7 Helpful Do's and Don'ts When Interviewing for a Job
For anyone who's recently experienced one of life's more soul-shattering and arcane rituals -- or as some like to call it, "looking for work" -- we don't need to tell you it's a ridiculously tough job market out there. And even though that often-repeated story about some fast food restaurants requiring a four-year degree from anyone who hopes to work a cash register turned out to be as accurate as the average online dating profile, that doesn't negate the fact that employers can afford to be way more selective during the hiring process these days.
That's why, once you've scored an interview, it's imperative that you do everything possible to give yourself an edge over the hundreds of overqualified applicants likely vying for the same entry-level job. With that in mind, a smart interviewee will take heed of the following do's and don'ts.
Do Know Your Audience
You may think that showing up to your interview ready to discuss your resume and past job experience is all you need to prepare yourself. It's the type of thinking that will ensure that you're free to sleep until noon for the foreseeable future.
"Eh, it's seven in Honolulu."
Being well-versed in your own personal skill set isn't enough. If you walk in ready to spew flattering facts and charming anecdotes about yourself but have no apparent background knowledge of the company you're hoping to join, you've seriously handicapped yourself right out of the gate.
Interviewers want to know that you care enough to learn about the company in advance. An encyclopedic knowledge of your own accomplishments shows that you think you can be an asset to someone. When you make it clear that you researched the company prior to your interview and still decided to move forward with the process, it shows that you think you can be an asset to that company in particular.
"So clearly I'd fit in with what you do in ... uh ... businessing?"
Rest assured, other candidates have taken the time to study up. You should do the same if you want to remain competitive.
Tip: Don't just study up on the company. If possible, learn a thing or two about the person (or people) you'll be interviewing with. Even if you keep the results of that research to yourself, familiarizing yourself with the interviewers means you'll be more comfortable when talking to them. Calm and easy to talk to wins over nervous and uncomfortable almost every time.
Don't Arrive Too Late or Too Early
Just like delivering a witty comeback or leaning in for that first kiss, when it comes to showing up for an interview, timing is everything. You'll need to hit the sweet spot when it comes to making your entrance.
Obviously, strolling in late is a boneheaded move. If you can't even make it to the interview on time, most prospective employers will (rightfully) take it as a sign that you probably won't make it to work on time either. Don't start planting seeds of insubordination before you've even been hired.
"The fashionably late thing is totally earning you cool points." -No interviewer ever
That said, arriving early can be equally detrimental. While you may think it shows enthusiasm, arriving 40 minutes early is just as annoying and unprofessional as showing up 20 minutes late, especially for the receptionist, who has to share a lobby with you in awkward silence while you wait.
"So ... remember Family Matters? That Urkel ... man ..."
More importantly, the hiring manager you're scheduled to talk with undoubtedly has other meetings and things to attend to during the day. When they're notified that you've arrived way early for your interview, they're going to instinctively feel rushed to wrap up whatever business they were handling at that moment.
Now think about how you feel when you're being rushed to do something. Is that the person you want holding your ability to pay your bills in their hands?
"Sorry, but I didn't have the time to put all of the numbers on there. I'll hit you back next week."
Tip: Time your entrance. It's a good idea to preplan your route to the interview and be aware of any potential traffic, construction, or mass transit delays. If you do arrive too early, instead of making a beeline for the front door and becoming an unscheduled nuisance, take a walk around the neighborhood or simply wait in your car and listen to the Rocky theme on repeat.
Don't Bad-Mouth Your Last Boss
While he may have been insufferable, you don't need to let on just what a royal piece of work your last boss was. Everyone has had a crappy boss at some point, and while we love to hear stories about them, it's a big mistake to regale your future employer with tales of temper tantrums, personal grudges, and the questionable tasks you routinely needed to perform. Save those glorious war stories for sharing with friends outside your professional circle.
"He once missed a conference when he got Paris, Texas, and Paris, France, mixed up."
In general, bad-mouthing of any sort toward anything is bad form in a job interview, but you're running a special kind of risk when you disparage your last boss. For one thing, the people interviewing you could very well be "bosses" themselves. Not every company has a gigantic HR department. If the people interviewing you also happen to be the people you'll report to in the event you're hired, entertaining them with tales of the explosive conflict you had with the person who last filled the boss role in your life will inevitably lead them to wonder what kinds of awful things you'll reveal about them in your next job interview.
"... and I'm 99 percent sure he was a Bronie."
Tip: To be on the safe side, extend the "no bad-mouthing" courtesy to your past employer as a whole. Relationships between employee and employer don't work out sometimes, just like any other relationship. Almost everyone has been there; making a big deal out of it during the interview process just plays as unprofessional.
Do Dress Appropriately
That sweet vintage crushed-velvet blazer you picked up on your last Macklemore-inspired thrift store trip is a great way to let people know you understand the power of dressing ironically, but leave the hipster high fashion at home.
"Whatever, this is my power velvet. I got this."
You don't want your appearance to give the interviewer any reason to believe you're less than professional or serious about the job. And this rule applies to more than just dressing like Willy Wonka. Go easy on the perfume or cologne. A strong scent can leave the type of lasting impression you are actively trying to avoid.
"With the right surgery, there's a good chance of you regaining your sense of smell."
Tip: It may be cliche, but dress for the job you want. Don't be too casual, but don't overdo it. Unless you're applying for a job as a balloon artist or hype man for a rap group, it's best to save your best peacocking garb for the clubs and other social functions.
Don't Act Like a Jerk
Are you a jerk? We certainly hope not, but on the off chance that you are, try to dial down the diva behavior for at least the duration of the interview. We already explained that incessant bragging about your past career accomplishments is a no-no. That goes double for talk of that free-throw contest you "totally dominated" last week. While you should use the interview to showcase your talents and strengths, make sure you don't go overboard on the self-praise.
"So with 152 Twitter followers, I'd say I'm a pretty big deal on the Internet."
Boorish behavior isn't restricted to things you say. Acting like you have better places to be is one of the many ways you're keeping yourself unemployed. Don't drape yourself over your chair like you're settling in to watch a Judge Judy marathon. Avoid checking your cellphone and sending texts during the interview. Even if you'd rather be home playing Minecraft, at least feign polite interest when you're told about the company plans for adding a new snack machine to the break room.
"Junior Mints and Chunkys? What's wrong with these people."
Tip: Be polite. Keep your focus on the interviewer and the conversation at hand. Make sure your posture and overall body language project a positive image.
Don't Be Desperate
We get it. You've been out of work so long that you are willing to say or do almost anything to get that job. But remember, everyone likes to align themselves with a winner. When you ooze desperation like a stray cat, you may elicit sympathy, but you'll do nothing to further your career. Make sure to avoid the following:
1. Overly fawning behavior. Of course, as we mentioned above, you should be polite. But when you start complimenting everything from the lobby carpet to the interviewer's tasteful choice of necktie knot, you dilute any authentic enthusiasm you have for the job.
"These are the cube-iest cubicles I've ever seen!"
2. Oversharing. In the age of reality TV, where disclosing an odd proclivity is celebrated with a TLC series deal, it's hard to remember that offering up personal turmoil isn't going to help land you work in the real world. You may gain some pity points if you reveal your struggles with lactose, but this will not get you a job.
"No pizza *sob*, no ice cream *sob* ... sooooo what's your benefits package like?"
3. Begging for work. This job may be the difference between eating yet another pack of Top Ramen or finally having the financial power to introduce the vastly superior Cup o' Noodles to your diet. Whatever threshold you're at, keep your dignity intact and do not beg for the job.
"Just saying, hire me and you've got your pick of two perfectly healthy kidneys to choose from."
Tip: Dial back the fawning behavior. Be sincere in your praise and keep conversations as professional as possible.
Do Clean Up Your Online Presence
Your friends may have enjoyed viewing your mud-covered human pyramid at Burning Man via the filtered magic of Instagram, but your future employer may have other thoughts on your hard-partying apres-work persona. To really be ready for an interview, you have to make sure your online social media accounts don't contain anything harmful to your professional image. And don't forget old accounts. Is that Myspace page you haven't thought about in years a photo essay of that Mardi Gras trip in 2006?
"How did they even get that much gumbo?"
Tip: Look through your accounts with the eye of a judgmental employer and get rid of anything that seems questionable. Remember: The Internet has a long memory. Make sure to hit up long-forgotten sites where you may have a presence.
Follow these tips and avoid the potential pitfalls and before you know it, you'll be punching the clock in no time -- or at least be in the queue for a second interview.