Interview do’s and don’ts

Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Jobs

We recently hired an entry level administrative assistant. Since I do not hire regularly, the process reminds me again of how simple things can go a long way to either increasing or decreasing your chances of finding a job. Since the position was entry- level, most of our candidates were recent grads. Thus, I am hoping this will be a good resource for recent university or college grads trying to find a job.

The format of the job interview was simple: two rounds of interviewing with 2 people present in each round. We interviewed 5 candidates for the job. As a general comment, any one of those 5 candidates could have been hired based on qualifications and experience. When you get down to a small group of potential job applicants, you are as much looking for fit as skill-set (and I would argue a pure focus on skill-set for a non-technical job is a poor way to recruit and maintain employees).

Thus, I would suggest that younger job applicants should not beat themselves up if they don’t get a job if they made the interviewing round. In many ways, a job applicant does not make it to another interviewing round or get the job not because they are not qualified or able. Instead, the employer is often looking for fit once you get down to the last few candidates (this was subsequently confirmed to me from a friend who is hiring a mid-level position).

In no particular order, here are my 5 do’s and don’ts of job interviewing based on my experience sitting on the other side of the table.


  1. Say you are interested in the job at the end of the interview or as a follow up. We disqualified candidates who did not say they were interested.
  2. Address everyone in the room. One candidate only addressed one of the interviewers and made no attempt at eye contact or engaging the other interviewer.
  3. Review your resume. We asked one candidate about an extra-curricular activity they had listed in their resume. They “forgot” what they did.
  4. Engage, engage, engage. The interviews that ranked lowest were the pure question and answer, back and forth formats. The best were the ones where a conversation flowed.
  5. Do not be afraid to relay a bad experience.  I think we have gone overboard on the “do not say anything negative in interviews” tip. We asked all the candidates the same question: “describe the types of personalities you like working with?” We got a lot of “I like working for everyone” answers which is a completely harmless answer but one that does not differentiate the job candidate from others. It is ok to say that you like working for certain types of personalities- it shows how you would fit in the office. Obviously, you do not slag the types of people you do not like working with but it is ok to show preferences in people, places and responsibilities.


  1. Nitpicky but this bugs me to no end. If we call you to arrange an interview, return the courtesy through a call and not an email. I find emailing when someone called shows passive aggressiveness.
  2. Just be nice- be positively memorable. I came away from several interviews thinking “well, that was a really nice person” but with no other impression. Funny stories, a general desire to work with the organization, great non-canned answers, these are the things I remember (many years ago, I hired someone whose every answer was straight out of an interviewing guide- just a little too polished. They did not last long and it is something I am leery about now).
  3. Take the opportunity to ask questions at the questions and comments part. We got a lot of “I have no questions at this time” when we asked if they had any questions. I would have been impressed if they asked me questions about the training we would provide, what types of opportunities are there for advancement, who they would be working with, a typical work day, why the interviewer went into the field of work they did, what types of events the organization holds outside work hours (a good peek at corporate culture), what the interviewers do for fun (great opportunity to ask that question is if they ask about your extra-circular activities) etc. etc. These are questions were the job candidate is thinking about how they would fit into the position.
  4. Fidget. One candidate played with my business card the entire time as most likely a sign of nervousness. If you are the nervous sort, do not put anything in your hands. It is ok to be nervous but if you are visibly nervous playing with things, people will notice.
  5. Forget to breathe. I find interviews tend to work at two speeds- too fast or too slow. Too fast is where they talk too fast and are rushing through the questions. Too slow is where they believe the interview is a question and answer session and each answer is followed by a long pause. I cannot stress enough that good interviews arelike good conversations- lots of back and forth, different speeds, different tones (yes, it is ok to appear emotional in interviews- see comment above about the bland nice interviews).

To my last point, I always say this: once you are past the HR stage of the process and interviewing with your potential co-workers, you have to remember that these people do not interview for a living- they sell, operate, practice, count, administer, build etc. etc. If you can turn the interview into a real conversation talking about yourself and them and your common interests, the entire process will be positive rather than nerve-wrecking.

Best of luck.

1 Comment on Interview do’s and don’ts

By Cristian on October 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Actually the correct spelling is “dos and don’ts”

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