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Job Interview Etiquette
Hello world, I'm here! World?… Hello?… Your diploma is a piece of paper, not a magic wand.
You can be born rich, but you can't be born successful!
—Richie Frieman, Modern Manners Guy
I love this quote for many reasons. For one, it's probably the single best reminder of how the real world works. Secondly, it's also something people tend to forget when starting a job. If it were up to me, this slogan would be plastered on the wall of every college classroom as a reminder that the real world—especially the professional world—is not someplace where you can simply rely on luck or your personal heritage to get you by.
Now, by "rich" I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about the idea that just because you were born into something or handed an opportunity, it automatically makes you a success. Success is earned, not given out like a free cake on your birthday or for reaching Gold status at Starbucks.
Sure, you can have help getting in the door (I recommend it!), but once you're in, you are on your own. Which school you went to, who you know, or how much money you or your parents have all take a backseat to what you can accomplish with your own two hands and that thing that sits right between your ears. Nothing trumps hard work. Period.
This chapter is filled with quotes, stories, and anecdotes from influential people in a wide variety of industries, all of whom have their own theories on what makes a person successful—from the way you present yourself, to the way you work with others, to how you travel, behave at meetings and dinners, and many other situations that shape the success (or failure) of your career. Those who rely on the achievements of others will never make it (I'm talking to you silver spooners!). Success is not like a hand-me-down piece of clothing that fits great on one person, so the next will look equally good. You can't give someone success in a pretty little box and expect them to maintain it once the box is open. Sadly, this simple truth is often lost on people who allow their egos to get the better of them.
Say it with me: "The world doesn't owe me anything."
In this chapter, I will take you on a tour of the ever-nerve-racking job interview, as seen from both sides of the table. So before you forget to iron that new shirt, arrive late to the interview because your alarm didn't go off, and say "Hey, man!" when you shake the interviewers' hand, check out my dos, don'ts, and please-don't-evers of proper job interview etiquette.
There is a reason why job interviews make people nervous. You should be nervous. It's a big deal. After interviewing a long list of industry bigwigs for this book, I've learned that they start reading (and judging) you the moment you walk into their office. Job interviews go way past your résumé, or the fancy college diploma you have hanging over your bed. The interview starts the moment you open the door. Every second is a test. And like a test, many people fail.
But the good news is that like a test, you can study for your job interview—and yes, even cram until the last minute—to make sure you are prepared. However, a job interview is different in that it's not for a grade, it's to see if you are really as sharp as your diploma says you are.
The Pros Weigh In: BARBARA CORCORAN
Real estate mogul, investor, and resident shark on ABC's hit show Shark Tank
Millions of people tune in each week to watch Barbara Corcoran take a bite out of investment seekers on ABC's Shark Tank. On the show, budding entrepreneurs vie for attention with only minutes to make a good impression on the sharks who can fund their dreams. Little do they know that before they even finish their first sentence, Barbara has already made a gut call.
But it's not just manufactured drama for TV. When it comes to business, many people (aka, the ones doing the hiring) use their gut instinct to judge the people they meet. Barbara told me about one particular situation when a job applicant came into her office for an interview:
We have a fairly small office with a staff of only six or seven people. So when you walk inside, you immediately see the workplace of the entire group. This job applicant came in early and the first thing he said to my assistant was: ‘I'm here for an appointment with Mrs. Corcoran. Would you rather I wait outside?' Outside? It was raining outside … I love this guy! He walked in, realized that he might be interrupting, and acted on it immediately so that we weren't inconvenienced—even though he had an appointment. Great, great move. I hired that guy. It was almost as if everything he said after that point was prejudice against the positive. I saw him through rosy lenses through the next hour and a half that I talked with him.
Whether or not the person likes you is going to be decided within the first five or six seconds of your meeting.
—Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and investor on ABC's Shark Tank
This story points out one clear fact about interviewing for the job—you are not hired yet. You have to earn that spot. When you step onto their turf, you have to swallow some humble pie and appreciate every second of their time. It's foolish to assume that you have any advantage over another candidate. Sure, sometimes you may share a mutual contact that got you the interview, or your dad plays golf with the CFO on the weekends, but at the end of the day a manager wants to hire the best person for the job. If you march in thinking you already own the place, it will surely be the end of the interview.
As Barbara says:
Whether or not the person likes you is going to be decided within the first five or six seconds of your meeting. So you really better watch what you say and do in those first moments. I very rarely change my opinion after that initial five or six seconds. You sit down, you exchange cordialities, and usually the person doing the interview has decided if they like you. They might not have decided if they're going to hire you yet, but they've decided if they like you. So you have to be very polished and think through how you come across. A lot of people think they have a warm-up period, but that's really not true. The biggest impression you can never take back is those first few seconds.
I know what you're thinking: "What the hell! Five or six seconds? I'm still freaking out about even being interviewed! And making sure my fly is zipped! How is this fair?"
Well, life's not fair and job interviews are a huge part of your professional life. So you better figure out how to make those moments count.
Thankfully, you don't have to go it alone!
The day of your job interview, I recommend pretending you are on camera from the minute you leave your house to the minute you come back home. This sounds bizarre but it's a practice for the big show, which should be the only thing on your mind. Because if you are not focused solely on winning over the interviewer that day, it will take a heck of a lot to fix that first impression.
Modern Manners Guy's Top 10 Tips for Job-Interview Etiquette
Tip #1: Recon and Research
You finally landed an interview, but before you step foot in the office, you need to make sure you will look the part you are applying for. But how do you know how to look like you're the only one for the job without ever having met your future coworkers? For this, I recommend doing a little recon and research.
Recon? Yes, recon.
Simply put, scope out the company before your interview. During a regular workday, swing by the office and simply watch as people walk in, either from your car or just stroll by. But don't wear a hoodie and dark sunglasses like some freaky pervert hiding outside your ex's house. Just act normal. Hold a coffee and your smartphone to blend in. Use this time to observe people walking into your future workplace for a half hour or so. Take notes on what they wear and if they carry a messenger bag or backpack.
For the interview, you'll need to take it to the next level. So if your new coworkers wear only dress shirts and casual slacks, then you'll wear a sharp suit. If they carry messenger bags, you'll bring the nicest one you can find. If they use a briefcase, go get one. You don't even have to buy one at this point, just borrow a friend's or family member's for the day.
As well, spend some time on the Web site to see how the company views itself … which ultimately means how they want their employees to be viewed. Most company sites feature an About Us page that shows information about the employees, if not photos of their office. See how they present themselves and take note. Whatever you do, do not try and flaunt what your momma gave you or wear a flashy outfit. Stick to classic, elegant, understated. No Lycra, no loud colors, and all parts of the body that would take a movie from PG-13 to R should be covered.
Tip #2: Don't Be Late
If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late. If you're late, don't bother showing up.
—Vince Lombardi, Pro Football Hall of Fame coach
A job interview should be the single most important part of your day. If something else is taking that priority spot, then chances are you will not be the best candidate for the position. Employers want commitment, not someone who thinks being a few minutes late is acceptable. It isn't. Ever. If you live far away, leave early to avoid traffic or public transportation snafus. "My train was delayed" is a juvenile excuse and you won't be taken seriously.
When you leave the meeting, you need to also leave a lasting memory with your interviewer. And if you think being late is okay, they will remember that. Don't ever think that you're the only person being considered for the job. There is always someone else in the mix. So when it comes down to it, the details are what will make or break your chances. And speaking of details …
Tip #3: Details Do Matter
Have you ever been to a party and met someone you liked and wanted to see again? For whatever reason, this person made an impression on you. But what kind of lasting impression did you leave on them? Did they remember that you too love karaoke? Did they remember that you both clicked on digging bad 1980s movies?
Well, the same thing goes for a job interview. When you leave their office, you need to ask yourself, "Was I memorable?" After all, in a sea of possible candidates, you have to stand out from the rest. Even if you think your diploma is the best in the world, chances are that's not what the interviewer will remember. So what will they remember? The details.
Here's how to make yourself stand out: During the interview, pick out something in the interviewer's office and comment on it when there's a lull in the conversation. That photo of him on a boat? Ask about sailing. The golf club leaning up against her desk? Ask how often or where she plays. A photo of kids or dogs? Ask how old or what breed they are (respectively). People love talking about their pets and kids so this is a guaranteed icebreaker. Choose something personal and then see where the conversational thread goes. Just one little question or action will make you more personable and memorable in a field of equally qualified (but unremarkable) candidates.
Tip #4: Dress for the Job You Want
The first impression will dominate regardless of how often it is contradicted by new experiences.
—Dr. Bertram Gawronski, social psychologist and author
A job interview is not the red carpet, but looking put together and professional is still critical. No one will ask you, "Who are you wearing?" And if they do ask you, and base their decision on your answer, then you don't want to work there anyway. (The only exception: If you're interviewing at a fashion company, then any fashion labels you're wearing may actually play a role in the decision. Otherwise, nine times out of ten, as long as you look well dressed and polished, that's the deal maker.)
According to noted author and social psychologist Dr. Bertram Gawronski, nothing you can do can take back that initial first impression:
Imagine you have a new colleague at work and your impression of that person is not very favorable. A few weeks later, you meet your colleague at a party and you realize he is actually a very nice guy. Although you know your first impression was wrong, your gut response to your new colleague will be influenced by your new experience only in contexts that are similar to the party. However, your first impression will still dominate in all other contexts.
Let's be honest, we do judge people by that initial first impression. You remember that blind date where the guy shows up wearing his "Everything's Bigger in Texas" T-shirt with an arrow pointing to his crotch? I'm guessing you weren't thinking, "Oh, what a catch!" Well, that same thing happens in the professional world. Your job interview is essentially a blind date and it's up to you to woo the interviewer and make them fall in love with you.
So when you walk into that meeting, you can guarantee that you are being judged right away. This does not mean you have to look like the cover of GQ or Vogue and splurge on a $5,000 custom suit. You do, however, need to take time to evaluate your appearance before you leave your house. This goes double for all you Mark Zuckerberg wannabes who think your flip-flops and zip-up hoodies say, "I'm a laid-back guy, just going with the flow," or the nonconformists who think wearing a suit means you've sold out. What it really means is that you'll look like a fool if you are not actively trying to impress your future employer. Sure, Zuckerberg can get away with it—he's a billionaire founder of a game-changing company. If he wants to dress like the Easter Bunny every day, he can. You, the one who is trying to land a new job, cannot.
If the interview goes well and you get hired, you will be a representative of the company both in and out of the office, so by looking the part during the interview, you show to that employer that you can make them look good. Every industry has its own unique style, which you will discover during your recon mission (see Tip #1) and paying proper attention to that is one surefire way to impress your future employer.
Tip #5: Iron Out the Details
What you wear says volumes. It shows how serious you are, it shows respect for the job and the interviewer, and it gets you ready to perform.
—Vince Rua, founder/CEO of Christopher's Custom and president of Suits For The Cause, Inc.
Regardless of how expensive or budget-friendly your outfit is, you'll always impress your potential employer by looking ironed, creased, and pristine. Choose your interview outfit ahead of time and send it to the cleaners to get a good press. And don't go the night before expecting it to be ready the morning of the interview. That's cutting it way too close. Manners go far beyond just what you say and how you act; it's also a visual language. So when it comes to that job interview—whether it's how you dress, smell, or comb your hair—always sweat the small stuff.
Showing up to a job interview poorly dressed, with messy hair, a wrinkled shirt, and/or mismatched clothes can reveal many things about you—from a lack of discipline or order in life, to just not taking the prospect of working at the employer seriously.
—Pranav Vora, founder of Hugh & Crye
One guy I used to work with took looking disheveled to an art form. It wasn't just what he wore or how he smelled—neither of which was good—this guy was consistently wrinkled to a point that it looked like his clothes were made of tissue paper and then balled up into the fists of a very mad person who used them as stress relief. Look, wrinkles happen—especially while you're in the car, the train, or even just carrying a shoulder bag—but if you choose your fabrics wisely and take the time to look crisp and creased, your future boss will notice.
Tip #6: Eye Contact
As a person who has dealt with ADHD his entire life, I'll admit I have a hard time slowing down my racing mind and maintaining eye contact. But when it matters, such as when I'm shooting a TV segment or interviewing celebrities, I make sure I'm on point and looking straight at the person I'm talking to. At a job interview, this is especially critical. Looking away when you speak, fidgeting in your seat, peppering your conversation with parasite words ("like," "you know," "umm," "I mean," etc.) tells them you are not comfortable and possibly inarticulate. And if you can't be comfortable in front of them, you will never be comfortable in front of clients or in a meeting with a large audience.
Keeping eye contact with the person in front of you is a surefire way to exude confidence and composure.
Try this: The next time you meet a friend for coffee or lunch, count how many times their eyes go away from you during that time. You'll begin to pick up on how annoying and distracting that can be to a conversation. While you're at it, try and keep a tally of how many times your friend uses parasite words. I bet you'll lose track after a minute or so. Once you start focusing on these words, you'll see how irritating they are.
Tip #7: Check Your Ego at the Door
By far one of the biggest mistakes you can make during a job interview is assuming you already have the job. When you're applying for a position, you're not in the driver's seat. Granted, you could be the smartest, slickest, most dynamic person ever to grace the earth, but you must not act like it. Not only will the interviewer see right through you, they'll also feel patronized and played and will probably think you're an ass. Oftentimes, people mistake arrogance for confidence. I can guarantee you that acting like you're the cat's meow will come across as annoying at best and patronizing at worst.
The Pros Weigh In: STEVE ABRAMS
Entrepreneur and CEO of Magnolia Bakery
Steve Abrams is a tough guy. I learned that the minute we started talking and I asked him about his career which, as he says, "went from construction to cupcakes." He started out in the hard-nosed construction and development business where attitudes, arguments, and egos were the norm. So when Abrams switched to cupcakes, purchasing the famous Magnolia Bakery, he was happy for the change in scenery and personalities. I mean, it's cupcakes—who can't help but smile when hearing the word "cupcake," right? I'm smiling right now!
Abrams says that regardless of the industries he entered or people he met with, he was able to crack their tough exterior to get down to business. It's just about finding the common ground and making that connection—key elements during a job interview, or the initial business meeting for sure.
I'm pretty comfortable with people in general. If you are meeting someone new, in their office, it's easy to look around and see if there is a common interest. They might have kids, they might play sports, they might have awards. The approach is different depending on the nature of the business you are doing.
Even though Abrams says he's quick to find that comfort in any situation, he's not so quick to tolerate someone whose ego is already ten feet in front of them when they walk through the door. In any job interview, you are being tested and any time an executive like Abrams has someone come to sell themselves or their product, they better be ready to react on the fly.
I'm not the kind of executive who has the time for the forty-minute Power Point. The minute you pull that out, you've lost me. Tell me what you're going to do and do it. I don't like a lot of chatter around it if I don't need it. You should be able to talk extemporaneously about the product and your services. If it takes that long you're trying to overcomplicate it or confuse me—purposely or not. I tend to take people off guard when someone walks in with this kind of presentation and I don't allow them to do it. It will tell me how they think on their feet, and also how they act in adversity.
Being inexperienced and at the same time arrogant is not going to get you too far. You have to be willing to learn and put in the hard work. That's how you can improve your knowledge and skills and learn to work well with others, which are key for success.
—Jonathan Monaghan, artist and animator
Tip #8: Don't Overdo the Cologne or Perfume
We've all been in a situation when we're approached by someone who is wearing enough "smell good" to last a month. And we all remember what a huge turnoff that is. Same thing goes for a job interview. You want to overwhelm the room with your qualifications, not your scent. Nothing should distract the boss from your résumé, including your odor—good or bad.
Don't get me wrong, you should definitely wear something to make yourself smell nice. But do it subtly so that you're not left smelling like you took a Calvin Klein bath. The minute you do that, your potential employer will notice it and they'll think "I can't send this person to a client meeting," and even worse, "I am going to have to smell this person every day." When it comes to scents, stick to two sprays of cologne or perfume. I'd even say spritz the second one into the air and then walk into it to minimize the damage.
Tip #9: The Sign-Off
When an interview is winding down, it's similar to being on a date. Who is going to make the first move to ask for date #2? How many of you have returned home from a date and kicked yourself simply because you were too shy to ask, "Can I see you again?" Ending the job interview works in a similar way. And if you don't make an effort to set that next date, you'll likely stay up late, waiting for that special someone to call or text—unsure if they will. Improperly closing an interview will leave you in a similar position.
Before you shake hands and part ways, you have to know what happens next. Not necessarily if you have the job, but when will you hear back. This is not bold or aggressive, it's simply professional. According to Barbara Corcoran:
I love an aggressive, polite close. It's the final chance for the applicant to earn my respect. And the perfect close is, "I really appreciate your time. When will I hear from you regarding this position?" If I interview someone and they leave and I haven't given them an idea about when I'll get back to them, they're not aggressive enough for me—in any job. That said, be careful not to go too aggressive as it can backfire. I have someone who works for me, a writer, and writers tend to be pretty introverted. After the interview, she asked me point blank, "Do I have the job?" A little rude for some people, but I had to respect her for it. It's an important closure question. It says, "I respect my own time."
Tip #10: The Perfect Thank-You
In a highly digital world, most people assume that a simple e-mail "Thank You" does the job. And yes, that's the fastest thing to do. And faster can also mean the easiest or the most expected. But being one in the pool of many, you have to stand out. That's why I recommend doing something bold: handwrite a letter. The handwritten thank-you note in business has become retro. It's like meeting someone with a vinyl record player in the house.
When you receive a letter, you think, "Wow, I haven't seen one of those in years!" (or maybe ever) and that's what you want. You want to be noticed, to stick out from the mass of applicants, to show that you took the time to compose something personal. Anyone can type out a thank-you e-mail during the walk to their car after the interview, but you have to put in a certain amount of time and attention to the act of writing. That means a lot to the recipient of your note. Plus, it turns out that an e-mailed thank-you may not even reach your intended recipient. Check out what Barbara Corcoran says:
People think that a CEO or boss will always get your e-mails. This is not true. Most of the time, my assistant gets my e-mail. So she may not forward that "Thank You" from someone and I'll never see it. But if you send me a handwritten note, that will always land on my desk. That's what makes you memorable.
Don't worry if you aren't the type of person who has your own letterhead. Any note, handwritten on a simple card is a lot better than the generic "Thanks for your time" email. When purchasing the card, stick to something simple and clean. Nothing spiritual, religious, or political. Nothing too funny or cloying. And definitely nothing sexual or laced with innuendo. An added bonus is if you are from out of town and send them a thank you card that is from your city, since that probably came up in the interview. Always mail your note the same day of the interview. They will see the stamped date on it and that will earn you even more bonus points.
The Pros Weigh In: VINCE RUA
Founder/CEO of Christopher's Custom and president of Suits for the Cause
Dress to impress. There's no set way to dress for every workplace. It all depends on the dynamics of the office. A good rule of thumb is to dress in the office so that you are prepared for any call to duty. You might be called to confer with a client, and that client might have on a suit, so you have to be ready. Keep a blazer in the office that looks acceptable over the outfit you are wearing. This takes some consideration, but you can find a navy or black blazer that can easily complement almost any ensemble. If you're in sales, you should dress one level above the prospect. If the prospect is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, you should wear neatly pressed pants or skirt and dress shirt. If the prospect wears business casual, you should wear a blazer or suit.
MODERN MANNERS GUY QUIZ
You walk into a job interview and find out that everyone in the office is wearing a three-piece suit and you are dressed business casual. What do you do?
A Panic! Run outside screaming mad at yourself.
B Go on with the interview and over-apologize for not dressing "up to par," making sure they know that you will ramp it up once you start working there.
C Ask to reschedule the interview so you can better prepare.
D Feel confident that you have a backup blazer/jacket in the car to throw on at the last minute.
D I recommend always having backup dress clothes on hand at all times. Keep a spare shirt, blazer, and pants or a skirt in your car (and once you land the job, keep a set in your desk as well). Stick with neutral colors like black, gray, or navy. You never know when you're going to spill or tear something before a big meeting. By having a backup, you will be able to keep your cool and remain calm, when others may panic.
The job interview is not the time to apologize for your appearance. The more you dwell on it, the more they will too and the interview focus will shift from your qualifications to what you did wrong. Just ignore it and move on.
MODERN MANNERS GUY'S JOB INTERVIEW TOOL KIT
1 PACK A CHANGE OF CLOTHES. Always have a spare pair of pants, a shirt, and a blazer, just in case you spill something or if the weather is bad. Keep them folded neatly in the trunk of your car or in your bag.
2 ALWAYS CARRY A BAG. Women, you have it easy. For you, bringing a bag to hold the essentials tends to be the norm. That's not the case for many guys. But whatever job you're applying for, always bring a briefcase or a messenger bag to the interview. If you don't have one, borrow one from a friend or family member. Make sure it's in good shape, and not the crappy one you used as a pillow during college study breaks in the library. This not only makes you look professional, but it also allows you the chance to store away your wallet, keys, papers, cell phone, etc. You don't want your pockets looking like you're trying to sneak snacks into a movie theater. That just screams "amateur."
3 PACK SOME SMELL GOOD. Yes, I said not to overdo the cologne, but a lot can be said for showing up to an interview after having walked ten blocks in the heat of summer smelling like … well, like you walked ten blocks in the heat of summer. To avoid this, keep a small travel-size bottle of cologne and deodorant in your bag at all times.
4 PACK BREATH MINTS/GUM. I doubt anyone has ever said, "Wow, that guy's breath smelled way too good!" But I will guarantee you they've said that it smelled bad. Keep mints and/or gum on you at all times. Don't ever go into the meeting chewing anything, but make sure you use breath freshener within five minutes of the interview and throw it away before you go inside.
5 THANK-YOU NOTES. A handwritten thank-you note can quickly put a "Maybe" candidate into the "Yes" column. Before you go into the interview, bring a note and a stamped envelope with you. When you're done with the meeting, fill out the card and mail it the same day. That way, it will arrive within a day or two of your meeting and solidify the good impression you left with the interviewer.
Copyright © 2013 by Richie Frieman