Interview Etiquette, Part 1
Students and new professionals need to demonstrate a working knowledge of the rules of business etiquette long before they enter the workforce.
Job interviews afford you the opportunity to demonstrate that you possess the requisite skills for a particular position. However, employers seek much more than technical skills. The people who will hire you know they can train for skills; they can’t train for attitude, especially an attitude that conveys: I’m polite and know how to get along with others.
Good manners won’t ensure that you receive a job offer. However, a display of bad manners can keep a prospective employer from appreciating the talents you’ve worked so hard to develop.
This week we’ll address five things you need to know before you head to a job interview, and we’ll add five more things next week.
Before every interview, do your research. Google or Bing the person or people you will meet. Make special note of any points of commonality that you uncover, for example, you grew up in the same city, joined a particular fraternity or sorority, or share an interest in some arcane facet of the law. Find something that allows you develop a common bond.
As part of your research, learn everything you can about the organization and its culture. If you detect a relatively conservative culture, plan to present yourself more formally. Where the culture appears to be more relaxed, consider adopting a more informal approach.
Anticipate others’ needs. Although most interviewers will have a copy of your résumé, prepare for the possibility that your information has been misplaced. Carry several additional copies of your résumé in a portfolio, keeping them neat and clean.
2. Dress for the job you want to land
Your research should help you identify appropriate attire for the interview, which will vary from industry to industry and culture to culture. In selecting your interview outfit, choose attire that helps position you as a successful member of a particular industry or profession. In other words, you’re going to fake it ’til you make it.
Law students interviewing for a position with a very conservative law firm obviously should interview in conservative attire, including suits and ties for the gentlemen and business suits for the ladies. (Ladies, in some parts of the country, this still means a suit comprised of a skirt or dress and a jacket.) In contrast, business students interviewing with an Internet startup may find that more relaxed attire is the norm.
Before you head to an interview, pay particular attention to your hair. Ensure that it’s neatly styled and that no stray hairs will fall into your face during the course of the interview.
Finally, select your interview shoes carefully. Like the rest of your outfit, what’s appropriate varies by industry. For a more conservative employer, gentlemen should consider dark, lace-up shoes, and ladies should plan on closed-toe pumps. In all cases, confirm your shoes are shined and the heels are not worn down.
3. Arrive on time and alone
Showing up precisely on time may be the easiest part of any job interview. And yet, prospective candidates frequently arrive late. When they do so, they demonstrate a complete lack of respect for an interviewer’s time.
Arrive early for every interview. If you need to kill some time, walk around the block or grab a quick coffee or tea. Give yourself plenty of time to pass through any security that might be present in a particular office building. Greet every staff member you encounter with eye contact, a smile, and a warm hello.
You will likely be directed to take a seat in a reception area. Feel free to do so. However, some research indicates that if you remain standing in a confident manner—think the Jolly Green Giant stance—cortisol and testosterone will start to flow through your body and help you feel more confident. Before an interview, take advantage of every confidence-building technique you can.
Attend interviews on your own. With increasing frequency employers tell me about job candidates who ask whether a parent may accompany them to an interview. If you have a “helicopter parent,” by all means, immediately impose a ground stop upon him or her. Take charge of your own future.
An interview gives you the opportunity to establish a relationship with a prospective employer. Demonstrate your interest in an interviewer by giving him or her your complete, undivided attention.
In one recent survey, 30 percent of prospective employers complained that applicants checked their smartphones or texted during the course of an interview. Avoid this mistake. If you absolutely must carry a smartphone or any other electronic gadget, turn it off—not to vibrate, not to blink, completely off—before the interview begins. Or if you can, avoid taking your gadgets to an interview by storing them in a school locker or leaving them in your car.
Caveat: If you expect a genuine emergency phone call—for example, if your spouse is due to go into labor at any moment—explain the potential emergency interruption to your interviewer at the very beginning of your meeting, and turn your smartphone to vibrate.
5. Greet interviewers professionally
Every time you meet an interviewer, stand, make eye contact, and smile. State your name clearly. Extend your right hand for a handshake, holding your hand perfectly perpendicular to the ground. (If you allow your hand to dip over to a 45-degree angle, you’re more likely to deliver a limp-wrist, cold-fish handshake—something you definitely want to avoid.)
Firmly grasp the other person’s hand, pump once or twice, and then release.
If you have an unusual or a difficult-to-pronounce name, make sure that you slow your speech and clearly articulate your name. In fact, you may wish to help others pronounce your name by providing them with a clue. For example, someone named Vaux might say, “It’s pronounced Vaux, like faux in faux fur or faux leather.”
In the United States, if you and your interviewer are close in age, feel free to address your interviewer using his or her first name. However, if your interviewer appears to be much older than you, an organizational leader (CEO, managing partner), or from another country, use the more formal social title of “Mr.” or “Ms.”
As soon as someone asks you to use his or her first name, by all means, do.
What You Need To Know
Succeeding at a job interview requires a fundamental knowledge of business etiquette.
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