Every hiring manager has a horror story about an interview candidate who showed up late, chewed gum, told a crude joke, and offended multiple people during their short interaction with the company. You don’t want to be that horror story.
These interview etiquette tips will ensure you don’t make any social gaffes and instead come across as polished and competent on interview day.
What is etiquette?
First things first: what exactly is meant by etiquette?
Etiquette is a word that refers to the generally accepted norms for polite behavior in society. Think of it like a code of conduct. Etiquette dictates the actions, attitudes, and manners that are generally viewed as proper within a community. In this case, the community we’re discussing is the professional world.
You were probably taught many etiquette lessons from a young age, like chewing with your mouth closed and holding the door for the person entering a building behind you. A similar set of guidelines exists for the workplace.
Proper etiquette can be different depending on the circumstances. For example, you’d behave differently while having a fancy meal in a five-star restaurant than you would around the dinner table in the home of one of your best friends. This is why it’s important to understand the etiquette expectations that are specific to an interview setting.
Why etiquette matters in an interview
It makes a good impression
In a job interview, you’re being judged on your skills first and foremost, but the whole package matters. Using proper etiquette makes a positive impression not only on your interviewer but also on everyone you interact with on interview day, which can strengthen your overall candidacy.
It demonstrates professionalism
Hiring managers value soft skills like communication and attention to detail. Etiquette helps you embody these characteristics by showing up on schedule, thanking the interviewer for their time, and being prepared with knowledge of the company. These small behaviors add up to a strong overall image of professionalism.
It makes you seem easy to work with
You could be the best at your job, but getting hired and staying employed will be harder if you’re difficult to work with. Following interview etiquette shows employers that you’re easy to work with and instills confidence that you’d fit seamlessly within the office culture.
It communicates enthusiasm
Many etiquette rules revolve around how you present yourself. Things like dressing in proper interview attire, smiling, and speaking confidently demonstrate your sincere interest in and enthusiasm for the position, which hiring managers love to see.
15 essential interview etiquette rules
1. Come prepared
Researching the company and job ahead of time is essential in interview preparation because it helps you deliver more informed answers to your interviewer’s questions. But coming prepared is also an etiquette must. It communicates that you care about the position and value the interviewer’s time, which won’t appear to be true if you show up knowing nothing about the company or the job you’ve applied to.
2. Dress appropriately
Don’t underestimate the power of your appearance in making a positive impression. Dressing appropriately for the interview again shows that you’ve done your homework and are invested in getting the job. It also shows that you understand workplace norms and will present yourself professionally to customers, clients, and stakeholders.
This guide has a full breakdown of what to wear to a job interview in various settings and circumstances.
3. Arrive early
Being punctual is an etiquette standard that applies in any setting. It respects the other person’s time while demonstrating strong time management skills and attention to detail.
We recommend showing up early instead of merely on time because so many unforeseen obstacles can set you back a few minutes while getting to your interview. By planning your arrival for five to ten minutes ahead of your scheduled interview start time, you won’t be thwarted by an extra-long red light or a hard-to-find office.
If you’re chewing gum, spit it out before you enter the building.
4. Be polite–to everyone
Treat everyone you meet on interview day as if they’re the person who will be deciding whether to hire you. Aside from just being the upstanding thing to do, you also never know who could weigh in on your candidacy. For all you know, the receptionist you check in with could be the boss’ niece, and the person you share an elevator with could be the company’s CEO.
So, treat everyone you interact with with respect. Make eye contact, speak politely, and be patient.
5. Silence all devices
…And then pretend they don’t exist until the interview is over. One of the rudest things you can do is look at your phone while someone speaks to you. Avoid the temptation by putting all devices on silent and tucking them into a briefcase or bag until you’ve left the building.
6. Perfect your handshake
Humans have used handshakes as a form of peaceful greeting for thousands of years. In the age of the ancient Greeks, it was a way to say, ‘I’m not holding a weapon, so I don’t intend to hurt you.’ It’s a great message to send to a potential employer if we say so ourselves.
In all seriousness, a firm handshake communicates strong character and creates an instant positive impression. You should shake hands with each person you’re introduced to.
Here are some general guidelines for a proper handshake:
- Always stand for a handshake; don’t reach out from a chair
- Make eye contact and smile
- Extend your right hand with your thumb pointed toward the ceiling and your fingers outstretched
- Connect with the other person’s hand so that the webs between your thumbs and forefingers are touching
- Squeeze firmly, but not so hard that you’re gripping their hand, and shake one to two times from the elbow
In American workplaces, people shake hands with one another regardless of gender or seniority level. If you’re interviewing internationally, research online to learn the norms around handshakes and other forms of greeting so you don’t make an unintentional faux pas.
7. Start with a thank you
As soon as you can in your conversation, thank the interviewer for speaking with you. This is a great chance to express your enthusiasm and kick the interview off on a high note.
Here’s an example of how that might sound:
Interviewer: Nice to meet you, [YOUR NAME].
You: It’s great to meet you, too. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m excited to talk with you.
This allows them to take the lead on where the conversation goes next.
8. Use appropriate body language
It pays to be aware of your body language, which can speak volumes about your confidence and energy level.
Stand tall with your shoulders back. When seated, sit up straight and avoid leaning back in your chair. Angle your chest toward your interviewer and avoid ‘closed’ postures like crossing your arms over your chest. Maintain adequate personal space between yourself and the other person.
Avoid slouching, touching your face, biting your nails, fidgeting or fiddling with objects.
9. Make eye contact
Eye contact tells the other person, ‘I am listening to what you’re saying.’ Maintain eye contact for a few seconds, breaking it when it’s natural to blink or look down at your notes.
10. Minimize filler words
Avoid using “um”s and “uhh”s as much as possible. While they’re not as offensive as some of the other blunders we’ve mentioned, they can come across as unprofessional and can make you seem too relaxed for the setting.
It’s fine if the right words don’t instantly pop into your head. Instead of breaking the silence with filler words, take a moment to collect your thoughts before proceeding with a polished answer.
11. Avoid unprofessional and sensitive topics
Some topics–okay, many topics–aren’t fodder for a job interview. This includes the obvious ones like politics and religion. Still, you should also shy away from discussing things that could be viewed as frivolous, like your social life or relationship status.
Also, avoid saying anything negative about your current employer, colleagues, or boss. If you’re asked directly what you don’t like about your current job, try to speak in broad terms that don’t point the finger at anyone, for example, “I’m looking for more advancement opportunities than my company currently offers” or “I want a new challenge that will allow me to use more of my skills in programming/communications/accounting/etc.”
12. Practice mealtime etiquette
Sometimes, an interview (usually a second or third one) includes a meal. This opens up a whole new set of etiquette guidelines to abide by.
What’s Cooking America has a great comprehensive guide to mealtime etiquette for further reading, but here are some of the key behaviors that most people will notice:
- Once you are seated, place your napkin on your lap
- Wait until everyone is served to begin eating
- Keep your elbows off the table
- Take small bites and chew with your mouth closed
- Don’t speak with food in your mouth
If you’re at a restaurant, be mindful of the prices. It’s best to pick something in the mid-range rather than the most or least expensive item on the menu. Food that is eaten with a fork is preferable to anything that requires the use of your hands.
What about alcohol? That’s a tricky one. Some professional guidance advises never to consume alcohol during an interview, even if it’s offered and everyone else is partaking. Generally, though, if the interviewer orders a drink first and you feel comfortable having one as well, it won’t harm to have one–but only one!–drink.
13. Ask good questions
In a polite conversation, both people ask questions and listen carefully to demonstrate interest in one another. The same holds true for job interviews. At the end of the conversation, you’ll almost always be asked what questions you have, so it’s a good idea to come prepared with two to three thoughtful topics to bring up.
What about tough topics like money and benefits that are undoubtedly on your mind? We talk all about how to broach tough subjects during an interview here.
14. End with a strong goodbye
As the interview wraps up, solidify the positive impression you’ve worked hard to generate with a sincere and thankful goodbye. Stand up and shake hands with your interviewer again, thanking them again for their time. Suppose the conversation has left you feeling thoroughly convinced you want the job. In that case, it’s a great time to say as much with a statement like, “After our conversation today, I’m excited about the position and would be thrilled at the opportunity to be part of the team.”
15. Follow up with one more thank you
Yep, another one. It’s a professional courtesy to send a thank you note–email is fine–after an interview. Send one to every interviewer who was present and anyone else you talked with at length. Follow our template for writing a winning thank you email.
Etiquette is just one component of being poised and prepared for an interview, but it can make a big impression on the people you meet and impact whether you get that coveted phone call offering you the job.