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Job Interview Etiquette

Your job interview etiquette--or lack of it--will not go unnoticed by respectable employers. We'll explore 12 rules of conduct that will help you make a lasting impression on hiring authorities.

Proper interview etiquette may be second nature to you; but, it's still a good idea to do a quick self-assessment. You'd be surprised how often you are judged by your body language or other personality quirks. We all have them, but once you become aware of your mannerisms, you can over compensate for them during your interview to better reflect the real you.

Fact: Nearly one-third (32%) of chief financial officers recently polled said that candidates are more likely to slip up during their interview than at any other time during the hiring process.

Little subtleties in your personality or mannerisms aren't so little; so don't take them for granted.


12 Tips to Hone Your Job Interview Etiquette

1. Greet your interviewers as Ms or Mr

Most people prefer you call them by their first name. When was the last time someone instructed you to call them by their last name?

So what's the big deal?

Well, it's really not a show stopper, and there is minimal risk you'll offend someone if you do call them by their first name; however, when you call someone by their last name you are showing them respect. In essence you are saying to them, I respect you and you are important.

Do you like to feel respected and important?

Again, it's a little thing, but in a world where there is too little respect going around, it will make you stand out from other competing candidates for this same position.

Special Tip: Throughout your interview, hiring managers will be trying to assess how easy you will be to work with and manage. It's true, employers need self starters and leaders, but sometimes they simply need you to be a good soldier and do your job.

2. Make sure your cell phone is off...not on vibrate

The last thing you need is a distraction during one of the most important meetings of your life. People can still hear your cell ring in vibrate mode. Better yet...just leave your cell phone in your car.

Right now there is nothing more important than your interview. This could be a life changing moment for you and your family. BTW--How did we survive all those years without cell phones?

3. Look people in the eye...and smile

Body language is an extremely important detail of proper job interview etiquette.

Communication experts tell us that 80% of our communication with others is non-verbal.

One of the best ways to connect with people and build trust is to look them in the eye. Eye contact is also important during a group interview.

Throughout my executive recruiting career, I've occasionally had candidates arrive at an employer thinking they were going to be in a one-on-one interview setting, only to be ushered into a conference room with 4 to 5 hiring authorities asking them questions one after the other.

Most people when they're under pressure, don't smile, and appear nervous and lacking in confidence. It's amazing how something as simple as a smile can project confidence and leadership...even if you're a nervous wreck.

Have you ever heard someone say, I didn't trust that guy. He didn't look me in the eye?! Your eyes are the windows to your soul and often convey to others that you are trustworthy and real.

True Confession: One of my personality flaws is I tend to have a serious resting face. The reason I'm aware of this is because over the years I've had co-workers and friends ask me on occasion if everything is alright...or if I'm upset about something.

I use to get annoyed when people asked me this because most of the time I'm in a good mood; but, knowing how others interpret my body language gives me the opportunity to overcompensate for this character quirk whenever I meet new people, give a speech, or participate in an important meeting.

4. Firm handshake

This is another non-verbal way to connect with people.

It seems ludicrous to be judged negatively by a limp handshake, but people do it all the time.

Even so, be careful with this advice.

You don't want your handshake to be too firm--especially if a man is shaking hands with a woman.

There is this guy at my church who practically breaks my hand every time we shake hands.

I actually try to avoid "The Bone Crusher" on Sunday. He's a great guy, but sheesh, take it easy!

5. Let the company take the lead during your interview

Sometimes when your interviewer is soft spoken or laid back you may feel the urge to keep things moving. So, you start taking back some control and the next thing you know, you're rambling.

Resist this. Let the employer run the show.

If there are periods of silence...just sit there in the silence. If you are well prepared for your interview, relax, you have nothing to worry about.

One of the most common interviewing mistakes is talking too much. It's easy to ramble and over explain things if your interview is a person of few words and there are periods of silence. Resist this and simply let them set the pace of the interview.

6. Don't step on the last 3 words of someone's conversation

I've noticed a disturbing trend these days.

When I'm talking with someone, often times they will step on the last 2-3 words of my sentence and talk over me without extending to me the courtesy of finishing my sentence.

Has this ever happened to you? Annoying, isn't it?

Reporters and TV talk show hosts do it all the time. It is especially prevalent among Type A personalities.

Let your interviewer finish making their point, pause for 1-2 seconds; then, respond to their question or add to the conversation.

Check out my job interview readiness quiz. It exposes your shortcomings about the interview process and reveals how best to answer.

7. Sit up straight and lean slightly forward

In my role as an executive recruiter, I can't tell you the number of times hiring managers have rejected good candidates because, they were too laid back in their interview...literally. This is especially true for candidates over 50 years old.

Disgracefully, older job seekers are often prejudged as lacking in drive and ambition; however, younger job seekers need to also be on guard against being too casual or relaxed.

Sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward sends the following non-verbal signal: I'm listening intently. I'm interested in what you have to say. I have a lot of energy and I'm ready to go to work.

It's hard to believe that in a few seconds you can make this kind of impression, but it's true. So ignore this slice of interview etiquette at your own peril.

8. Take notes during your interview

Bring a professional looking binder with you so you can jot down a few notes during your interview. This conveys a sincere interest in what your interviewers have to say, and gives you a chance to jot down a question to ask at the appropriate time.

When I say a professional looking binder, I'm not talking about a cheap 3 ring binder like you carried around in the 8th grade. Invest in a leather binder that looks first class. Also, don't use an IPad or electronic tablet to take notes unless you're applying for a programmer or other IT position .

The other nice thing about having a professional binder on your lap is you can use it as a cheat sheet if you're nervous. Prior to your interview you should have a few key phrases written down to help you if you get stuck...and your short list of appropriate questions to ask them.

Lastly, you can keep handy your your professional references and copies of your resume in case they ask you for them. If a hiring manager asks you for your professional references during your interview, this is definitely a buying signal.

9. Pursue the job even if your interview is going badly

You might be enduring an awful interview experience quietly thinking to yourself, this is the last place I'd ever want to work...get me out of here!

Best advice I can give you is be professional and finish what you started to the best of your ability. No one has a gun to your head to take this job. You're in the driver's seat because you can always withdraw from the process or turn down an offer.

Here are 2 situations where job seekers made the fatal mistake of prejudging things too early...and lived to regret it. As a general rule, wait until you have all the facts before making your final judgment about an individual or a company.

Pearl of Wisdom: You never know who you are going to meet or how a total stranger might positively affect your career downstream. Leave people with a positive impression of you. It could pay dividends in the future. I once knew of a company that merged with a competitor. Imagine having interviewed poorly with this competitor's VP who is now your boss.

10. Your interview is not over until you drive down the road.

In a few cases, I've known hiring managers to watch candidates from their office window as they exit the building and get into their car. People can do some pretty outrageous things like spitting, lighting up a cigarette, arranging themselves, yapping on their cell phones for 20 minutes while leaning on their car, chowing down on a sandwich in their car, and other things you would not believe.

So, stay in professional mode until your tail lights are out of sight. Also, you may also be observed arriving for your interview.

True Story: One time a candidate parked his car and walked from the parking lot to the building where his interview was to take place. The building was very modern and had mirrored glass. You could easily see out of the office, but you couldn't see in.

As the candidate approached the entrance, he quickly darted over in front of one of the mirrored windows adjacent to the entrance to do a last minute check of his appearance and discovered a few hairs out of place.

Sooooooo...he proceeded to spit in his hand, rub them together, and slick back the unruly hairs to his satisfaction.

As it turns out, this gent was having a panel interview that day with 4-5 executives. And yes...the entire interview team was sitting in the conference room watching in disgust as this candidate groomed himself up close and personal in true hillbilly fashion.

How would you handle a firm handshake in this situation? Talk about a lack of interview etiquette!

11. Arrive 15 minutes early...but no sooner

Obviously you never want to be late for your interview; however, did you know that arriving too early could be annoying to employers? Find out why in this short article I wrote on another one of my webpages.

12. Promptly send a thank you note after your interview

This is a MUST on your job interview etiquette list. Not only is this a common courtesy, but it also keeps your name in front of those who interviewed you.

This is so important that I actually wrote a separate article about the impact of well written interview thank you notes. My article also addresses questions about whether you should send an email or a type written one, and how often should you follow up with hiring authorities if you're not hearing from them.


If you, or someone you care about, has been unemployed for 6 months...or longer...my book will help you pinpoint what you're doing wrong. Watch a short video on why this book different: Why Don't They Call Me? ~ Job Search Wisdom to Get you Unstuck.




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