Job Interview Etiquette 101

Published: Mar 10, 2009

If you recently worked for Bear Stearns or are about to graduate from college, chances are you're frantically interviewing for jobs. The competition is steep, but good interview etiquette can set you apart from other applicants in a tough employment market. <p>According to a recent Vault survey, 59 percent of employers believe job candidates' manners have deteriorated over the past few years. Interviewers have seen applicants show up drunk, cry, fall asleep, put on lipstick, pick noses, chew gum and launch into inappropriate stories. Nineteen percent of employers say they've had interviewees bring along a child, and 43 percent have heard job-hunters use curse words. You know better than to act so atrociously, but here's some interview etiquette advice to help you land your dream job.<p><b>1. Dress professionally.</b> Most employers-87 percent- say they've seen job applicants dress inappropriately for interviews. Unless you're applying for a position at Hooters, don't wear a low-cut leopard print dress or skin-tight jeans. Proper attire differs depending if you're trying to get a gig at a fashion magazine or an investment bank, but it's better to dress up than to be too casual. "Even if the company is dress down, you want to impress them," says Debra Wheatman, Manager of Career and Admissions Services at Vault. She recommends a suit for men and a skirt or pantsuit for women. Leave your nose ring at home, and tuck in your shirt. As one former recruiter for law firms says, "It's all about polish and how your carry yourself." <p><b>2. Be prompt.</b> Nearly 20 percent of employers say they'd eliminate a candidate who was just 10 minutes late for an interview, so make sure you're on time. Even better, arrive slightly early, but no more than 10 or 15 minutes before the meeting. One employer explains, "We're all busy and don't need the distraction of someone waiting, especially in a small and busy office." If your bus breaks down or there's a fire on the freeway, call to apologize and explain why you're running late. One interviewee who got lost in an unfamiliar city and called for directions says, "After I was hired, I found out that the way I handled the situation resulted in a favorable mark, as it demonstrated adaptability and willingness to be accountable for mistakes." <p><b>3. Turn off your cell phone, or leave it at home.</b> Among employers, 26 percent said they've had a job candidate answer a cell phone during an interview, and 68 percent say they'd disqualify a candidate for taking a call during the meeting. One employer explains, "No matter how brilliant the interviewee, it would have an adverse effect on my opinion of them, short of a life-or-death family emergency." The same goes for glancing at text messages. One interviewer says, "It's not as bad as taking a call, but it lets me know they aren't completely engaged in our conversation." <p><b>4. Be curious.</b> Eighty-two percent of employers say it's very important for candidates to ask questions, and 16 percent say it's somewhat important. The type of questions you pose is crucial. Show that you know what the company does and what your expected responsibilities may be in the position. Also, ask the interviewer what brought them to the firm or what they like about its culture. In addition, there are certain questions you should avoid. Don't ask about money, especially during the first interview. And don't inquire if a company supports medical marijuana use unless you're trying to get a position with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. <p><b>5. Express your gratitude.</b> Eighty percent of employers say it's somewhat or extremely important for an applicant to follow up with a thank you note. Kristen Smith, a recruiter for RubinBrown LLP, an accounting and consulting firm, suggests sending a letter within 24 hours to show that you're really interested. If you opt for an e-mail, Smith says, "It should still be a formal thank you, not a casual note." Most interviewers feel an e-mailed letter is acceptable, but a handwritten, snail-mailed card will set you apart. Check your spelling and grammar, and don't use frilly stationery. Worried a snail-mailed letter won't get there on time? E-mail a note and send a hard copy, or drop off a thank you card with the receptionist later.<p>Finally, remember that interviewers can have bad manners, too. Job candidates mention that hiring managers have done everything from arrive late to send e-mails, eat lunch and answer cell phone calls during the conversation. Should something like this happen, take it in stride and show better etiquette than your potential boss.