Do you know what is appropriate to wear to a job interview? What to say or do to impress and not turn off an employer? Interview etiquette is an often overlooked but important part of job search success.
In Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word etiquette is defined as: "The manners established by convention as acceptable or required in society and business." If you are uncertain of the proper image, manners, and behavior to display to employers and want a competitive edge over other candidates, here are some useful guidelines on what is essential to excel in your next job interview.
Today, in our more casually dressed workplace, appearance still counts a great deal with employers. Wendy Lovell, an HR Director states, “Too many people – young and old alike – have lost touch with what is appropriate business dress. Sloppy, sexy, sluttish, wrinkled or filthy clothes have no place at work.”
Dress well and be conservative. Skip the spandex, nose rings, blue hair, huge/baggy tops, t-shirts with obscenities on them, stilettos, low-rider jeans, micro mini-skirts, or underwear as outerwear. “Expecting the employer to ‘accept you as you are’ is a terrific attitude if you never want a promotion, or hope that we’ll never hire you,” notes HR Director, Tracy White.
To take the guess work out of successful dressing, dress slightly more formally than the average manager. If most people wear slacks and a sport shirt, wear slacks with a coat and tie. Everyone in coat and tie? Wear a suit. Everyone in a suit? Wear your best suit.
Neatness is as important as appropriate attire. Shine your shoes. Clothes should be cleaned, pressed and well fit. No tears or missing buttons. Hair should be combed and nails clean and trimmed. Use a light hand when applying makeup and cologne.
Practice your handshake, eye contact, non-verbal communication
Greet the interviewer with a smile, and offer a firm handshake. Nothing creates a poorer impression than a weak, couple-of-fingers handshake. Eye contact is crucial and conveys that you and your message are believable. In the meeting, be sure to not sit there stoically, with a blank face in the interview. You will fail to appear "real" or even “interested” and will come across as robotic, boring and dull. Be yourself, smile, maintain eye contact, and use vocal intonations to make your point so you will seem personable. Movements, gestures, posture and facial expressions are an important part of your overall performance. A sincere smile sends a warm, confident message.
Arrive on time
There is no exception to this rule. Many employers feel that if you are late for the interview, you may never show up for your job. Need I say more? Get the directions, know how to get there, and give yourself more than enough time so that you can arrive early. Wait, and collect your thoughts then open the employer's door about five minutes early.
Use people’s names
As soon as you arrive introduce yourself stating who your appointment is with and the time. If the receptionist is wearing a name tag, greet her by name. When you are introduced to the interviewer or multiple interviewers, state their name in your greeting and also as you depart. People love hearing their names so be sure to remember and use them—sparingly. Too much seems phony.
Display your manners during meals
Meals often provide a more relaxed atmosphere and candidates often chat, sometimes saying things that hurt their candidacy. This is an interview — you are not speaking off the record — all ears are listening to you.
In the restaurant, select an entrée that is easy to eat, not spaghetti or lobster or messy finger foods. I recommend you avoid alcohol. This is a job interview. If you must drink, nurse something very slowly, leaving it half touched. You need to remain sharp.
Never monopolize the conversation, never curse or make crude jokes. Employers are evaluating your communication skills and how you would interact at company functions or client meetings. Ask a lot of questions about the company, the duties of the job, and immediate challenges. A good conversation question is to ask the interviewer how he or she likes the company and why it is a good place to work. Throughout the meal, continually sell yourself and your ability to do the job.
Inspire confidence that you can do the job
Interviews are not the time to be humble and meek. If you don't express confidence and competency that you can do the job, the employer will recognize that you probably can't do their job. Fill your answers with specifics and frequently give examples of how you’ve done things well in the past. Employers aren’t impressed with vague generalities. Be detailed, but concise whenever you answer. Above all else, don’t appear desperate. If you transmit that desperation to the employer in the interview, it can hurt your chances of getting hired.
Bragging or lying are taboo
Selling yourself effectively means giving examples that substantiate your claims. Exaggeration or lying often comes from weak candidates who think they can snow the interviewer. Most employers WILL check out your claims and many a candidate who deceived to get hired was surprised when they were later caught and fired! Just don’t do it.
Impress them—hand-write your thank you note
Employers can be influenced once you have left the door. A thank you note can tip the hand in your favor, if the decision is between you and someone else. The employer believes a person who really wants the job is likely to perform better on the job. Your note should be a note card with the words "Thank You" gracing the card's opening page in a professional business-like style. These are available in the local drug store or card shop. Jot down a few lines, thanking them for the opportunity and reiterating a strength or two you would bring as a "valuable contributor to their team."
Typed notes or letters feel like office mail, and emails are discarded and forgotten almost immediately. Handwritten notes (print if your writing is not legible) - are a personal communication. This is an opportunity to demonstrate the extra effort you put into your work, and set yourself apart. Mail your notes within 24 hours of the meeting.