By Susan P. Joyce
A job interview is your opportunity to show a potential employer how you can shine in the role and at the company. Think of the interview as an audition for the job, and also as a “sample” of your work, because that’s how employers often view it. But keep this in mind—you’re interviewing the interviewers too! You need to get a handle on whether or not the job and the company are a good fit for you.
Below are the key job interview dos and don’ts to keep in mind. Job seekers who follow these simple interview dos and dont’s should achieve success in this uber-crucial phase of job hunting.
We’ll start off with the dos of interview dos and dont’s. First up? Gather all necessary and important information when you are invited to the interview:
- When you accept the invitation to the interview, DO be sure you know the name of the company, and request the names and job titles of each of the people who will be interviewing you (if they’re not offered). You’ll want to research the interviewers on LinkedIn. Displaying a little bit of knowledge about an interviewer’s professional background can go a long way toward making a great impression.
- DO know the type of job interview you will encounter. Ask, if the information is not volunteered by the person setting up the interview. (See Types of Interviews for Job-Seekers.)
- DO ask how long the interview(s) is/are expected to take so you can know how it will impact the rest of your day.
- DO ask for the street address of the interview location (and, if appropriate, the floor of a building, and/or office number). Also, inquire about parking and/or public transportation, if appropriate.
Prep for the interview well ahead of time:
- If you have a few days before the interview, DO take a practice run to the interview location, preferably at the same time you would be traveling on the day of the actual interview.
Be sure you know exactly where the employer’s location is and how long it takes to get there, where to park your car or get off public transportation, etc.
- DO demonstrate your interest in the job—and protect yourself—by doing research on the employer, their products and/or services, their competitors, their reputation, and their financial status (you don’t want to be the last person hired before the layoffs begin). Search LinkedIn, and search Google (using the News filter) to discover as much as you can about the organization, its management, and even their competitors. (See our Guide to Researching Companies.)
- DO prepare to ask intelligent questions about the job, the employer, or the industry. Having no questions to ask shows a lack of interest and/or preparation. Both are interview killers!
- DO practice answering the most common job interview questions, with a focus on answers customized for this employer and this job. Keep in mind that the employer is most interested in how hiring you will benefit them. (See our Job Interview Question Collections for Job-Seekers.)
- DO dress the part—for the job, the company, and the industry—and err on the side of caution if you’re unsure of how to dress (i.e., dress more formally than casually). If you’re not sure what to wear, consider reading our article When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success.
Make a great impression at the interview:
- DO plan to arrive about 10 to 15 minutes early. A late arrival for a job interview is never excusable. If you are running late, do phone the employer to let them know. If you arrive more than 15 minutes early, wait until 10 minutes before the interview to present yourself to the employer.
- DO turn off or mute your cellphone, and put it out of sight (unless you must use it to demonstrate a job-related skill or accomplishment).
- DO be sure to greet the receptionist or assistant and other staff members with courtesy and respect.
- If presented with a job application, DO fill it out neatly, completely, and accurately. Keep it “in sync” with both your LinkedIn profile and resume because they will probably be compared to ensure consistency.
- DO bring a notepad, in case you need to jot down anything of interest regarding the job. Also bring a copy of the job description, extra resumes, and your personal business cards. If you have a job skills portfolio, bring that with you, too.
- DO shake hands firmly, make eye contact, and smile when you are introduced to someone. Avoid having a limp, sweaty, or clammy handshake!
- DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. And DO remember body language and posture: sit upright with your shoulders back. No slouching!
- DO exchange business cards with each person who interviews you, or at least get their business cards (if you don’t have your own).
- DO maintain eye contact with your interviewer(s), and show enthusiasm in the position and the company at all times.
- DO avoid using poor grammar, bad language, slang, and pause words (such as “like,” “uh,” and “um”).
- When you are answering questions, DO focus on what you can do for the company rather than what the company can do for you. Stress your achievements and accomplishments, particularly those related to the requirements of the job, and mention what you learned in your research about their products/services, competitors, and the industry.
- DO ask your questions to determine if the company will be a good place for you to work, and if the job will be a good fit for you. Ask your questions throughout the interview, as appropriate, unless you are instructed to hold your questions until the end.
- DO your best to dodge the “salary requirement” question, if asked. Respond that you are sure the salary will be appropriate for the job (even if you aren’t sure), and that you’d like to learn more about the job before discussing salary. (Visit our salary tutorial for more tips and strategies.)
- DO close the interview by telling the interviewer(s) that you’re very interested in the job (if that applies once the interview wraps), and ask if they have any concerns about your qualifications or fit for the job and the organization. Also inform the interviewers that if they think of additional questions at a later point, to reach out by phone or email.
Make a great impression after the interview:
- At the end of the interview, DO ask about next steps in the hiring process—who you should stay in touch with, the details (name, phone number, and email address) for staying in touch, and when they plan to be back in touch with you.
- After you have left, DO take down notes (if you were unable to jot any down during the interview) on any crucial job/company details that you want fresh in your head.
- DO write a unique thank you letter/email within 24 hours to each person who interviewed you, and also to the person who set up the interviews (if that person didn’t interview you). And do know all the rules of following up after the interview.
Note: If you have a video interview scheduled, do read our Online, Video Job Interview Dos and Don’ts for Job-Seekers. For phone interviews, read our Phone Interview Dos and Don’ts for Job-Seekers.)
Now we’ve come to the next section of interview dos and dont’s. The don’ts represent a much shorter list, fortunately, because you’ll be so well-prepared based on the dos!
As you are getting ready for the interview:
- DON’T assume that you can “wing it” and be impressive without trying, or without advanced preparation.
- DON’T assume that an invitation to a job interview means that you have a job offer “in the bag.” That’s wrong and a big mistake and the farthest thing from the truth!
- DON’T arrive late. Let’s repeat that one: DON’T arrive late.
- DON’T dress inappropriately. If you’re unsure of how to dress (formal vs. business casual), aim for clothing that is a bit more formal to be on the safe side.
During the interview:
- DON’T eat, drink, or chew gum during the interview, and DON’T drink alcohol prior to the interview. Also, DON’T smoke before the interview—you’ll end up smelling like smoke if you do.
- DON’T answer cellphone calls or send or respond to texts during the interview. Keep your cellphone turned off and stowed away.
- DON’T inquire about salary, vacations, bonuses, retirement, or other benefits until you’ve received an offer. This is a very big DON’T that you can’t lose track of during the interview.
- DON’T act desperate, as though you would take any job with any employer.
- DON’T act disinterested in the job or the employer.
- DON’T say anything negative about former colleagues, supervisors, or employers, and DON’T offer any negative information about yourself, even if you’re being self-deprecating.
- DON’T answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Explain whenever possible. Describe those things about yourself that showcase your relevant talents, skills, and determination. Give detailed examples of your accomplishments.
- DON’T be soft-spoken. Speak clearly, and project confidence and preparation.
- DON’T fidget or slouch.
- DON’T bring up or discuss personal issues or family problems.
- DON’T respond to an unexpected question with an extended pause or by saying something like, “boy, that’s a good question.” A short pause before responding is okay. Ask for a clarification if you don’t understand the question or want guidance on what is an appropriate response.
- DON’T ever lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly, and succinctly.
- DON’T over-answer questions. Sharing too much information (TMI) can be more damaging than not sharing enough. Be sure to answer the question asked, and then wait for the next question, or ask a question of your own.
- DON’T tell jokes during the interview.
- DON’T ask the interviewers personal questions.
After the interview:
- DON’T forget to follow up immediately with your thank you notes (or emails) to each interviewer.
Now that you’re armed with these job interview dos and dont’s, go forward and rock your interview!
Looking for the old version of this article? Check it out here.
About the Author
Susan P. Joyce
Susan P. Joyce is the publisher, editor, and chief writer for both Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com.
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps (and two corporate layoffs), she has been studying, writing, and speaking about the online job search experience since 1995, building on her unique background in military intelligence, programming, technology, and human resources. A LinkedIn member since 2004, Susan has been teaching about how to conduct an effective job search through the social professional network for many years. She is a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and holds a B.S. in Education and an M.B.A. in Information Systems.
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Interview Do's and Don'ts
- Dress appropriately. Extremes in fashion or very casual clothes should generally be avoided. Look neat and clean.
- Be punctual. Make sure that you are 10 minutes early and if you are going to be unavoidably detained ring and let them know.
- Express yourself and your views clearly.
- Bring a copy of all relevant documents, so you can refer to them if necessary.
- Listen carefully to the questions and answer clearly and thoughtfully.
- Make eye-contact. Remember to talk to the person (not the top right hand corner of the room or at their shoes).
- Make sure you fully understand the question and query any point about which you may be doubtful.
- If you are being interviewed by a panel, ensure that you direct your answer to the person who asked the question, while still including the other interviewers by making brief eye contact.
- Ask questions. Selection is a two way process. They select you, but you also select them.
- Be aware of what your needs are, so as you can assess how well the company can fulfil them.
- Be Confident. Remember that you applied for the position because you thought that you could do it.
- Show enthusiasm for the company and the position.
- Remember that they already like you. Employers don't interview everyone. They only interview those people who they think have the right skills and experience to succeed in the position. Consequently, in the interview, you maintain and improve on the positive image that you have already created.
- Make sure that you always present your skills in a positive light. Even when describing your weaknesses you should always show them what you are doing to rectify it.
- Make sure that you have an idea about where your want to be in the future and can relate the future goals to your application for the present position. You must be able to answer the question "Where do want to be in five years time?"
- Don't dress too casually or look untidy.
- Don't make derogatory remarks about past or present employers.
- Don't fidget or twitch, try to control other nervous mannerisms.
- Conversely, don't sit there like a statue. If you feel more comfortable talking with the aid of your hands for emphasis, then use them, but try not to be too excessive in your gestures.
- Don't interrupt the interviewer before they have finished asking you a question and never finish their sentences for them.
- Don't Lie. If you have to lie about what you are like or your abilities in order to obtain the job, you are likely to find yourself in a position that you don't really like and probably one in which you will have problems fulfilling successfully.
- Don't worry if you answer one question badly. Treat each question individually. Remember that if you mess up the second question but answer the next 15 brilliantly they won't place much emphasis on the second question putting your poor answer down to nerves. If however, you get so caught up in chastising yourself for making a mistake, you will continue to make mistakes, have more problems thinking about your answer and finish feeling extremely anxious and knowing that you made a mess of the interview.
- Don't talk about salary, holidays or bonuses unless they bring them up.
- Don't answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no". Make sure that you explain your reasoning fully.
- Don't wear too much perfume or aftershave.
- Don't smoke even if invited to do so.