I’ve been interviewing several candidates over the last few months to fill positions on my marketing team at Palo Alto Software, and I am amazed at the number of people who show up for an interview unprepared. Some may say that it’s generational, but that’s not the case.

I’ve interviewed candidates from seniors in college through 30-year veterans in the marketing or journalism industry. Two of the interviews started off so badly that I had to end them within ten minutes. Both instances were because the candidate did not know who we are or what we sell. Really??

Here’s how one of the interviews went:

: “Tell me what you know about Palo Alto Software, and why you’re interested in working with us?”

Candidate: [long pause, awkward stare] “Well….I did read the website, I really did, but I can’t remember exactly. Shoot! You do something with marketing software, right?”

Me: [sincerely] “I’m actually going to end the interview now because I can’t continue interviewing you if you don’t know who we are or why you’re interested in working with us. However, if you’re open to it, I’ll take off my “interviewer hat” and put on my “mentor hat,” and give you some advice – are you interested?”

Candidate: [nervous] “Ahhh, wait, you’re serious? You’re really ending this interview?”

Me: “Yes, I’m very serious. Are you interested in some feedback?”

Candidate: [hesitant] “Yes, please.”

Me: “Great. Interviewing with a company requires you to have knowledge about the company. Otherwise it shows you don’t care about the company or our products. The message it sends is that you’re unprepared and you just need a job, and no one wants to hire someone who is just looking for a job. I hire people looking to share their expertise and build their career with us, and this requires you to do your homework. I’ve done my homework on you—that’s why you were invited to come in for the interview in the first place. So that’s why I ended the interview. It’s not apparent you care about this company or this position.”

Sure, this was an awkward conversation for the candidate, but I wasn’t about to continue wasting my time or his time. And just for the record, this candidate was a male, most likely in his late 30s and had worked in the journalism and public relations field for nearly 15 years. The other candidate I had to end the interview with was a female graduate student in her early-to-mid 20s with no prior professional work experience.

If you’re in the job market, it’s a good idea to sit up and pay attention to this list of interview blunders and some suggestions for an added bonus to help you stand-out from the crowd of candidates.

#1:  Not dressing appropriately: Okay, so you think this one is a no brainer, but more than 50 percent of the people I’ve interviewed in the last few months did not show up to their interview dressed professionally. Even though we’re a software company with a relaxed culture, I expect you to wear professional attire for your interview. The saying “you only get one chance to make a good first impression” exists for a reason. When in doubt, wear a suit. It doesn’t have to be a fancy suit, but it should be clean, and ironed, and it should fit you.

#2:  Not bringing a portfolio of your work: When interviewing for a position on a marketing team, ALWAYS bring a portfolio to your interview. It can be printed or electronic, but bring samples of the work you’ve done. This allows you to talk through the roles you’ve played on project teams, your thought process for developing the marketing materials, and the results.

#3:  Not talking results: In today’s world of marketing, everything needs to be about metrics. I have a saying that I drill into my team’s head: “If you can’t measure it, don’t make it.” This is true for any marketing activity today. Whether your marketing tactic is a billboard or you’re running ads online, you need to track whether or not the marketing spend is producing results; hence, warranting continued spend. Here at Palo Alto Software, we are a metrics-based culture, and we measure 99 percent of our marketing activities. Being an online business we care about traffic acquisition, traffic referral sources, time on site, page views, bounce and exit rates, click rates, and conversions. We track which blog posts get the most readership, have the most reach via social channels, and how optimized they are for search. So if you’re interviewing with a company like ours you’d better come prepared with results from previous internet-based jobs, or at least understand the key performance indicators that need to be monitored.

#4:  Not bringing paper or a mobile device to record notes: How is it possible to attend an interview and not bring something to take notes on? I’m still baffled by the number of candidates I’ve recently interviewed—again from all ages and background—who asked me for a pen and/or paper to write on. This alone makes me want to end the interview early, but instead, I ask why they didn’t bring something to take notes on and then continue with the interview. Not coming prepared to write down follow-up notes tells me you don’t care about the position and that you’re not someone who tends to be prepared.

#5:  Not knowing your interviewer or the company you’re interviewing with: There’s really no excuse today to not be able to conduct some research online about the company you’re interviewing with and even potentially the person interviewing you. Grant it, for some larger corporations, you may not even know who you’re interviewing with until you arrive for the interview, but you can most certainly research the company, the department, and its competitors online.

#6:  Not being prepared with questions: Whenever you get asked, “So, do you have any questions for us?”, always be prepared with questions. Here are some sample questions to ask your potential future employer during an interview:

  • What can I expect a typical work-week to look like here?
  • What is your leadership style?
  • How do you track performance?
  • Is there room for advancement in this company?
  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?
  • Based on what I’ve seen on your website, and the little bit of competitive research I’ve done, it seems there could be an opportunity to enter into market X, have you ever thought about that?

#7:  Being afraid to say “I don’t know”: We don’t expect you to know everything during an interview, so don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but if I had to guess, I’d say…” OR “I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to do some research and get back to you, is that okay?” The most important thing is to be honest and sincere.

Caroline CummingsCaroline Cummings

An entrepreneur. A disruptor. An advocate. Caroline has been the CEO and co-founder of two tech startups—one failed and one she sold. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs realize their full potential and learn how to step outside of their comfort zones to catalyze their growth. Caroline is currently executive director of Oregon RAIN. She provides strategic leadership for the organization’s personnel, development, stakeholder relations, and community partnerships. In her dual role as the venture catalyst manager, Cummings oversees the execution of RAIN’s Rural Venture Catalyst programs. She provides outreach and support to small and rural communities; she coaches and mentors regional entrepreneurs, builds strategic local partnerships, and leads educational workshops.