The dos and don’ts of interviewing
There’s no way around it: Job interviews are stressful. That goes for everyone, whether you’re just starting out, changing careers or applying for a job you know you’re perfect for. After all, that interview is your chance to make a good impression, and if you don’t, you can pretty much kiss that job goodbye. That’s why you want to be as professional and polite as possible, especially since those qualities are among the first things your job interviewer will notice about you. The only problem?
You might not be as polite as you think you’re being.
That’s because while the general rules of etiquette apply here, there are a few others that are specific to job interviews. For example, you want to be polite when discussing your previous jobs … but you also shouldn’t sugarcoat things. “Most candidates strive to highlight their accomplishments and omit all the controversy,” says career expert Mariana Boloban. “Yet being overly positive about previous job experience shows a lack of self-awareness and honesty.” Of course, at the same time, you can be too honest, which can make this feel like a minefield.
Luckily, there are some easy ways to navigate tricky situations like answering common interview questions, deciding what to wear or asking about salary. We spoke to job interviewers to get the scoop on which ‘polite’ habits actually drive them nuts – and what to do instead. Here’s what you need to know to land that job.
Not asking any questions
It feels weird to ask questions at an interview. After all, you’re the one being interviewed, and you don’t want to seem like you haven’t done your research on the company. Plus, you don’t want to eat up too much of your interviewer’s time and possibly overstay your welcome. Especially if this isn’t the first round of interviews, you might say something like, “Your colleagues have answered all my questions.”
But Dr Neha Sangwan, a communications specialist and the author of Powered by Me, says that this response shows a lack of engagement and can indicate that the applicant is not taking the opportunity seriously. “Someone truly interested would likely ask several people the same question and compare their answers or use this as an opportunity to show interest in getting to know the individual in front of them,” she explains.
Do this instead: Ask the interviewer a question specific to their experience, such as: “How did you decide this was the right place for you?” or “What’s your favourite aspect of working here?” Or if you do have lingering questions, this is the time to ask them. You should also know how to answer every job applicant’s least-favourite question: “Tell me about yourself.”
Now discover and nail 15 of the trickiest job interview questions.
A formal situation calls for a few formalities. Your cover letter should be professional, your conversation shouldn’t be overly familiar, and you should keep some private details private. This is a job interview, after all! But the world has become increasingly informal, and being overly formal is an etiquette mistake too.
“You might think you’re being polite by saying Ms Jones or Mr Jones, but it feels stiff if your interviewer is calling you by your first name,” says Kelly Donovan, owner of Kelly Donovan & Associates, a job-search company. Aside from feeling out of sync with the vibe in the room, adds Boloban, “when a candidate is overly formal, it’s harder to connect with them, build trust and analyse if they match the company’s culture.”
Do this instead: Mirror your interviewer’s behaviour. “If you’re being addressed as Mr or Ms, you should address them with that formality as well,” Donovan says. “But if your interviewer is calling you by your first name, they’re giving you implicit permission to do the same.” If you’re still hesitant (old habits die hard!), Donovan suggests confirming by asking, “May I call you John?”