The Interview

You got one: Now what?

Whether you’re a recent college graduate, are reentering the workforce after raising children, looking to change careers or just change your workplace, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on the basics of job interview etiquette.

1) Do your research.

Not only is it a good idea to go to your interview armed with knowledge and information about the company to which you are applying — and the industry as well — it’s also important to know how long it takes to get to the office, how employees dress, and any other intelligence you can glean about the company’s culture.

You may want to make a visit before your interview. That way you can gauge travel time and avoid being late on the day of your interview. While you are there, pop into the reception area. What is the atmosphere? What is the attire? Are there brochures that could provide a bit of useful information?

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If showing up in person isn’t possible, you can always call the human resources department and say, “I’m interviewing for a job at your company. Would you please explain the dress code?”

2) Be the early bird.

Aim to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. This leaves you time to review notes, compose yourself and consider questions for the interviewer. This also allows you a little wiggle room if you get stuck in traffic. If you are running late for any reason, call ahead and let them know. However, it’s better to leave early just in case, even if that means you end up sitting in the parking lot for a while.   

3) Dress for success.

While not every workplace has a dress code, that doesn’t mean you’re free to dress down. Again, learn the company’s policy in advance and dress accordingly. For some jobs, this could mean every day is casual Friday, so a “dressy” jeans outfit is appropriate. In a corporate office environment, suits, dresses and traditional business attire is de rigueur. Always err on the side of dressing conservatively, and wear neat, well-fitted (not too loose, tight or short) clothing free of stains, holes and tears. Keep jewelry tasteful and minimal, and piercings and tattoos covered up. Makeup should be simple, and women with long hair should wear it in a style that’s tidy and not distracting. The idea is to keep the focus on you, your accomplishments and what you can bring to the job. This is not the time to try and make a statement.  

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4) Make eye contact and shake hands.

Both during introductions and farewells, it’s imperative that you look the interviewer in the eye and offer a firm handshake. If you aren’t sure about your handshake, ask a friend you trust for no-holds-barred feedback. If you have a weak handshake or one that’s too enthusiastic (you don’t want to crush anyone’s fingers), practice until you get it right. Even if you are shy, get comfortable looking your interviewer in the eye, not only during the handshake, but also throughout the meeting.

5) Show your appreciation.

Don’t forget to thank your interviewer for his or her time and consideration, both in person and in writing. An email followup is sufficient, but a handwritten thank you note could help you stand out in a crowd of applicants. Consider the industry and the interviewer and go with your instinct, keeping in mind that in high-tech industries an email would be better received, whereas in the nonprofit world, handwritten notes are still relevant. If you go with the latter, opt for simple, professional stationery. Keep it brief, and if you have terrible handwriting, get a friend to write it for you.  

Lagniappe: Remember, it’s acceptable to ask questions about the remainder of the process, like “What’s the next step?” and “How soon do you hope to make a decision?” These inquiries are expected and appropriate, but hold onto salary questions unless the interviewer brings it up first.
Happy hunting! 

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Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to



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