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Interview Etiquette; tips for getting your dream job

Updated on July 11, 2009

The importance of first impressions in interviews

Job interviews can be frightening. Almost everyone feels nervous at interviews, especially if it is for a dream position. Unfortunately, the statistics don't do much to allay any nerves. Humans can detect a smile from 30 meters away, according to a Professor of Psychology cited in Psychology Today, so you need to be alert to your facial expression and posture before you even enter the building. Enter purposefully; if you've been listening to your iPod or playing with your phone, have it safely hidden way as you approach.

The ten-second rule is probably an exaggeration, but in truth you probably have less than a minute to make a good lasting impression. Scientists have recently begun to identify the neural systems involved in making our initial judgments of others. Much of the activity occurs in the first 30 seconds.

However, according to recent research summarized in Monitor on Psychology, our quickly formed first impressions can be remarkably accurate. If the best way to appear a confident, outgoing and competent person is to be one, then you should have nothing to fear. Not everyone is such a good judge of character, however, so you will need to do your best to encourage the right impression.

Job Interview Clothing

Always err on the side of formality. If you know what constitutes the everyday wear of employees, then wear a smartened up version of this. For men, a business suit is almost always preferable. A tie without a jacket is better than nothing, but suggests that you have dressed up reluctantly and that you may not particularly want the job. Suits can be gray, brown or black. Linen suits are usually considered unsuitable for interviews. If your suit fits well you should be able to do up the buttons to complement your figure, emphasizing your shoulders and bringing in your waist.

Double-breasted jackets should have all the buttons done up, while you should leave the bottom button undone for single-breasted varieties. Your tie should touch your belt buckle, although an inch or so either way is acceptable. White shirts usually look crispest and most formal, and short-leaved shirts are best avoided.

Women have more flexibility but this can make it more difficult to decide on appropriate dress. Avoid revealing clothes and do not wear red, which can be considered aggressive. Hosiery that complements and blends with your skin tone will give you a more conservative image. This may or may not be important depending on the culture of the company, but some hosiery is almost always recommended. For accessories, Ann Marie Sabbath, author of Business Etiquette in Brief, invokes a Rule of 13. Count your jewelery, ornate buttons and decorative buttons. If it comes to 13 or less, then you should be safe.

The first few seconds of your interview

First, arrive on time. If you live in the UK, for example, and are delayed because your train was late or the traffic was bad, then do not expect this to carry much weight. Trains are often late and the traffic is almost always bad, so plan for every eventuality. Plan to arrive in plenty of time. This will give you a margin of error which, should you not need, you can spend to keep yourself calm and prepare for your interview.

Next, once you enter the building around 10 minutes early, keep smiling and begin positively. If you feel the urge to make small talk with the receptionist or your interviewer, then choose a positive topic; the architecture of the building or the nice location of the company are far better than your nightmare morning or the terrible journey you've had. Once you are greeted by your interviewer(s) then make your first sentence count, using it to thank them for inviting you.

Handshakes are recommended for men and women. In the UK, handshakes tend to be short, with one shake before withdrawing. In the US, handshakes can be for slightly longer. As long as both of you have a right hand, you should use this rather than your left. If you are clasping a large or heavy portfolio, for example, be prepared by holding it on your left-hand to avoid having to awkwardly switch.

In the first few seconds you may be bombarded with names. If you receive a letter stating the names of the interviewers then you should learn them all beforehand. If not, then be prepared to remember them when they are presented. If you miss any, then have them confirmed. Don't risk using someone's name incorrectly by missing the chance to double-check. Use names frequently. As a general rule, British people find the excessive use of first names to be contrived and overly personal, and use them less commonly than Americans. However, using a name at the end of the interview as you leave will be remembered well in either culture.

During your Interview

The general rules of making a good impression apply. Make regular eye contact, smile and avoid fidgeting or swaying in your chair. Keep your hands visible as much as possible, using gestures sparingly but purposefully. Avoid long silences or pauses. If you are completely stumped on a question, ask if you can return to it once you've given it some more thought. If this happens, do your best to welcome the challenge in a convincingly positive way but don't overdo it.

Always have some prepared questions for the interviewers. Again, think positively. Negative questions like “What happens if I am late more than three times in a row?”would obviously terminate any chance of being hired, so think about training options, promotion policies and so on.

Don't mention money unless your interviewers do so first. This will normally be discussed after the interview during a phone call or at a later meeting. Money should never be given as your reason for wanting a job. Money is of course the reason why (almost) everybody wants a job, but do your best to ignore the elephant in the room and think of other, more inspiring motivations.

After your interview

Your interviewer should inform you whether you have been offered the job, since you took the time to visit them. Usually, the interviewer will let you know a deadline by which you should be informed but unfortunately this is not always the case. If they do not let you know, then it will probably be appropriate to ask when you are likely to hear from them. If you would rather not do this, then wait two to three days after the interview and make a phone call.

It is becoming very common for interviewees to call or email later on or during the following day to thank the interviewer for inviting them. If it is practical, then it is probably a good idea. If everybody else does and you do not, then of course this will be noticed.

If you are declined for the position then take this in good spirits. Ask for some feedback and respond to it positively. The successful applicant may later change his or her mind or another position may arise, so do your best to avoid burning any bridges. If you are inexperienced and came across as nervous, then generous hirers may have in the back of their mind that you have more to offer than came across in your interview, and will keep an open-mind about you in the future. Responding well to criticism will surely strengthen this impression.

Above all, approach the entire process cordially and with confidence. Remember that you are evaluating the employer too, and do your best to convince both yourself and your interviewers that this is the case. Some people (myself included, hence my research into this subject) find that much of this does not come naturally, so try to build on and learn from your interview experiences. Consider even applying for jobs you are only 30% or 40% likely to be interested in, in order to hone your skills. Avoid applying for jobs you definitely wouldn't be interested in, however, as this an unfair waste of everyone's time.


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      Alexis Avila 7 years ago

      Definitely smile, make good eye contact, and refuse a cup of coffee. You might accidentally spill it during the interview!

      Here is my interview with Boston-area etiquette consultant, Janet Parnes:

      Alexis Avila


      Prepped & Polished