What not to do in an interview?
Interviewing Dos & Don’ts
Dress appropriately for the industry; err on the side of being conservative to show you take the interview seriously. Your personal grooming and cleanliness should be impeccable.
Know the exact time and location of your interview; know how long it takes to get there, park, find a rest room to freshen up, etc.
Arrive early; 10 minutes prior to the interview start time [or earlier if the event or employer instructs you to do so].
Treat other people you encounter with courtesy and respect. Their opinions of you might be solicited during hiring decisions.
Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, and have a friendly expression when you are greeted by your interviewer.
Listen to be sure you understand your interviewer’s name and the correct pronunciation.
Even when your interviewer gives you a first and last name, address your interviewer by title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name, until invited to do otherwise.
Maintain good eye contact during the interview.
Sit still in your seat; avoid fidgeting and slouching.
Respond to questions and back up your statements about yourself with specific examples whenever possible.
Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question.
Be thorough in your responses, while being concise in your wording.
Be honest and be yourself — your best professional self. Dishonesty gets discovered and is grounds for withdrawing job offers and for firing. You want a good match between yourself and your employer. If you get hired by acting like someone other than yourself, you and your employer will both be unhappy.
Treat the interview seriously and as though you are truly interested in the employer and the opportunity presented.
Exhibit a positive attitude. The interviewer is evaluating you as a potential co-worker. Behave like someone you would want to work with.
Have intelligent questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Having done your research about the employer in advance, ask questions which you did not find answered in your research.
Evaluate the interviewer and the organization s/he represents. An interview is a two-way street. Conduct yourself cordially and respectfully, while thinking critically about the way you are treated and the values and priorities of the organization.
Do expect to be treated appropriately. If you believe you were treated inappropriately or asked questions that were inappropriate or made you uncomfortable, discuss this with a Career and Professional Development advisor or the director.
Make sure you understand the employer’s next step in the hiring process; know when and from whom you should expect to hear next. Know what action you are expected to take next, if any.
When the interviewer concludes the interview, offer a firm handshake and make eye contact. Depart gracefully.
After the interview, make notes right away so you don’t forget critical details.
Write a thank-you letter to your interviewer promptly.
Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility for your decisions and your actions.
Don’t make negative comments about previous employers or professors (or others).
Don’t falsify application materials or answers to interview questions.
Don’t treat the interview casually, as if you are just shopping around or doing the interview for practice. This is an insult to the interviewer and to the organization.
Don’t give the impression that you are only interested in an organization because of its geographic location.
Don’t give the impression you are only interested in salary; don’t ask about salary and benefits issues until the subject is brought up by the employer.
Don’t act as though you would take any job or are desperate for employment.
Don’t make the interviewer guess what type of work you are interested in; it is not the interviewer’s job to act as a career advisor to you.
Don’t be unprepared for typical interview questions. You may not be asked all of them in every interview, but being unprepared will not help you.
A job search can be hard work and involve frustrations; don’t exhibit frustrations or a negative attitude in an interview.
Don’t go to extremes with your posture; don’t slouch, and don’t sit rigidly on the edge of your chair.
Don’t assume that a female interviewer is «Mrs.» or «Miss.» Address her as «Ms.» unless told otherwise. (If she has a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree or medical degree, use «Dr. [lastname]» just as you would with a male interviewer. Marital status of anyone, regardless of gender, is irrelevant to the purpose of the interview.
Don’t chew gum or smell like smoke.
Don’t allow your cell phone to sound during the interview. If it does, apologize quickly and ignore it. Don’t take a cell phone call. Don’t look at a text message.
Don’t take your parents, your pet (an assistance animal is not a pet in this circumstance), spouse, fiance, friends, or anyone to an interview. If you are not grown up and independent enough to attend an interview alone, you’re insufficiently grown up and independent for a job.
Things to do Before, During, and After Your Interview
An employer will invite you for an interview if they believe that you have the skills to succeed at their company. In the interview, they will seek to evaluate your genuine interest in the company and the role, your preparedness for the position, and your potential to add value to their team.
Your answers to the questions they ask will help them assess your skills, experience, and motivation.
Below, you will ﬁnd suggestions on how to prepare for the interview, show yourself in the best light during the interview, and follow up after the interview.
Before the Interview
Research the company and industry
Employers gauge your interest and motivation by how much you know about their organization. Do your research on the position, company, and industry.
- Reread the job description and think how you can communicate why you would be a good ﬁt for the position.
- Review the organization’s website and social media activity.
- Learn about current trends and events that might impact your future employer.
- Try to get insider knowledge of the organization by speaking with LinkedIn contacts, alumni, peers, faculty, family, or other contacts who may have a deeper understanding of the organization.
prepare the key points you want to communicate during the interview
Prepare responses around these themes so that you will be ready for a wide variety of questions.
- Why are you interested in this position? Evaluate how your past experiences (academic, professional, co-curricular, personal) have contributed to your interest in this role. Think about why you want to do this kind of work at this particular organization.
- Why are you a good candidate for this position? Assess for how your work experience, personal qualities, academic accomplishments, and co-curricular activities make you qualified for the position. Identify the transferable skills and knowledge that you would bring to the position. Be prepared to demonstrate your skills with examples using the SARA method (Situation, Action, Result, Application).
Practice your interviewing skills
Many people practice for an interview by writing answers to common interview questions. While organizing your thoughts on paper is helpful, you should supplement it with verbal practice, alone, or with a friend, mentor, or career counselor. You can schedule a practice interview with a career counselor to get feedback on your interview responses and presentation. We also host a Practice Interview Program each semester that allows you to practice and get feedback from a Columbia alum.
For independent practice in a virtual format, we recommend Big Interview, which you have access to for free through our office. You can practice answering interview questions by industry or job function, record yourself, and use their tool for self-assessment or share any video with a mentor for feedback.
The interview is also a chance to learn more about the employer and the position. Think about what you’d like to learn more about the role, division, organization, and industry. Identify questions to ask the employer that will help you determine if this is the right position for you.
Day Before the Interview Checklist
- Review your notes, resume, cover letter, job description, and company/industry summaries.
- For an in-person interview, know the route you will take to the interview location and how much travel time you will need. Build in additional time to ensure you will not be late.
- Prepare an appropriate interview outfit. Our Clothing Closet is a resource for students in need of professional attire for an interview, career fair, or professional networking event.
- Make note of the name and title of the interviewer or the person you will check-in with.
- Have the following items prepared: copies of your resume, a list of references, a notepad, and pens.
- Get a good night’s rest.
The Day of the Interview
before the interview begins
- Be on time! Aim to arrive at least 10–15 minutes early.
- Bring the supplies you prepared the night before your interview.
- Be considerate and polite to all staﬀ members.
- Put mobile devices on silent.
- Avoid any scents that may be distracting to the employer.
- Enter with a positive attitude.
during the interview
- Listen carefully to the interviewer and make sure you answer the question your interviewer is asking.
- Relate your skills, accomplishments, and objectives to the needs of the company.
- Provide speciﬁc examples when possible using the SARA method (Situation, Action, Result, Application).
- Focus on the positive aspects of your training and experience. You don’t have to apologize for any perceived lack of experience or background.
- Use clear and direct language. Avoid using filler words such as “um” or “like.” Make your point and don’t ramble.
- Maintain eye contact with your interviewer(s). If there are multiple interviewers, remember to engage with all of them.
- Be aware of your body language. Convey confidence and engagement with your posture.
- Observe the people and oﬃce space to get a sense of the company’s culture.
- If you do not have the interviewer’s contact information, request a business card so that you can send a thank you note.
After the Interview
- Send a thank you note within 24 hours of the interview. Check out a sample thank you note for inspiration.
- Evaluate your performance. Did any questions stump you? Consider how you can improve your answers for the next interview.
- Think about what you learned about the position and employer during the interview. Assess how the position would meet your priorities and goals.
- After a ﬁrst round interview you may be called back for additional rounds of interviews depending on the employer’s process. Check out our resource on what to expect at a second round interview to help you prepare.
- If a job oﬀer is provided on the spot, which is uncommon, it is appropriate to thank the employer and to tell them that you need more time to consider the offer. Ask about the company’s timeline and deadline for your answer.
- If you do not hear from the employer after the hiring timeline they initially indicated, follow up once. Call or email the interviewer or human resources contact. Reaffirm your interest in the position and inquire about the new hiring timeline.
12 things you should never do at an interview
The problem is, when you worry so much about making sure every little thing goes right, it’s easy to forget about the things that could go wrong. So how can you ensure that you have an embarrassment free interview experience?
Here are these 12 things all interviewees hope they don’t do on the big day, and how to avoid them:
Let’s face it, turning up late to an interview is never an option. It only leaves you looking unprofessional and unorganised. And/or sweaty. Use your trusty GPS device to plan your route in advance, and always add an extra half an hour onto your expected journey time, just in case. After all, the GPS has an extensive history of failing us…
You know how embarrassing it in when your phone goes off in the cinema? Yeah, this is worse. For your own interview safety, always remember to turn everything off before you go in. At the very least, leave it on silent. Especially if you have a questionable ringtone that could potentially cause offence or embarrassment – we’re looking at you, Vanilla Ice. Oh, and don’t attempt to check your messages or missed calls on-the-fly either. Recruiters are understanding, but they’re not idiots.
The formality of your speech is partly dependent on the role you’re going for and the type of company they are. But as a general rule, we’d avoid using slang. Remember: although you should feel comfortable around your interviewers, they’re not your best friends just yet. Mate’s, bro’s and bae’s are never appropriate. Obvs.
Being confident in your abilities and expressing why you’re the right fit for a role is fine, but don’t overdo it. There’s a fine line between wanting the job and seeming entitled to it. It’s okay to talk about your previous achievements, and ask about potential promotions within the role, but it’s not okay to tell the interviewer that you want their job. Because nobody likes a show-off…
Interview outfit etiquette isn’t exactly set in stone, but there is one simple rule to remember: it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Try your outfit on beforehand, make sure everything fits, sort out any accessories. After all, the last thing you want to do is spend hours before an interview trying to find your other black sock or a pair of tights without a rip in them. Interview outfit tip: trackie bottoms are never acceptable.
OK, so your favourite mug went missing and you’re heartbroken. We get it. But even if you’re 100% sure it was probably Tim from Accounts who took it, an interview probably isn’t a good time to start voicing all of the feels. Avoid the temptation to express how much you dislike your current boss, or complain about your colleagues, and be as positive as possible. Sound like a team player, not someone who holds a grudge.
Everyone tells little white lies and over-exaggerates at interviews, right? This might be true, but it’s risky business, and it rarely works out for the best. You’ll only end up stumbling over yourself when asked to elaborate your story, and there’ll be tell-tale signs from your body language that could give it all away. So be honest about your genuine achievements and experience, and it will work in your favour. And if not? Get ready for the most awkward first day ever when you eventually get the job and you have to reveal that you can’t actually speak Portuguese.
Or anything else that implies boredom. You won’t be taken seriously if you’re constantly yawning, sitting so low in your chair that you’re practically on the floor, or generally looking like you’d rather be in bed. Be aware of your body language and stay focussed throughout, listening politely to what the interviewer has to say and remaining positive and enthusiastic. Oh, and conscious. That too.
It’s important to wait your turn to speak, and not interrupt your interviewers mid-speech. It might seem like a good idea to express your enthusiasm by constantly chatting, but only do this when the ball’s in your court. Sit patiently and listen to what they have to say. The last thing you want is to go on to ask a question they’ve already answered, or have absolutely no understanding of the role because you were too busy daydreaming about what you’re going to have for dinner that evening.
You want the job because you need money, that’s a given. It’s a life need. But you should also want it for other reasons like, you know, you’d actually be good at and/or enjoy it. These are what will impress the interviewer and make them more likely to consider you. Personal financial issues aren’t an interview friendly topic either, so keep it professional, and only mention the M word if your prospective employer asks about salary expectations – and then, be sensible with what you ask for.
Don’t apologise for a lack of experience or an inability to answer a question straight away, especially if you’re saying ‘sorry’ repeatedly. This will indicate a lack of confidence and suggest you’re unsure of your capabilities. There are some things, however, that do need an apology. N.B. accidently calling your interviewer Mum falls firmly within this category.
The worst thing you can do at an interview?
OK, so out of all the classic interview nightmares, which are the ones that really worry jobseekers the most?
We spoke to a group of university students to find out – and see if recruiters actually agree…
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