Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Posted Apr 01, 2010

When job searching, it's easy to fall into the mindset of, "I've done this so many times, all I need do is put on my business suit." But like anything else, some helpful reminders will keep the process fresh and your skills honed. Having solid interview strategies and conversely, knowing some of the common pitfalls, can make or break your chances of landing the job. And a good job can change your life.

Here are some job interview tips:

Definitely Do:

1. Do...Customize, Customize, Customize. The more you research the company the more you get out of the interview. But also, the more enthusiasm you demonstrate will set you apart.

Google everything about the company you can and use social media and trade groups to understand the company's vision and strategy beforehand. Then your questions (and responses) will be more targeted.

2. Do...Know your USP. Just as every product you buy has a "Unique Selling Proposition" - or USP - so do you as a job seeker. You have a unique skill set that should be tailored to the job opening. More specifically, it should be customized to the company's culture and value proposition. 

Every department and firm looks at an applicant as a return on investment. Jobs can be created and departments restructured based on talent that emerges in interviews. So your USP should be communicated at every touch-point in the job search process. (Google BusinessWeek on USP for more on this.)

3. Do... Actively Listen. The old adage, "you have two ears and one mouth" has some value in the interview. You can miss extremely valuable nuances in the conversation if you're constantly thinking of the next thing to say.

By paying better attention to the hiring manager's verbal as well as non-verbal cues (body language), you can not only validate what's said - which is always appreciated - but you can better refine your pitch. Too many job candidates go into "sales auto mode," and into unrelated tangents.

4. Do...Try to Seal the Deal. Every good salesperson knows that it's okay to ask where you stand upon leaving. You can also ask your potential employer when a hiring decision is expected. You want to end the interview sounding confident - but not obnoxious or desperate. Follow-up with interest and enthusiasm, without irritating the interviewer (there is a fine line).

Promptly send thank-you e-mails to those who've interviewed you. Make sure names and titles are spelled correctly.

Definitely Don't

1. Don't...Lack R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha Franklin said it (or at least sang it): good old-fashioned respect is always deemed a positive among interviewers. Your delivery can be equally as important as what you say.

You cannot be too polite in the interview. For example, be on time; do not bring in your own Starbucks coffee and biscotti (go after the interview and get them!); offer a warm handshake; thank the interviewer right away for offering to meet you; and do ask if you may sit down. When speaking about your background, ask, "May I give an example?" Do not interrupt, and show interest in the interviewer, too. Always, say a hearty thank you at the end, and show enthusiasm, professionalism and a smile.

2. Don't...Be a Stick in the Mud. While it's important to show respect, it's equally important to show that you're a warm person with a sense of humor. People skills are highly valued to counter this increasingly high-tech, fast-paced business world.

You don't have to be a standup comedian, but if you're stoic it can be mistaken as a sign of arrogance. Some lightheartedness can actually make your interviewer more comfortable as well! Everyone wants to work with friendly colleagues.

3. Don't...Try to Overly Impress. Don't make the mistake of trying to impress by firing off lots of questions right off the bat. Otherwise, hiring manager may become defensive. Let them have the opportunity of leading the conversation, but have your questions ready. You can stand out by asking astute, knowledgeable questions when the timing is right.

4. Don't...Ask About Perks Early. Try to hold off on asking about compensation and benefits (vacations and medical) as long as you can. Too many applicants put the cart before the horse and appear presumptuous. During the entire interview, employers are evaluating your potential value to the organization from every angle. Let them guide you.

One more thing I always like to remind job candidates of is: don't go from the frying pan into the fire. If you're thinking of leaving your present job for a new one because your current manager appears to be a Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT) - a.k.a., a bad or childish boss - then please see the article from my last Psychology Today blog, "Job Seekers: Beware of the 'TOT' Zone." Be sure your next job is a great fit, not just the "next job."

Now you can rehearse probable questions and answers until you feel you've upgraded your sales pitch into a credible reflection of the very hirable you.