Interviewing with Style, Part 2

August 21, 2014


Last week’s blog posting should help you prepare for your on-campus interview. This week I’ll address five things you need to know as you head into your job interview as well as appropriate follow-up.

1. Listen, Respond, Ask

Throughout the interview, listen carefully to each question you receive. Take just a moment to formulate your thoughts. Then deliver your response in a polite manner.

Certain questions are out of bounds, including questions unrelated to the job for which an employer is hiring. Questions about race, sex, national origin, birthplace, age, disability and marital or family status are illegal. Should you receive a question about one of these topics, try to gracefully redirect the conversation. Alternatively, consider answering the “intent” of the question. For example, if someone asks whether you are a United States citizen—a question that is permissible—you might reply, “I’m authorized to work in the United States.”

Do carry some questions to an interview. Employers tell me they immediately eliminate from consideration any job candidate who does not ask questions. In their minds, a lack of questions indicates a lack of genuine interest in the position. Obviously, these questions should not include inquiries like: How soon can I take my first vacation? When can I expect my first raise? If I don’t use all my sick days, will I lose them?


2. Know table manners

Many prospective employers invite job candidates to an interview meal. Remember this meal is a continuation of the interview. Even if the temperature outside hovers around 110 degrees in the shade, as long as your interviewer continues to wear her jacket, you should keep your suit coat or jacket on, too. And while the conversation you encounter may be slightly more relaxed than the formal interview, you must continue to speak in a business-appropriate manner.

Once you are seated, choose menu options that you know how to eat—an interview meal is not the time for experimentation—and that you can eat neatly. When you initially scan the menu, avoid the least and most expensive options. In terms of the number of courses you should order, mirror your host or hostess. If he or she orders both an appetizer and an entrée, no matter what your hunger level is, you should do the same.

Most employers tell me they schedule interview meals in part to observe how job candidates interact with waitstaff. They believe that the job candidate who acts dismissively toward the waitstaff will likely act in a similar manner with office support staff. You will never err by saying “please” and “thank you” to the people who serve you.


3. Manage callback interview receptions

Some organizations invite job candidates to extensive callback interviews. These often occur over a Friday and Saturday, and may include a social component. The latter affords employers the opportunity to see how prospective job candidates perform outside the formal interview setting.

As a job candidate, prepare for interview receptions in the same manner as you prepare for the interview. Contact the recruiting team and request a list of potential guests. Research every guest looking for shared history and interests. Prepare some questions that you can ask any other attendee. For example: What do you like most about working at the firm? How long have you been employed by the company? What’s the most exciting project you’ve tackled?

Prior to attending the reception, eat a small snack. This will help ensure you don’t arrive feeling half-starved, always a possibility after a long day of interviews.

When you arrive, request a beverage and hold it in your left hand, keeping your right hand available for handshakes. Then, immediately start to “work” the room. Introduce yourself to other guests and engage in interesting conversations.


4. Limit alcohol consumption

Everyone knows not to drink too much at an interview meal or reception. Becoming tipsy in front of a prospective employer is a bad idea. The concern job candidates more frequently raise is this: Should I try to keep up with my host? If they move on to a third and fourth cocktail or glass of wine, won’t I look like a wet blanket if I don’t join in?

Here’s what I recommend:

  • At a post-interview lunch, skip alcohol altogether. Stick with fruit juice, soda, iced tea or water as your beverage of choice.
  • At a post-interview dinner, skip high-octane cocktails, which may affect your good judgment. If you choose to drink, nurse one glass of wine throughout the entire meal.
  • At a callback reception, don’t lose your focus. I’d prefer that you stick with fruit juice, soda and water. However, if you decide on a glass of wine, be sure to nurse it throughout the event.
  • If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages, don’t feel pressured to do so.

When someone encourages you to enjoy a second or third glass of wine, simply state, “Thanks very much for the offer. I still have (some studying to tackle or emails to return or a project I need to address) later tonight. I need to make sure I stay focused.” If the pressure continues, allow waitstaff to refill your wineglass, and just don’t take another sip.


5. Express your thanks

You know you should express your appreciation for an interview. Email allows you to express gratitude quickly, while a handwritten thank-you note makes your expression more memorable—especially in a world where many professionals receive hundreds of emails daily.

Email or snail mail, which is better? Try both. The day of your interview, send an email to everyone with whom you met that begins: “I’ll send a more appropriate thank you via mail, but I wanted to immediately express my appreciation for your time today.” Then remark on something you discussed in the interview.

Within 48 hours, follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.

Unless you know that texting is an interviewer’s preferred method of communication, please never text your thanks for an interview. Should you disregard this advice, avoid any texting abbreviations or unusual spellings that the recipient may not understand.


What You Need To Know

Succeeding at a job interview requires a fundamental knowledge of business etiquette.



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