The Fine Points of Interview Etiquette
The basics of interview etiquette are the same as in any type of social situation — one should be courteous, polite, friendly and listen well even as you try to make the best case for your candidacy for this job. Good manners aren’t a plus when interviewing, they are a necessity — a hiring manager likely won’t be able to get past any possible rudeness or odd mannerisms to determine whether your skills could be a good fit for the position.
So here are some reminders on the fine points of interview etiquette that should help you get to the next step of the hiring process:
*Arrive early but not too early. Being late to a job interview likely will end your candidacy with that organization right then and there — unless there are major extenuating circumstances, and you call to explain them. With that in mind, give yourself much more time than you’ll likely need to get through traffic or to take the Metro to your destination. If you’re more than a half hour early, don’t go to the company’s offices just yet — find a coffee shop around the corner and review notes of the points you want to make. (Also, use the bathroom there to do a last-minute check in the mirror to ensure you look professional and especially that your hair isn’t falling into your face. Interviewers will be looking directly at you, so make sure they can see your eyes, and you don’t want to be brushing your hair or fixing your makeup in their waiting room. See post, “Looking the part…”) A too-early interviewee can throw a hiring manager off schedule, and you don’t want that. Get to the offices about 10 minutes early, and be prepared to wait a bit. Read a magazine or newspaper if one is sitting there — a job candidate sitting calmly and reading will be a good first visual impression for the hiring manager.
*Turn off your mobile phone, BlackBerry, I-Phone, pager, or whatever in your briefcase or portfolio might make noise. Give the interviewer your complete attention and they are likely to be more focused on you as well. Don’t fidget or tap on the desk or play with the edges of your portfolio. Sit up straight and comfortably with your hands in your lap or atop a folder if you’re nervous — sometimes it helps to have something to hold on to. Always look directly at the interviewer, if you don’t look them in the eye, they will wonder what you’re hiding. Smile when appropriate and show signs that you’re paying attention — a slight nod or an affirmative noise such as “right,” or “I see” — can help you make this more of a conversation that the interviewer will remember. Never interrupt an interviewer or appear to be rushing them to make a point — they, not you, are in charge of this situation. (See post, “When the interviewer becomes the interviewee.”)
*Ask questions of the interviewer at the appropriate time. Though one should always prepare questions they want to ask, don’t start off the interview with them, and never appear to be cross-examining the hiring manager. A first interview also isn’t an occasion for asking details about pay, benefits or work schedules. If you do this too early in the process, the hiring manager may think you’re being too forward or may wonder about whether you really want this job or just want any job. So hold off — make a first interview about the position, the organization and your fitness for it. Politely and conversationally ask questions with that focus in mind — don’t ask too many, though, especially if the interviewer appears to be in a hurry. In that case, ask them if you can follow up with further questions in an email later — that gives you a good opening for further contact.
*Act like a consummate professional. A hiring manager — especially a veteran one who has conducted many interviews over the years — will size you up not only to determine whether you’d do well at this job, but whether you would be a good colleague in this organization. Every interview is a bit of a tryout. So consider the things one looks for in a good colleague — friendliness, being supportive and respectful of others, being a good listener and having a good sense of humor come to mind. Try to show those qualities even in the somewhat forced interview situation. And conversely, avoid saying or doing things in an interview that would annoy others in the workplace — impolite questioning, unprofessional communication (too many “uhs,” “you-knows,” or swearing), saying anything negative about those you have worked with in the past, and slouching or mannerisms that could be viewed as annoying. Pretend as though this interview is being video-taped, and think about how what you say and do will come across. Practice beforehand — especially before a mirror, or better yet, with a trusted friend who will give you feedback. This is a conversation you can’t afford to botch, and conversely, you can win big points by acing an interview.