When you’re interviewing, do you ever wonder what the interviewer is thinking? Most of us leave an interview hoping that we’ve left a positive impression and looking forward to the possibility of landing the role. Beyond your skills and experiences that make you the right candidate for any role for which you may apply, how well the hiring manager likes you is weighed heavily when decisions are being made. While likability isn't necessarily more important than competence, being likeable will give you an edge over your competition. Most employers hire those they like most, not always the candidate with the best qualifications. Being able to present yourself as polished, professional, and friendly are facets of interview etiquette that can mean the difference between getting the job and getting passed over.
What do interviewers take note of while conducting an interview?
Interviewers focus on several different elements simultaneously during an interview, but the initial perception is candidate appearance aligned with body language and communication abilities.
Interviewers are making a first impression decision about you based on the following:
Consider asking your contact (the recruiter or HR manager) directly -- or as a last resort calling the office’s front desk beforehand -- to get information on what the office dress code is; then plan on wearing something slightly better.
Always dress one or two levels above your desired position. It is always better to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Dressing professionally sends a message that you are serious and care. If you notice that everyone in the office is dressed very casually, dress a little less formal when you come back for a second interview or have another networking meeting, but always appear organized and polished even if it’s Casual Dress Friday.
Job interview attire for men:
- A navy or dark gray wool suit, tie and a white or light blue dress shirt. For a more casual environment, a sport coat, dress shirt and trousers.
- Leather belt and shoes, either black or brown; always match leathers.
- Match metals on glasses, belt buckle and watch; either gold or silver.
- All clothing must be tailored to fit well, especially jackets and pants; avoid ill-fitting clothing.
Job interview attire for women
- A knee-length skirt or slacks paired with a blouse and jacket; a conservative dress; or separates of jacket, blouse or sweater with skirt or slacks.
- Clean, styled hair pulled back off the face with polished day-makeup.
- Shoes with a two or three-inch heel max, bare legs are allowed in warm weather, however not in very conservative industries - be sure to consider this.
- A few good-quality, tasteful accessories. Always err on the side of a more conservative look for interviews. Nothing flashy or flirty. Cleavage is inappropriate for an interview (and in business situations in general).
Arriving late is a serious slip-up, but showing up too early is also frowned upon. Plan on showing up no more than five to 10 minutes before the appointed time. A little trick to ensure you hit these marks is to leave extra early and find the building/area. Then go to a local coffee shop or hang out in your car listening to music and practicing interviewing until you hit the five-10 minute sweet spot.
There’s a saying “I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.” It’s true! Being late can be detrimental to your candidacy.
What if the interviewer is late? This is a tricky one so I tend to promote leaving a good amount of time in between scheduling other events on interviewing days. While it is bad business to be running late, it does happen and is forgivable (on both sides). At the 20-30 minute mark is the sweet spot to inquire with either the front desk or through an email/text message. Usually at this point you would receive a response that gives insight into the situation (a prior meeting is running over or the interviewer hit traffic or something along those lines). If you do not receive a response, try again at the hour mark and politely articulate that if you do not hear back from anyone in 15 minutes you will be leaving as you are not sure what is going on.
You have 5 seconds to make a first impression in most situations.
- Look people in the eye and smile.
- Use a firm handshake. Limp handshakes can indicate disinterest and lack of self-esteem. Too strong of handshakes can indicate control and dominance. A handshake should be firm, with both persons' hands in the straight-on alignment, last about three to four seconds and include three pumps. When the interviewer comes to greet you, stand up (if sitting) to shake hands so you and the interviewer are on the same level and introduce yourself to get off on the right foot.
- Appear approachable. Thinking positive has immediate effects! Think happy thoughts and be sure to smile when you’re meeting the interviewer and when it’s appropriate during the actual interview. Positive, warm people who seem easy to get along with have more success in getting second interviews and ultimately offers.
Your body language
Avoid body positions like crossing your arms, excessive hand gestures and distractions like tapping your feet or twiddling your thumbs. Also be aware of if you are playing with jewelry or twisting your hair. You don’t want to appear too nervous or intimidated.
Be mindful of your posture: stand tall and/or sit up straight, shoulders back to appear confident. Bad posture can make you appear uninterested and tired.
When sitting do not cross your legs. You want to sit up straight, both legs in front of you with your hands relaxed at your sides. Aim to look comfortable, but still alert and professional. Also look to the interviewer for their body language that can give you clues into what they’re thinking. Do they seem relaxed? Are they nodding their head in agreement with you? Those are all signs that they like you.
Your Communication Style
Are you a fast-talker or do you speak slowly and articulately? Speak clearly and with intention. Avoid saying "Um" too much (this can be combated in interview practicing), rambling off topic and awkward laughter. Make sure you understand your intonation and pitch with sentences to avoid making statements sound like a question (lifting your voice at the end of a sentence).
If there is anything that would prevent others from seeing who you are, what you do and how well you do it – make sure to combat that before walking in for the interview. This includes:
- Turn off cell phones (and don’t check your mobile device at all during the interview).
- Double check hair or makeup from causing any problems.
- If you ate something be sure to have a toothpick handy to guarantee there’s nothing stuck in your teeth.
- Ensure your clothes are not an interference (itchy or lose clothing you need to continuously fix).
How can you tell if an interview is going well?
- Interviewing is a two-way street - Interviewing first and foremost should be thought of as a discussion, not an interrogation. That mindset will help you in general interviewing but is also a good indicator of an interviewing going well. When there’s a fluid transition into an enjoyable, organic conversation with the interviewer—you can rest knowing the enjoyment is most likely mutual.
- Meeting colleagues – If the interviewer brings you around to see the building/facility and meet people, you can bet that they like you. They would not waste their time doing this unless you were a very viable candidate.
- They bring up compensation and timeline – Interviewers who ask your salary requirements and if you need a certain amount of time before starting are doing so intentionally, to make sure they can afford you and because they are starting to structure the offer in their mind.
- Specific next steps – They tell you they will let you know by a certain date or they provide the contact information of another person; these are all signs that point in the direction of wanting to move forward with your candidacy.
- The interview runs long – If you are scheduled for 30 minutes and you’re over by 15+ minutes, you can take that as a good sign but not necessarily a defining sign. Sometimes interviewers may be booked back to back and remain on their 30-minute schedule even if they’re having a fantastic conversation with you.
Additional Interviewing Likeability Wins Include:
What you learned in Kindergarten is still true in adulthood. Saying "please" and "thank you" and opening doors for others can go a long way. It’s also good to look for opportunities to compliment others, apologize if you didn’t understand the question or need something repeated, and say “excuse me” if you have to step out for a moment.
Supporting others through positivity
Never badmouth anyone or any former company. When discussing situations, showing anger, sadness, or frustration will work against you; instead keep it light and forward focused. Even if you left your last position on bad terms, you always spin your Exit Statement to be positive. You also never know who-knows-who and it’s a small world – the person you’re badmouthing could be a friend or relative.
Matching the Environment
Pay attention to the corporate culture. What terms and phrases are they using? If they are saying “customer” instead of “client” – you should too. This helps connect you to their environment by using their lingo. Do company research and look up people on LinkedIn to identify how you can better fit in with their corporate culture, mission and vision to project the image of someone who does their homework, is proactive and pays attention to details.
Warm vs. cold personality
Good humor and accessibility can go a long way. Everyone can appreciate someone who can laugh at themselves and not take things too seriously. You want others to feel comfortable coming up to you. Appearing warm and approachable is simple - be aware of your facial expressions and your body language.
Listening intently to what your interviewer has to say and not interrupting them is a great start. Then when the timing is right, remember that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Don’t fear speaking up. Ask questions of them to demonstrate your genuine interest and the ability to source fresh perspectives. If you do not have any questions for them, it can be perceived that you’re not enthusiastic or too tired to care.
When someone they know and trust has referred you, your interviewer has already received proof that you're a reliable person. They already expect that they will like you, so remember who referred you and what you like about them, then reiterate this in the interview. It can help with bringing to light that you are already sociable and likable, but it is also a good way to open up the conversation in an organic way.
The key to effective interviewing etiquette is a combination of strategy, preparation, energy, and enthusiasm. Your role in the interview process is to come across as someone they can like and trust; articulating your value and ability to solve the company’s pain points and to assess for yourself whether a position is a good fit for you, or not.