cleared Job Fair, or in a face-to-face interview.

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Daniel Mintz

I think these are all good suggestions, but they are as applicable to any job interview as they are to security job interviews.

Peter Sperry

I would think that top of the list would be talking too much, or at all, about secure subjects. If I was interviewing a candidate for a secure job, I would ask some probing questions and if their answers wandered too far over the line, I would know that while they may hold a clearence, they are not necessarily the best fit. While I do not hold a clearence myself, I have been stunned by the number of clearence holders I’ve met who frankly talk too much about their work. It is an obvious discussion for a job interview but hopefully one that conducted within proper boundaries.

Jeff Ribeira

Really like this list. I’m a big proponent of the conversational interview, and often that’s the way I judge how well an interview is going (whether I’m being interviewed or interviewing) – how well we are engaging in a conversation. Any tips on how to deal with the “standard issue” interview though? The type where the interviewer establishes up front that they’re just there to ask questions and record your responses so as to level the playing field among candidates. I find it’s a very different, perhaps more difficult situation, and can even be a bit awkward since it’s not the way most of us communicate naturally.

Kathleen Smith

Thanks everyone for the comments and questions. This is what it is all about – discussion.

Jeff, I think you may have answered your own question. The standard issue interview does level the playing field, is difficult and it allows the applicant to showcase their skills in a variety of ways. I would not like an a process where different questions are asked of different candidates.

Deb Green

I’d have to agree with Daniel. These aren’t specifically for security cleared professionals. They’re applicable to any interview process. Security cleared folks may be interviewing in a place where they don’t have an opportunity to have their personal phone ring 🙂

For security cleared professionals looking to fill a contract support position, I’d advise the following elements:

1. Do your homework: The client you’ll be supporting is important to understand, but don’t forget to get to know the company. I don’t just mean their benefits offers either. Do they have an interest in you as an employee? Are you a one-trick pony for them or is your value broad enough to bring you to multiple projects over the course of your employment? What kind of mobility can you expect to have? Are there avenues to move into project/program management/business development coming from a service provider?

2. Know your worth: Don’t sign a contingency offer that’s not in your market range. I had one company make a contingency offer of 25% lower than anything else I’d been offered. Shop around.

3. Don’t be afraid to walk if it’s not right for you: I declined that company’s contingency offer when the company president (who was doing recruiting…??) refused to tell me the nature of the project they intended to use my name and resume for on a bid. After much prodding, he reluctantly disclosed that it was on the client’s site, which happened to be 65 miles away from my residence, and was for shift work – – specifically, they wanted me to fill the mid-swing shift. Each of those elements would’ve been critical to know in order to successfully begin negotiating for just the contingency offer. I declined, and found a much better fit a week later.

Paul Binkley

Great post Kathleen and I like all the comments.

Jeff, I like your “conversational interview idea,” and Deb you gave an excellent example of the importance of asking questions in the interview (#6 on Kathleen’s list).

Interviews are very stressful situations and Iwe often forget that the interview is as much for us as it is for the interviewer. The employer feels you have the skills and knowledge necessary for the position; the interview is often their way of judging your fit with the position, the people, and the organization. You applied to the position and therefore you know you can do the work successfully; the interview is your chance to do exactly what the employer is doing–judge the fit.

Keeping these things in mind often helps shore up my confidence and reduces the negative stress I may feel.