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14 Key Job Interview Etiquette Tips

Stressful people waiting for job interview

You’ve prepared, you’ve arrived, and now you walked into the interview and it’s showtime!

The purpose of this post is not to advise you on how to answer questions, but rather to give you some general information about interview etiquette and how to conduct yourself before, during, and after you’ve answered all the questions.

These can seem like superficial things since, after all, won’t your performance in the interview be judged by how well you answer the questions? Well, while that is mostly the case, what we’ll review here is those extra things that can make you memorable and contribute to a good first impression.

And these little things just might make the difference if things get down to just you and one other candidate. If you both did well in the interview and are equally qualified, how well you handled the little things may determine the final outcome.

1. Smile

Since first impressions and last impressions tend to be the ones people remember, remember to smile. Smile as soon as you walk in, smile when you introduce yourself, smile occasionally during the interview, and smile again at the end when you’re shaking everyone’s hand.

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If you feel the interview itself went badly, smile occasionally anyway. Even if it went beyond bad and was a disaster, you should still try to leave a good last impression. You never know – it may have gone better than you think, so you always want to end with a positive attitude.

2. Shake Hands

Be sure to shake hands whenever you’re introduced to someone, and then shake hands with everyone at the end of your interview. You’ll probably get some dead fish handshakes and steroid handshakes in return, so just continue to use a medium-firm grip and pull back after about three seconds.

Finally, don’t ever use a light handshake where you only grip the other person’s fingers. This shows you are either awkward or lack self-confidence, neither of which looks good in an interview.

3. Be Brief

I’m giving you some advice now that sounds like it contradicts itself: Be thorough but brief in your answers.

There have been many times that I’ve seen highly qualified candidates who simply didn’t know when to shut up when asked a question. They virtually talked themselves right out of consideration by not recognizing when it was time to stop.

The rule of thumb I’m giving you is this: any answer should be no longer than about three minutes. That should be sufficient for all but the most complicated, multi-part questions.

4. Eye Contact

If you stare too much, you’ll appear overly aggressive. If you never look people directly in the eye, you’ll probably also mumble your answers, both of which mark you as a weak candidate. Okay, so what do you do?

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Simple. When someone asks you a question, speak clearly and look them in the eye for a few seconds, but don’t continue to stare. Move your eyes around the room, looking briefly at each person as you talk, ending your answer while looking at the person who asked.

If it’s a one-on-one interview, look at the other person and briefly look away every few seconds or so. It will be awkward for both of you if you never look away.

5. End the Interview Graciously

Your interview is winding down. The Hiring Manager and/or interview panel has asked all their questions. After you’ve asked the questions you prepared in advance (you did prepare some, didn’t you?), The Hiring Manager will many times ask if there is anything else you’d like to say.

A large percentage of candidates stumble on this one and many will ramble on a bit about how much they want this job, or perhaps share some personal information about themselves. Neither of these approaches is necessary.

If you’ve done a good job of selling yourself during the interview, all you need to do is shake everyone’s hand, thank them for inviting you, and say you’ll look forward to the next step.

As your shaking hands, ask for a business card from each person (if you didn’t do this at the beginning of your interview, which is even better). You’ll then have the correct spelling for everyone’s name, along with their email address. This enables you to send thank you emails, preferably the same day. This shows professionalism on your part.

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Regardless of how well you answered the questions during the interview, if you follow these steps you’ll at least have shown you have good business etiquette and and know how to behave like the professional you are.

This post is an extension of my original post about job etiquette. Here, I’ll review some more specific etiquette considerations.

Remember: these are the things that mark you as being polite and professional…or not!

Many of the general rules of etiquette apply to a job interview, but there are a few that can particularly trip you up. They may even end up being the determining factor in deciding between two equally qualified candidates.

Most of these tips are self-evident but it’s always good to point them out in the context of an interview, which is different than any other social situation. With the stress of being in an interview, it’s easy to forget common rules of etiquette.

These rules won’t necessarily win the job for you, but ignoring them could very well cost you the job.

6. Confirm Your Interview

The day before your interview, call or email the person who scheduled it to confirm the time and place. This will ensure you’ve written down the right information in the first place. You’d be surprised by how many times I’ve had candidates show up a day early or at the wrong location.

I was once in the HR department talking with the receptionist when a bright young man walked in and said he was there for an interview. The HR person couldn’t find his name on the list and asked what day his interview was scheduled for.

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He didn’t know. She asked him what time was the interview and he didn’t know. She asked him who was the person who scheduled the interview with him. He didn’t know that either.

At this point, we were both wondering if he was even at the right company, so we asked. He said he wasn’t sure, but knew he had an interview somewhere and assumed it was here.

An extreme example, to be sure, but it all could have been avoided if he had called in advance to confirm.

7. Don’t Be Late – But Don’t Be Too Early

Arriving late for your interview is not only a breach of etiquette, it is almost a guarantee that you won’t get the job. Make it a point to arrive 45 minutes early and use that time for one last review of your notes or simply to relax.

Although arriving too early won’t do much harm, it can be awkward if the company does not have a place to park you. My best advice is to walk in the door 10 minutes ahead of time. This gives you a chance to find where to go and still be ready to walk into the interview five minutes ahead of time, which is perfect.

8. Be Polite at All Times and to Everyone

Pretend that your interview starts from the time you pull into the parking lot, until the time you drive out of the parking lot. Be polite and professional to everyone you encounter, even if it’s in the parking lot.

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You just never know. That person who you yelled at because they got your parking spot may be the Hiring Manager’s boss. The receptionist you were rude to may know the Hiring Manager personally.

You get the picture. Acknowledge everyone you see, thank everyone who does anything for you, and assume that anyone you encounter can make or break your interview results.

9. Make Sure Your Cell Phone is Turned Off and Out of Sight

Simply turned off is not good enough. You need to place your cell phone out of sight.

I was on a panel interviewing an applicant who turned off his cell phone when he sat down but placed it on the table in front of him. He kept glancing at it throughout the interview, which was distracting not only to him but to the panel. I’m suspect this was an automatic reflex that he didn’t even realize he was doing.

Remove this temptation completely by keeping your cell phone out of sight. Better yet, leave it in the car.

10. Put Everything Else Under the Table

The only thing you should place on the table is your notebook and pen. Cluttering up the table with a bag, purse, briefcase, etc, is poor manners and makes you look unprofessional.

11. Acknowledge Everyone Properly

If it’s a panel interview, repeat everyone’s name as they introduce themselves. In the current pandemic, handshakes are a thing of the past unless they specifically make a motion to do so. Otherwise, simply nod your head and repeat their name.

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If handshakes are done, be sure to use a medium-firm grip – not too limp and not too strong.

Repeat this process at the end of the interview. Make sure to acknowledge and thank each person individually.

12. Memorize Names and Use Them

As you meet the interviewers, try to remember their names. Write them down if you have to.

Then, call them by name throughout the interview as you interact with them. I’m always impressed by candidates that do this well. Nothing is more flattering to most people than having someone remember their name and Hiring Managers are no different.

13. Make Proper Eye Contact

Make eye contact with an interviewer as they are asking you a question. But when you answer, don’t keep staring at them. Keep eye contact briefly and then go around the room looking for a few seconds at each person.

This not only shows that you’re inclusive, but it can also help you get a read on how your answer is being received.

14. Don’t Bad Mouth Previous Employers or Bosses

There’s a good chance that you’ll be asked a question about your former company or boss. This is not the time to describe the company as run by crooks with your boss as the head crook.

If you truly can’t say anything nice about a previous employer, simply say that the company was a good environment in which to hone the skills that you’ll bring to the job for which you’re interviewing. Be as general as possible.

To conclude, remember that these job interview etiquette tips are all built around what good behavior looks like in general. Don’t sweat them too much…but don’t forget them.

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