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12 Tips for a Successful Interview

September 15th, 2011 · 14 Comments

Receptionist Georgia Enty routinely calls me when I have a visitor arrive for an appointment.  I usually tell her I will be right out to greet the guest, but one day she told me to take my time.  When I arrived in the lobby, she and the guest were deeply engaged in an animated conversation I was reluctant to interrupt.

When I brought the guest back to the lobby, he and Georgia finished their conversation.  Later that afternoon, Georgia told me he was the most impressive job applicant ever to visit the office.  This unexpected third-party endorsement carried considerable weight as we determined if the candidate would be invited back for a follow-up interview.  He eventually received an offer and landed a job at the agency.

Moral to this story:  Treat everyone with respect during every aspect of the job search.  Georgia notes that a majority of applicants politely introduce themselves, but sit quietly on the couch as they await their interviews.  By the way, in her experience, male applicants generally are more talkative than women.  Georgia isn’t necessarily looking for a prolonged dialogue, but those who share relevant small talk are showing her respect that she notices and appreciates.

Besides properly greeting people, perhaps these additional 12 tips for job interview etiquette will help you navigate the interview process from door to door.

1.  Do not over-caffeinate before the interview
It speeds up your conversation and often makes you come off as overly nervous.

2.  Arrive 10 minutes early
Better to sit in the lobby and wait than be late. Use the extra time to practice mental relaxation exercises and dry sweaty hands. Do a test run prior to the day of the appointment if you have not been there before. One applicant last year was nearly an hour late for an interview, so she only managed to meet one of the three people scheduled to interview her. She did not get the job.

3.  Dress for the occasion
Even if you have been told it is a business casual environment, dress a level above what is expected.

4.  Do your homework
Study the firm’s website so you become familiar with the business. I quickly dismissed an applicant after she said she always wanted to work for an ad agency, clearly missing the point she was interviewing with a public relations firm.

5.  Assume everyone you encounter may have a vote in the hiring process
Georgia proved that point.

6.  Make solid eye contact
Smile with your eyes when you greet people.

7.  Ensure a firm handshake
Practice with family and friends because you do not want to crush anyone’s hand. An overly firm handshake, however, is rare.

8.  Sit up straight
Good posture says you are paying attention and showing respect.

9.  Engage the interviewer in conversation
Do not wait for them to ask all the questions.

10.  Be prepared with thoughtful questions
Be ready to be asked the proverbial final question: “So what questions do you have for us?” A memorable question will stand out and let them know you cared enough to study up on their business.

11.  Jot down the names of all people you meet
I have often asked candidates whom they have already met, and I am amazed with how many cannot recall the names of people who had just interviewed them. When the interview is arranged, be sure to ask for a list of people you are going to meet and their titles. And be sure to do a Google search on each of them, which will help you engage in conversation.

12.  Send follow-up notes
It is okay to send via email, but hand-written notes get the most attention.

This post also appears in the current issue of FORUM, the publication of the Public Relations Student Society of America.   

Tags: Job Search

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Urkovia Andrews // Sep 15, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for the tips. I look forward to sharing them with others.

    Just wanted to say I had a boss, who, after every potential job candidate, would always ask her assistant what she thought about the candidate. When I asked my then boss about why she did this, she responded about how it shows a persons true character as she wanted someone who could work well with all individuals, despite their job title. It was a great lesson.

  • 2 Rob Biesenbach // Sep 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

    This is a good list. I would also add that it’s important to let your personality show through in an interview. Companies can find any number of qualified candidates — especially in the current environment — and ultimately they will go with someone who they could imagine spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day working with. Don’t go overboard, of course, but try to achieve some chemistry with the interviewer. Be engaging, show energy, have a little something to say about your passions outside the office.

  • 3 Ben Sailer // Sep 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Solid tips. I’m currently job hunting and this is definitely timely advice.

  • 4 Megan // Sep 16, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I love that you told a story about your receptionist/secretary helping in choosing a job candidate. I had a teacher once who emphasized the importance developing a good impression with secretaries (or gatekeepers as she called them!) I also find it relaxes me to hold a conversation with someone while I wait for a meeting or interview – better the secretary than anyone else! Thanks for the tips!

  • 5 Bethany Parry // Sep 16, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I absolutely adore these tips. They are simple but refreshing and make all the difference in the world. As a senior in college, having tips with such a positive light makes me less nervous about my job interviews in the near future. A lot of interview tips I seem to receive carry such a scary tone unlike this one.

  • 6 Kristin M // Sep 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    These are great tips. Number 11 is particularly helpful to me. I’ve never thought to get names before I actually get to the interview, and I think it could be very helpful when prepping. As far as follow-up notes go, is there any recommended time frame for sending one, or should it just be immediately following the interview?

  • 7 Culpwrit // Sep 18, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Yes, follow-up notes should be sent immediately. I was in the lobby of an agency recently and overheard two people talking about the thank-you notes they received from an applicant who had been there the day before. They were impressed with the speed at which the candidate had written and mailed the notes. Follow through and speed are highly valued qualities in PR.

  • 8 Caleb Lallement // Sep 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Most of these tips I have heard multiple times throughout my college career. However, there are a few new ones that have never even crossed my mind. I like the idea of creating casual conversation with the receptionist. Not only does it show respect to that person, but I would like to add that when the interviewer comes out of their office and notices that you creating conversation, they may think that you are easy to talk to and open to meeting new people (a trait that may be useful in your company).

    I also like the point about writing down everyone that you meet in the interview. I don’t know how many times I meet people and then can’t remember their name the next time I see them. This sort of poses a question at the same time though. Should I take notes during the interview? I have never done so before and I wonder if it would be considered rude to take notes.

  • 9 Culpwrit // Sep 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Caleb: Thanks for your comment. Good point about others observing your conversation with the receptionist. Most hiring managers don’t mind if you take notes–especially if they are doing so themselves. Another way to be sure to get names and email addresses is to ask for their business cards. That exchange can come during your initial introduction or upon completion of the interview.

  • 10 Heather Caldwell // Sep 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    These are all great tips! The story about your receptionist will really make people think about respecting and engaging many people at a company they are applying at. I think it really shows that impressing everyone, not just the interviewer can have a great impact on whether they get the job or not.

    On a different note, I am new to following your blog and am finding it to be informative and interesting. I would love to see a post geared to someone wanting to get into the pr field but has been working in a non-related field for several years.

  • 11 Culpwrit // Sep 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Heather: Welcome to Culpwrit. And thanks for the excellent blog post suggestion, which I’ll tackle in the next week or so.

  • 12 Molly // Sep 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    These tips are wonderful! This past summer to receive credit for my internship through my university one thing we had to do interview our supervisor. One question I asked her was, what characteristics do you look for in a successful intern and/or employee to work in this organization?

    My supervisor hit on your 9th tip when she explained characteristics she looks for. “When interviewing someone I can usually tell within the first three minutes if I know I will hire them. When they walk into the interview if they act confident, are organized, and I can have casual dialogue with them then that is a good sign. If you cannot have casual dialogue with someone than they cannot succeed in business because you have to be able to communicate.”

    It was good to see that tip to know other people in the industry find that important when looking for a job.

  • 13 Brynne // Sep 21, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I find all of your posts very helpful! I did an internship this summer where they were hiring a receptionist. The boss came down and asked all of us (even me, the intern) which candidate we liked best. It is very important to make a good impression with everyone you meet.

  • 14 Caleb Lallement // Sep 25, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I appreciate the insight on how to acquire that information. I will definitely use these hints in my future.

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