Some Interview Doozies and Don’t-zies.

I figure there are eight basic rules you should follow if you want to nail an interview. They go something like this:

Rule #1: Arrive Early
Arriving on time for an interview is simply not good enough. This is your moment to shine—to be at your absolute best. If the interview is set for 12 noon, arrive at 11:45. Make sure you are calm and put together. It’s a turn off when I sit down with someone who is sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News because they were rushing all over the place to get to our meeting on time. If you are running late for a meeting and you don’t call, that’s really bad. The interviewer will assume that the odds of you meeting schedules and deadlines as a future employee are pretty slim. And, perhaps even worse, it shows a lack of appreciation for the interviewer’s time.

Rule #2: Avoid offensive odors
One of the easiest ways to make a positive impression is by not making an olfactory impression. If you wear perfume or cologne, don’t spray it on when you’re getting off the subway or getting out of a taxi on the way to an interview. Also, when you are trying to impress an interviewer with your experience and knowledge, make sure that the interviewer is completely focused on the words—not on any offensive odors—coming out of your mouth. Carry a box of Altoids or some other power mint. Pop one in 5 minutes prior to your interview. Don’t, however, chew gum.

Rule #3: If you smoke, don’t flaunt it
I once had a candidate fly in like a freight train, apologize for being late, throw her stuff down, and toss a pack of Parliament Lights on the table. My immediate thought was, “if you were running late, what were you doing stopping for a smoke? And, if you found it necessary to have a cigarette when rushing to an interview, then I suppose you won’t hesitate to take cigarette breaks when you are under tight deadlines.” Smoking is your own business. Don’t flaunt it on an interview.

Rule #4: Use a firm handshake
Make sure your hands are dry like the Gobi. One of the benefits of arriving to an interview early is you have time to wash your hands. Upon that first introduction, ALWAYS use a firm handshake. A firm handshake gives off the impression that you are confident and self-assured. It tells the person you are meeting that you are leader and a decision-maker.

Rule #5: No Cursing
Prior to writing resumes and recruiting, I was a marketing exec. in magazines. A few months after having landed a great job at Seventeen Magazine, my boss told me that she was astounded at the number of people who cursed while she interviewed them for my job. Her interviewing style happened to have been one in which people would feel at ease, so I could see how one might slip a “shit” or two in (hey, I didn’t say you can’t curse while blogging!).

Some interviewers, whether hiring managers or recruiters, want to get a sense of your personality. They may let down their guard and develop a more jocular tone in their conversation. No matter how laid back the conversation becomes, avoid using four-letter words. Illustrate that you are dynamic without the potty mouth.

Rule #6: Dress for success
There are many different work environments to consider. Hiring managers make decisions based on capabilities, experience, personality and on how well they think you will fit into their particular office community. How you dress will give a hiring manager and/or recruiter an inclination as to where you might fit in culturally. For example, if you feel most comfortable interviewing in a corporate suit and tie, you might not fit in with an entrepreneurial environment that is more relaxed. On the other hand, if you feel at home in a sports jacket, button-down shirt and khakis, you might not fit in with the Investment Banker crowd. I recommend dressing neatly in what makes you look and feel best. You don’t want to get stuck in a job where you have to wear a suit everyday if you don’t even own a suit. Right?

However, that doesn’t mean you should come to an interview in a pair of jeans. I once had a young entrepreneur, meet me for an interview. He showed up with a pair of baggy khakis that were falling down, a button-down shirt that was not tucked in, and a backpack. I couldn’t even take him remotely serious.

I’ve had many candidates say to me, during the pre-screening phone conversation:“ I work in a casual environment. If I dress up, my boss will know that I’m interviewing. Is it OK if I dress on the casual side?” I always appreciated it when someone asks me this question. It shows that they are conscientious and concerned about putting their best foot forward. And, of course I let them know it was OK.

Rule #7: Use volume control
There are three kinds of talkers. Quite talkers, loud talkers and those that talk at just the right volume. At this point in your life, you are familiar with the category you fit into. If you have been told that you mumble when you speak, you should be cognizant of raising your vocal volume when you are on an interview. If, on the other had, you’ve been told that you are a loud talker, try to soften your voice when interviewing. Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language and response to you. Does she keep saying “what?” after you speak? Does she seem to be backing away from you? Adjust your tone so that the interviewer is comfortable with the dialogue you are trying to establish.

Rule #8: Turn off the techno-gear
If you have a cell phone or beeper, turn them off or put them on vibrate. Do not interrupt an interview to answer your phone. It shows a lack of focus and dedication to the interviewing process.

Two stories before I go that will probably make your jaw drop or go “ewww.” 1st, the “ewwww” story. Not too long ago, I had a guy come in for an interview with me in my NYC recruiting office. I work for a boutique firm, and it’s basically me and the President, who is also a woman. There’s one bathroom. This guy, comes in and immediately asks if he can use that bathroom. Aftewards, he sits with me for about an hour and then scurries away. I didn’t love the guy but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then I went to the bathroom. My entire image of him went down the toilet (pun intended). It’s not only that he left the seat up, even though he was using the toilet in an office of two women. That I could brush off with minor annoyance. HE DIDN’T FLUSH! Let me repeat that…HE DIDN’T FLUSH! I can tell you right now that I’ll never call that guy again.

Story #2 is even worse. This guy came in for an interview and for an hour did not stop talking. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. I like when a candidate talks but I don’t like when he’s manic. This guy was definitely on the manic-side (my boss thought he was on coke). Anyhow, I happen to know a former counterpart of his from a particular company that he worked for (let’s refer to him as “David.”). After blah, blah, blahing for a while, I asked him why he left that same company after such a short time. He had an entire roster of reasons for being unhappy. So many, that I began to have an out-of-body experience and my mind was thinking about everything but what this dude was saying to me. Then, all off a sudden, awareness of the here and now came slamming back with blunt force as this candidate proceeded to say “ Well, you know David, he’s just too Jewish and I couldn’t work with him.” Stop. Breathe. Did he just SAY THAT? Do I acknowledge that he said that? Here he is in NEW YORK, for crying out loud where Jews are not exactly a minority. Second, he was interviewing with me and my boss – a TURKEWITZ and WEINSTEIN!! What the xx!!@@## was he thinking?

So, if I were going to add rule #9, I’d say, “flush the damn toilet.” #10 — “don’t make dumb-ass prejudicial comments.” Then you should be fine..

Carpe diem


  • Liz
    February 27, 2009

    Thank you for taking the time to go through these important Do’s and Don’ts. I will always carry my Altoids in my purse from now on.

    As far as the stories at the end, all I can say is “Wow!”

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