Interview Etiquette

The phrase "Actions speak louder than words" is true. Most communication takes place nonverbally. In addition to preparing your answers, you want to prepare how you will act before, during, and after the interview. Another common phrase, "It's not what you say but how you say it," also holds a lot of truth. This chapter will review some communication tips that will help you present your best self.

You will likely first speak to the interviewer over the phone to schedule the interview. As obvious as it might seem, be sure to have a professional message on your answering machine or voice mail. If you want someone to leave a message regarding possible employment, do not use a flippant message, blaring music, or anything else that could be off-putting. State your name clearly or record your phone number so the caller will know that the correct number was dialed. When speaking to the person scheduling the interview, whether it is the owner of a small company or a member of the human resources department of a large conglomerate, be polite and professional. (Remember, many people will ask human resources or administrative personnel what their impressions of you are.) If possible, eliminate background noise. Speak clearly and directly into the receiver. Stand up while you are talking so you can breathe easier. Sometimes even this short conversation can get your adrenaline rushing—and why not? All the hard work you put into your résumé and cover letter has paid off!

Once the interview has been scheduled, be sure you are clear about any directions given you and where the interview will be held. Most interviews will take place onsite at the company, although some may be conducted elsewhere. If needed, make a dry run ahead of time to see how long it will take you to get there and to ensure that you know where you are going.

On Your Way

On the day of the interview, leave a little earlier than planned to ensure you arrive on time. You never know if traffic will be particularly bad or if you will face some other delay. Take the phone number of the company with you just in case you do get held up somewhere. Once you arrive, you can take a minute or two in the car or restroom to take a few deep breaths, touch up your hair or makeup, and give yourself a few moments to mentally prepare. Review any notes. Run through your qualifications. Give yourself a pep talk.

Take advantage of deep breathing on your way to the interview and throughout. Breathe in through your nose, hold the breath for a second or two, and breathe out your mouth. Granted, you do not want to do this in the interview, but a few deep breaths beforehand can help you relax. During the interview, remind yourself to breath as deeply and evenly as possible. When you need a moment to pause and reflect on a question, this is a good time to take a breath as well. And when the other person is talking, take the opportunity to breathe deeply—but do not get so focused on your breathing that you forget to listen closely. Practice breathing during your mock interviews.

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Upon arrival, introduce yourself to the person at the desk or your first point of contact. Use your first and last name and state that you have an appointment with so-and-so. Be polite, shake hands if appropriate, and be sure to smile!

Smiling is a universal sign of friendliness. Do your best to smile naturally. If you are overly nervous, this can be difficult and it may feel (and possibly look) forced. As silly as it sounds, imagine you are talking to your best friend or someone you really admire; whatever it takes to help your face relax. When you meet the person (or persons) you will be interviewing with, give another smile and shake hands if initiated by the interviewer.

Smile as appropriate off and on through the interview. Some people get very nervous and sit through the interview with a goofy grin stuck on their faces the whole time. Again, practice can help in this area. There will likely be a mix of lighthearted moments with serious ones throughout the interview. Obviously, you want to use appropriate facial expressions throughout. Smiling at an inappropriate time will be a tip-off to your nervousness at best or make you seem completely out of touch and insincere at worst. Practice, practice, practice. Review your video sessions for what your face is saying about you that your words are not.

Walk the Part

You will be watched as you enter the room and walk to the interviewing location. Be sure to stand tall, hold your head up, and look forward. You want to exude a confident walk but not an arrogant one. If you hold your shoulders too far back and your chest too far forward, you may give the wrong impression of being cocky. On the other hand, if your shoulders are hunched forward and you look down, you will come across as submissive and insecure. Aim for a friendly, easy gait, but one that is not overly relaxed. Wear shoes that are comfortable and that you can walk in easily. Watch for slippery soles or too-high heels. The last thing you need to be thinking about is if you will slip and fall.

A Rule of Thumb

The handshake has been given a lot of attention for such a quick gesture. However, it is widely used in the business world, so you might as well get a grip on proper technique. When you extend your hand, do so with the palm facing sideways. If your palm is either facing up or down, it can give the wrong signal, such as over-aggressiveness or passivity. And while you have undoubtedly been told to give a firm handshake, watch that you do not attempt to crush the other person's fingers. You may inadvertently grip too hard or too loose if you are nervous. A good rule of thumb is to match the firmness of the other person, particularly when shaking the hand of someone in authority or higher up on the career ladder. How long should you shake? About three "pumps" is sufficient.

To Sit or Not to Sit?

Do not sit down until you are motioned or asked to do so. If the interviewer forgets to invite you to sit, politely ask where he or she prefers you to sit during the interview. If you are interviewing at the person's desk, do not place any of your personal items on the desk, as this could be seen as a violation of personal space.

Once you are in your chair, be observant of how you position yourself. If you lean back in your chair, for example, you may be perceived as laid back or lazy. Leaning back with your hands behind your head could be interpreted as being cocky. Sit up straight, leaning slightly forward. This will demonstrate that you are alert and interested in what the interviewer has to say.

As for your legs, uncrossed is best, although crossing at the ankles or knees could be okay. Do not cross one foot over the other knee, as this is too casual a posture for an interview.

If you are at the person's desk or at a conference table, do not prop your arms up on the desk or table. If at the desk, use your lap to take notes on the pad of paper you will have brought with you for taking notes (see more on this in chapter eighteen). If you are at a table, you may use it instead of your lap, as the table is common ground for everyone involved.

All in a Name

When you meet people in the interview process, whether you are introducing yourself to the receptionist when you walk in or are meeting the CEO, always introduce yourself by first and last name. Address the other person as Mr. or Ms. so-and-so. Do not address the other person by first name unless you are invited to do so. This shows respect of the other person, and it demonstrates professionalism. Remember, you are meeting a future boss, not a new best friend.

A Common Thread

People hire others like themselves. Kevin Cox of Career Unfolded recommends building rapport with those doing the interviewing. There will likely be a little bit of small talk at the start of the interview. If you are able, try to find something you have in common with the interviewer. You may see a calendar on the wall of famous golf courses; if you are an avid golfer, you can casually ask if the interviewer is as well. Take tips from the décor and the direction of the conversation. If you are not able to develop a rapport toward the beginning, work on developing it throughout the interview. When you are able to hit upon something you have in common, both of you will likely feel a little more relaxed. This will also add a pleasant and familiar feel to the interview, which communicates to the interviewer that you are friend, not foe. And it will help the interviewer remember you.

One useful tool for building rapport is to use the mirroring technique. This is similar to the game you may have played as a child where you copied a friend's movements. In this technique you do in fact mimic the other person's movements, gestures, and manner of speaking but not to an obvious degree. For example, if the interviewer rests her arms on the chair's armrests, you follow suit and do the same. If he crosses his legs, you cross your legs a moment or two later. You can also mirror the tone and pace of the other person's voice. If you are interviewing with a soft speaker, lower the volume of your voice rather than talking loudly. Conversely, if the other person is a loud speaker, you can raise your voice slightly but not to the point where you are the louder talker. Mirroring can be very effective if used properly and in moderation. "I believe it's a very effective way of building rapport," says Cox. "It gives the subtle impression that you're likeable." Because this technique can be obvious if not done well, or distracting if you are concentrating too much on what the interviewer is doing rather than saying, it is a good one to practice in your video sessions.

Eye to Eye

I know one business owner who briefly met a job candidate as she was being given a tour of the facilities during the interview. After she had left, he contacted the hiring committee and told them that she was absolutely not to be considered for the position.

The hiring committee was stunned. The candidate had given a good interview. She had all the right qualifications. She had answered the questions well. She seemed to have the motivation to do the job well.

What had made the owner come to such a rapid and surprising conclusion?

She had failed to look him in the eye when she was introduced.

In less than 10 seconds, this candidate lost the job.

It is considered polite in our society to look others in the eye when they are speaking. Again, nerves can make this simple recognition an awkward element in an interview. You do not want to stare down your interviewer, nor do you want to be constantly looking away. To avoid feeling like you are staring, focus on the other person's forehead and the space between the eyes. This will give the impression of looking at the other person without staring. As it feels natural, look away when in thought or answering a question, but take care not to look down. This can make you look weak. Instead, look off to the side or up as you are formulating your thoughts. Be sure to look at the interviewer again as you begin to speak or when another question is asked. Also be wary of having "shifty" eyes during the interview. Nerves may cause you to look back and forth between the other person's eyes, which can be distracting to the person watching you. Also be careful of not looking away too much. Again, it all comes down to practice, particularly for those who are shy or do not consider themselves naturally social.

And be sure, especially when being introduced to your interviewer or other members of the organization, to stand (if you have been sitting and someone enters the room and you are introduced), give a firm handshake, and look the person in the eye while smiling in a friendly, open manner.

Your Voice

When talking about a prospective position, are you energized or do you speak in monotone? If you cannot convey any excitement about the position, the interviewer will not be excited about hiring you. You cannot convey excitement about a position without having some interest in it. Your voice will likely sound fake if you try to force enthusiasm for something in which you have little interest. It all comes back to knowing what career path is best for you, what you are best at, and why you are the best person for your chosen profession. If you know you are on the right path but are still having problems, consult your video tapes to see what you might change. It may be useful to spend some time with a vocal or acting coach to learn how to control your breathing and your voice.

Act the Part

There is a saying used in Alcoholics Anonymous that goes, "Fake it 'til you Make it." In other words, even if you feel that things are not going well or that you have no clue what you are doing, put on a happy face and pretend that you do, and eventually, with enough time and practice, you will not be faking it anymore. You will have made it! The same goes for interviewing. You may feel when you walk into the interview that you have no clue what you are doing, that you do not have the skills, or a myriad of other doubts that may be running through your head. Take a deep breath, use the techniques discussed here, and pretend that you are in total control. This will exude confidence, and in return, just by "faking" it, you will begin to feel more confident as well. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile even when you do not feel like it, the simple, physical act actually causes a physiological response that makes you begin to feel better. You can make yourself feel more confident by using these physical techniques. You will feel more confident and powerful because you will be using your whole body. You will breathe easier because you will sit or stand tall, and this in turn will help keep your mind fresh and clear for the extent of the interview.

Career Coaches and Interview Professionals

If you feel that you need assistance in learning how to interview, you may want to consider using a career coach or interview professional (see the earlier discussion on career coaches). You will likely want to choose one that is certified. There are certifications for both career coaches and employment interview professionals.

Teena Rose of Résumé to Referral (http://www.resume advises, "Anytime someone has one chance to make a great impression, they are smart to be coached or trained. . . . Once things are said or done, they can't be taken back. If making the right impression on a prospective employer is top on your list, then take your interviewing and speaking skills to the next level. Know what to expect in the interview, and don't fool yourself into believing you can wing it."

Become a Vault Basic Member

Complete your Vault Profile and get seen by top employers