Seemingly Silly Scenarios That Might Cost You the Job

How does a hiring manager choose one person over another, assuming they're both equally qualified to do the work? Sometimes he has to rely on hunches, on a vague sense of a person's character. Sometimes it isn't even that scientific.

Here are four scenarios you probably don't want to find yourself in -- if you're the candidate, and you're playing the odds...

A Dirty Car

One career consultant told me the job interview starts in the parking lot. Someone from the company is likely looking at you through an office window, sizing you up before you even walk through the front door of the building -- and making judgments about you based on the condition of your car.

Whether or not that's true, you probably don't want your employment to ride on it. Let's say your interview started at 11, and is going so well by lunchtime the potential employer suggests you continue the conversation over a sandwich at the café a few miles away. What if your host's car is in the shop, and you're asked to drive? Do you really want him to have to move days-old fast food containers aside to make room to sit? Do you want her to get cat hair all over a fancy suit? Will he need to keep the windows rolled down to avoid being overpowered by stale cigarette smoke?

A Blind Spot

You're walking through the post office, the library, the mall. There's a crumpled piece of paper on the floor. The person ahead of you bends down, picks it up, and walks it a few steps to the nearest trash receptacle.

Suddenly that person isn't a total stranger anymore. You don't know much about her, but you get the feeling she was raised right. If forced to guess, you wouldn't peg her as the one who returns an empty coffee pot to the burner for the last few drops to bake into a crusty, almost-impossible-to-remove mess.

The reverse is also true. If you're waiting for an interview and step over a piece of trash to take your seat instead of throwing it away, what's the receptionist going to think? That you'll start taking pride in your surroundings once you're hired?

According to a human resources professional, that cost one applicant the position.

An isolated incident? Maybe. But do you really want to take that chance?

A Reluctance to Take a Breath

I get it. You're nervous. We all do silly things when we're nervous -- like talk too much or talk too fast.

When the interviewer suggests you tell her a little bit about yourself, remember the words: "a little." Consultants say employers are interested in your pertinent work experience, and that's about it. The goal is to offer enough to pique their interest, not so much they'll wonder if they'd be able to shut you up during coffee.

A Preference for Tea

A trainer once told me a story about a woman he interviewed. Did she want anything to drink before they got started? "Sure," she said. "I'll have some tea."

No big deal, except by the time he'd found a tea bag and brewed the tea and got everyone settled in for the big chat a half an hour had gone by.

She didn't get the job.

A coincidence? Probably.

But of all the things you want to be remembered for, I doubt this is it: "Oh, yeah. She's the one who asked for tea."