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Interviewing 101: Interview Etiquette All Job Seekers Should Know

Two people facing each other at a job interview demonstrating interview etiquetteI recently worked with a client who hadn’t formally interviewed in more than 15 years and was nervous about her knowledge of current interview etiquette. She had thrived in her role at her company and had been promoted numerous times without formal interviews. While this is an enviable position to be in, my client’s lack of interviewing experience made her anxious; she didn’t want to bomb an interview by doing or saying something wrong because she didn’t know better.

This insecurity stemming from a lack of knowledge about basic interview etiquette surfaces time and again in my work as a career coach: with university students seeking their first jobs, with stay-at-home parents looking to re-enter the paid workforce, and with people who feel like interviewing will never come naturally to them.

Consider the following 10 tips as an interview etiquette checklist to help you go forth prepared and confident. Note: These tips are targeted toward guiding you in how to act during an interview. For advice on how to strategically prepare for interviews, read Interview with Confidence Part 1 and Part 2.

Basic Interview Etiquette 101

1. Show up early.

Show up approximately 10–15 minutes early for in-person interviews. For virtual interviews, test the technology in advance and sign in 5–10 minutes early. Wait patiently for the interviewer to let you into the virtual room if there is a delay on their end. Have your phone silenced but nearby in case technical glitches force the interview to become a phone interview.

2. Be aware of any nervous tics you may have in high-pressure situations.

Identify and address nervous tics that could distract the interviewer, such as saying “um” or “like” repeatedly, or bouncing or kicking a leg while seated. Practice with a friend and/or record yourself before your interview and work on these tics as necessary, so you come across as poised and confident.

3. Dress professionally and for comfort.

Avoid distracting the interviewer with your clothes and accessories so the focus is on what you are saying, not what you are wearing. Here are some additional tips to have in mind:

  • Choose a neutrally colored outfit and try it on ahead of time, making sure it’s clean, pressed, and crisp-looking.
  • Since the pandemic, people have tended to be more casual, but it’s still in your best interest to err on the side of being more formal than less formal.
  • Pull long hair back in a clip near the base of your neck if you tend to touch or play with your hair.
  • If you choose to wear makeup, make sure it is suitable for a professional environment. You want to look polished, but not like you’ll be hitting a nightclub after the interview.
  • If you’re a smoker and you’ll be meeting in person, have a plan for concealing the smell of cigarette smoke if necessary.

4. Be kind, gracious, and polite to everyone you meet during the interviewing process.

If you have a chip on your shoulder, people will notice (not in a good way).

5. Be conscious of your body language and other visual communication cues you display.

Your body language can be as important as what you are literally saying. Sit up straight, be attentive, make eye contact with all interviewers (if more than one), and otherwise show through your body language that you are interested and engaged.

6. Don’t ask questions that an interviewer is not legally allowed to ask you.

Don’t ask questions about age or marital status or use condescending phrases (e.g., “Hey, young fella!”) or other language that could be considered offensive.

7. Treat a lunch interview as seriously as any other interview.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that you should be any less deliberate in your responses and behavior when an employee takes you to lunch during a day-long series of interviews. Even if you are not asked specific “interview questions,” the person is still evaluating you and your fit with the company.

8. Be confident but not arrogant.

Don’t pretend you know everything about the job already. Come to the interview prepared with questions in case you are asked if you have any.

9. Generally, contain your answers to your professional experience and achievements.

For example, focus on career experiences and qualifications in response to an interviewer’s prompt of “Tell me about yourself”—not personal relationships or hobbies. Remember to show your excitement for the role when responding to questions.

10. Thank the interviewer(s) for the opportunity to speak with them.

Within 24 hours of the interview, follow up with a thank-you email in which you reiterate your enthusiasm for and interest in the position.

Takeaway

As a job candidate, you can set yourself apart from your competition by being versed in basic interview etiquette, which will also help you interview with confidence and potentially win job offers.

Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses communicate when it matters most. She delights in helping job seekers navigate career change and guiding business owners to present their value proposition persuasively. Heidi earned her PhD in history from Duke University and teaches professional development for various university programs and organizations. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching, and sits on the Certification Committee of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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