Job Interview Do's and Don'ts
What to Do (and Not to Do) and Say During an Interview
To succeed in a job interview it's important to say and do the right things that make a positive first impression and convince employers you would be a good fit for their company. It's also important to avoid making major mistakes that could raise questions about your professionalism or competence and cost you a chance at getting hired.
Here are some do's and don'ts to help you optimize your chances for success at a job interview:
Analyze the job requirements and the employer and be prepared to share compelling reasons why you would be a good fit. Prepare and rehearse what you plan to say, including answers to common interview questions such as the dreaded inquiry about your weaknesses. Carefully review your resume and be prepared to discuss challenges and successes in each position listed in the document.
Do: Make a Good First Impression
Dress the part of someone successful in your chosen field. Make sure your clothing is appropriate for the work environment, fits well, and is neatly pressed. Greet your interviewer with a firm—but not bone-crunching—handshake and a warm smile. Sit up straight and lean slightly forward during the interview. Make regular—but not piercing or staring—eye contact. Show energy and enthusiasm through your vocal tone and listen carefully to each question before jumping in with a response.
When the interview is over, thank the interviewers for the opportunity and reiterate your interest in the position. Follow up with a letter, card, or email to each interviewer, expressing the same thanks and interest.
Do: Sell Yourself
Describe specific situations or challenges you have faced, the actions you took to intervene, and the results you generated.
Pay particular attention to how you have positively impacted the bottom line for past employers. Examples may include saving money, increasing sales, retaining staff, recruiting employees, securing funding, or improving quality.
Do: Ask Questions
Remember that you are interviewing the employer as much as the employer is interviewing you. Focus on questions about specific expectations and goals, both short-term and long-term for the company and for the position in question. Good questions help you to discover if the employer is a good fit for you, and they show the employer that you've done your homework and have a sincere interest in the company.
Don't: Be Negative
Never criticize any previous employers, supervisors, or co-workers during a job interview. This can raise questions about your ability to work well with others or to accept accountability. As well, don't fixate on your own weaknesses or treat them as hindrances. Be prepared to acknowledge them, but address them as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Don't: Fudge the Truth
Avoid the temptation to exaggerate when addressing your skills and accomplishments. It's important to put a positive spin on what you've done and what you can do, but it all needs to be truthful.
Being caught in even the smallest of white lies can raise questions about your character and fitness for the position in question.
Don't: Be Late (or Excessively Early)
Be on time for your interview, and remember to take into account that you'll likely want a few minutes to situate yourself, organize your notes, and maybe use the restroom. You should leave early enough to arrive at the interview no more than five to 10 minutes before it starts, but don't be earlier than this. Arriving too far in advance of the scheduled time can leave a negative impression and possibly raise questions about your time management skills or ability to follow directions.
Don't: Forget to Use Common Sense
Dressing or behaving too casually can raise questions about your professionalism, as can things like checking your cell phone during the interview.
If the interview involves a meal, never order an alcoholic beverage or select an entree that is difficult to eat gracefully. In general, follow your gut. If something seems like it would be inappropriate for a job interview, it probably is.
By Susan P. Joyce
A job interview is your opportunity to show a potential employer how you can shine in the role and at the company. Think of the interview as an audition for the job, and also as a “sample” of your work, because that’s how employers often view it. But keep this in mind—you’re interviewing the interviewers too! You need to get a handle on whether or not the job and the company are a good fit for you.
Below are the key job interview dos and don’ts to keep in mind. Job seekers who follow these simple interview dos and dont’s should achieve success in this uber-crucial phase of job hunting.
We’ll start off with the dos of interview dos and dont’s. First up? Gather all necessary and important information when you are invited to the interview:
- When you accept the invitation to the interview, DO be sure you know the name of the company, and request the names and job titles of each of the people who will be interviewing you (if they’re not offered). You’ll want to research the interviewers on LinkedIn. Displaying a little bit of knowledge about an interviewer’s professional background can go a long way toward making a great impression.
- DO know the type of job interview you will encounter. Ask, if the information is not volunteered by the person setting up the interview. (See Types of Interviews for Job-Seekers.)
- DO ask how long the interview(s) is/are expected to take so you can know how it will impact the rest of your day.
- DO ask for the street address of the interview location (and, if appropriate, the floor of a building, and/or office number). Also, inquire about parking and/or public transportation, if appropriate.
Prep for the interview well ahead of time:
- If you have a few days before the interview, DO take a practice run to the interview location, preferably at the same time you would be traveling on the day of the actual interview.
Be sure you know exactly where the employer’s location is and how long it takes to get there, where to park your car or get off public transportation, etc.
- DO demonstrate your interest in the job—and protect yourself—by doing research on the employer, their products and/or services, their competitors, their reputation, and their financial status (you don’t want to be the last person hired before the layoffs begin). Search LinkedIn, and search Google (using the News filter) to discover as much as you can about the organization, its management, and even their competitors. (See our Guide to Researching Companies.)
- DO prepare to ask intelligent questions about the job, the employer, or the industry. Having no questions to ask shows a lack of interest and/or preparation. Both are interview killers!
- DO practice answering the most common job interview questions, with a focus on answers customized for this employer and this job. Keep in mind that the employer is most interested in how hiring you will benefit them. (See our Job Interview Question Collections for Job-Seekers.)
- DO dress the part—for the job, the company, and the industry—and err on the side of caution if you’re unsure of how to dress (i.e., dress more formally than casually). If you’re not sure what to wear, consider reading our article When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success.
Make a great impression at the interview:
- DO plan to arrive about 10 to 15 minutes early. A late arrival for a job interview is never excusable. If you are running late, do phone the employer to let them know. If you arrive more than 15 minutes early, wait until 10 minutes before the interview to present yourself to the employer.
- DO turn off or mute your cellphone, and put it out of sight (unless you must use it to demonstrate a job-related skill or accomplishment).
- DO be sure to greet the receptionist or assistant and other staff members with courtesy and respect.
- If presented with a job application, DO fill it out neatly, completely, and accurately. Keep it “in sync” with both your LinkedIn profile and resume because they will probably be compared to ensure consistency.
- DO bring a notepad, in case you need to jot down anything of interest regarding the job. Also bring a copy of the job description, extra resumes, and your personal business cards. If you have a job skills portfolio, bring that with you, too.
- DO shake hands firmly, make eye contact, and smile when you are introduced to someone. Avoid having a limp, sweaty, or clammy handshake!
- DO wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. And DO remember body language and posture: sit upright with your shoulders back. No slouching!
- DO exchange business cards with each person who interviews you, or at least get their business cards (if you don’t have your own).
- DO maintain eye contact with your interviewer(s), and show enthusiasm in the position and the company at all times.
- DO avoid using poor grammar, bad language, slang, and pause words (such as “like,” “uh,” and “um”).
- When you are answering questions, DO focus on what you can do for the company rather than what the company can do for you. Stress your achievements and accomplishments, particularly those related to the requirements of the job, and mention what you learned in your research about their products/services, competitors, and the industry.
- DO ask your questions to determine if the company will be a good place for you to work, and if the job will be a good fit for you. Ask your questions throughout the interview, as appropriate, unless you are instructed to hold your questions until the end.
- DO your best to dodge the “salary requirement” question, if asked. Respond that you are sure the salary will be appropriate for the job (even if you aren’t sure), and that you’d like to learn more about the job before discussing salary. (Visit our salary tutorial for more tips and strategies.)
- DO close the interview by telling the interviewer(s) that you’re very interested in the job (if that applies once the interview wraps), and ask if they have any concerns about your qualifications or fit for the job and the organization. Also inform the interviewers that if they think of additional questions at a later point, to reach out by phone or email.
Make a great impression after the interview:
- At the end of the interview, DO ask about next steps in the hiring process—who you should stay in touch with, the details (name, phone number, and email address) for staying in touch, and when they plan to be back in touch with you.
- After you have left, DO take down notes (if you were unable to jot any down during the interview) on any crucial job/company details that you want fresh in your head.
- DO write a unique thank you letter/email within 24 hours to each person who interviewed you, and also to the person who set up the interviews (if that person didn’t interview you). And do know all the rules of following up after the interview.
Note: If you have a video interview scheduled, do read our Online, Video Job Interview Dos and Don’ts for Job-Seekers. For phone interviews, read our Phone Interview Dos and Don’ts for Job-Seekers.)
Now we’ve come to the next section of interview dos and dont’s. The don’ts represent a much shorter list, fortunately, because you’ll be so well-prepared based on the dos!
As you are getting ready for the interview:
- DON’T assume that you can “wing it” and be impressive without trying, or without advanced preparation.
- DON’T assume that an invitation to a job interview means that you have a job offer “in the bag.” That’s wrong and a big mistake and the farthest thing from the truth!
- DON’T arrive late. Let’s repeat that one: DON’T arrive late.
- DON’T dress inappropriately. If you’re unsure of how to dress (formal vs. business casual), aim for clothing that is a bit more formal to be on the safe side.
During the interview:
- DON’T eat, drink, or chew gum during the interview, and DON’T drink alcohol prior to the interview. Also, DON’T smoke before the interview—you’ll end up smelling like smoke if you do.
- DON’T answer cellphone calls or send or respond to texts during the interview. Keep your cellphone turned off and stowed away.
- DON’T inquire about salary, vacations, bonuses, retirement, or other benefits until you’ve received an offer. This is a very big DON’T that you can’t lose track of during the interview.
- DON’T act desperate, as though you would take any job with any employer.
- DON’T act disinterested in the job or the employer.
- DON’T say anything negative about former colleagues, supervisors, or employers, and DON’T offer any negative information about yourself, even if you’re being self-deprecating.
- DON’T answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Explain whenever possible. Describe those things about yourself that showcase your relevant talents, skills, and determination. Give detailed examples of your accomplishments.
- DON’T be soft-spoken. Speak clearly, and project confidence and preparation.
- DON’T fidget or slouch.
- DON’T bring up or discuss personal issues or family problems.
- DON’T respond to an unexpected question with an extended pause or by saying something like, “boy, that’s a good question.” A short pause before responding is okay. Ask for a clarification if you don’t understand the question or want guidance on what is an appropriate response.
- DON’T ever lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly, and succinctly.
- DON’T over-answer questions. Sharing too much information (TMI) can be more damaging than not sharing enough. Be sure to answer the question asked, and then wait for the next question, or ask a question of your own.
- DON’T tell jokes during the interview.
- DON’T ask the interviewers personal questions.
After the interview:
- DON’T forget to follow up immediately with your thank you notes (or emails) to each interviewer.
Now that you’re armed with these job interview dos and dont’s, go forward and rock your interview!
Looking for the old version of this article? Check it out here.
About the Author
Susan P. Joyce
Susan P. Joyce is the publisher, editor, and chief writer for both Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com.
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps (and two corporate layoffs), she has been studying, writing, and speaking about the online job search experience since 1995, building on her unique background in military intelligence, programming, technology, and human resources. A LinkedIn member since 2004, Susan has been teaching about how to conduct an effective job search through the social professional network for many years. She is a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and holds a B.S. in Education and an M.B.A. in Information Systems.