There are unspoken rules about job interviewing — some that are important enough that you could unintentionally ruin your chances of getting the job if you don’t follow them. But don’t stress – today we’re sharing the etiquette secrets that will set you apart in the interview process and help you land that dream job.
Depending on your prior work experience, some of these tips may be familiar to you. They may even seem obvious. But people are hired for jobs in a variety of different ways, and for many in the workforce that process doesn’t necessarily involve formal job interviews.
This advice focuses on the etiquette of job interviews: how to best present yourself, how to make a great first impression, how to behave and react during the interview, and how to finish on a high note with a thank you.
First impressions are important, but during a job interview, the stakes are especially high. Careful research ahead of time can help you make a great first impression and start your interviews on a positive note.
Learn about the norms and culture of the company. It will help you prepare not only to answer interview questions but also to dress appropriately for your meeting. Start your research on the company’s website: look at job postings, read about their history and values, and look at their current projects. Be ready to talk about what you learn including company milestones, past and current projects, and their value statement. Check the company’s social media accounts and press mentions for more information.
Look for photos of people working at the company and make a mental note of their clothing and surroundings. Are people in casual clothing playing ping pong in the company break room, or in business suits sitting around a boardroom table? The company’s social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and website are other resources for this research.
You can also learn about the company from people who work there, or who have in the past. Get in touch with any contacts you have there to ask what you should know for the interview and how you should dress. Glassdoor.com can also be a valuable resource for this research, as can the Lambda alumni network.
Finally, your company point of contact or recruiter can also offer advice on preparing for the interview and presenting yourself in a way that will create a great first impression from the second you walk in the door.
Some of your research will lead to approaches that are customized for each company’s particular norms and culture, but other interview conventions apply to any potential position.
Your research will help you choose an outfit that is both professional and appropriate. Not every company or job warrants a traditional suit for the interview; at the same time, even if a workplace is casual you shouldn’t arrive for your interview in jogging pants.
Aim to dress one step above the people who work there: if jeans and a t-shirt are everyday attire, wear chinos and a polo shirt. If the latter is a typical workplace outfit, go with slacks and a button-down shirt, or a simple dress and cardigan. Again, this is an area where a recruiter or employees at the company can offer valuable advice.
Your appearance when you first walk in the door will be part of setting that important first impression, but so will the time you walk in the door. Aim to arrive 15 minutes before your interview time — this gives you a chance to relax and get an impression of your surroundings and time to fill out any necessary forms or NDAs. This is also a good chance to ensure your phone is silenced and to put away headphones or other items you may have used during your commute. If you rely on public transit, live in an area with a lot of traffic, or are traveling during a busy time of day, give yourself even more time to get there without rushing.
Once you arrive, remember that every person you meet and interact with at the company matters. This includes recruiters, administrators, receptionists, security guards, and other employees on site. Be polite, professional, and respectful of people’s time, no matter their role at an organization. Rudeness or unkind behavior toward anyway at the company is not just inconsiderate, it’s also something that could get back to your interviewer.
Just as you should assess the work culture to choose an outfit for your job interview, you can take cues from the vibes put off by the people interviewing you. If they are somewhat casual and relaxed, you can respond similarly — within reason, of course. If their demeanor is more professional — and if the interview format, such as a panel interview, is as well — you should aim to mirror that while still being yourself. However, in any interview situation avoid cursing, chewing gum, slouching, fidgeting, and similar distracting or unprofessional behaviors, no matter how casual an interviewer or workplace may seem.
There are also a few things that will serve you well in any job interview. One of those is a good handshake, which will convey confidence and professionalism. It should be firm and brief — and dry! Stand to shake hands if possible, make eye contact, smile, and tilt your hand slightly to aim the webbing between your thumb and finger at theirs — this helps ensure you have a solid grasp. Give your hand a subtle wipe before shaking if you’re worried it’s damp from sweating, and once you’ve connected hands, shake for two pumps from the elbow.
Once the interview has begun, build on the impression your firm handshake began: sit up straight, avoid fidgeting, smile and nod along, and relax. Also, maintain eye contact during the interview. This can feel awkward or uncomfortable, but it’s important to show your interest and to help connect with the interviewers. Try staring between the other person’s eyes if eye contact feels difficult. As much as eye contact matters, make sure to look away at natural points as well — for example, to write down a note or refer to your resume, or while taking a pause to answer a question. And if not fidgeting is difficult, try wiggling your toes inside your shoes.
Your professional presentation is where having a few minutes of time before your interview begins will again pay off. To help calm your nerves and get focused, try to grab a few minutes to yourself before the interview — maybe in a bathroom in the office lobby. Take deep breaths, try a few power poses if they help you, and remind yourself that you deserve to be there. Then go impress them!
Depending on the position, the company, and the stage in the interview process, there are several different types of job interview format you might encounter during your search. Read on for an explanation of how you can best prepare for each format.
Phone interviews are often held with a recruiter or at the earliest screening stages. They are generally designed to test your potential fit for a role. Research the role of the person you’ll speak with to get a sense of what they’re looking for in the interview. Speaking by phone is easier for some people but others find these interviews more difficult because they don’t give you a chance to see and respond to the interviewer’s body language. Take cues from tone of voice and feel free to use body language yourself: sitting up straight and smiling will come across in your answers, even if your interviewer can’t see you.
Prepare for the technical requirements of a phone interview as well. Make sure you are in an area with good reception, free of distracting background noises. If you’re speaking by video, have a clean and neutral background behind you and dress professionally, as you would for an in-person interview. Sit at a table or desk, and let your interviewer know if you need a second to write notes or review your resume so they don’t think your silence is a technical glitch.
Group interviews involve one or more interviewer and one or more other interviewees. This can be a challenge because you are interviewing with your competition, so focus on showing what makes you unique. Lambda School is part of that, so talk about the added value your education brings. During your interview prep, practice discussing that value as well as the other unique skills and experiences you bring to the table.
In a group interview, be especially mindful of the time you have to answer questions. If you tend to be a talker, make sure you are answering concisely in order to say everything you intend to. If you tend to be shyer, ensure you speak up during the interview and don’t allow yourself to be lost in the crowd.
Unlike a group interview, a panel interview is just you with 2-5 interviewers. This style of interview can be intimidating in a different way than a group interview — the focus is all on you, but there are multiple interviewers to connect with.
To prepare, research each of the panel members to learn about their careers and their role at the company. This will give you an idea of what to expect from the line of questioning for each of them. LinkedIn and the company’s own website are good resources for this research. When answering a question, try to distribute your attention, making eye contact with and speaking toward each panel member.
Consider each panel member in your preparation as well. Have examples for standard interview questions that speak to each panelist’s area of focus at the company — for example, both UX and web design. Similarly, have questions prepared to focus on the different areas of company operations each interviewer represents.
In a technical interview, the focus will be largely on your demonstration of your technical skills. Focus on showing how you think and displaying your problem-solving skills — these will be important even if you are not able to solve the problem presented. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and check in on your assumptions instead of plowing through with them. And if you get stuck, talk through how you would work through that on the job. Who would you want to connect with? Which resources would you access?
Glassdoor reviews are a good resource for technical interviews and can give you some idea of the types of challenges you may encounter. Through Lambda School, you’ll also get the opportunity to practice these interviews and the challenges they contain. Ask your career coach to help you practice various interview types if you feel nervous.
At smaller companies, you may encounter executive and managerial interviews; this format is also common at more senior levels of your career. Executives tend to focus on the costs, operations, and impact of their division, so expect questions about how you would solve challenges faced by the team or company. Ask questions to be sure you understand the challenges presented, and show how you would make an impact on their division. Boldness can be welcome here — you can include caveats about the information you would need to learn or confirm before moving ahead, but don’t be afraid to show that you’re confident and innovative.
Whatever interview formats you encounter, remember that the experience isn’t personal. Some interviewers will try to catch you off guard or may come across as overly serious. Others might throw you curveball questions that you couldn’t have expected to prepare for.
Also, it’s normal to have nerves during a job interview! It’s okay to acknowledge that or to ask for a moment to consider an answer. If you stumble on an answer, say “I’m really excited about this opportunity, and my nerves got the best of me for a second there. Can I begin again with that response?”
Your job isn’t quite done once the interview is. Taking a few minutes to send a thank-you note after your interview gives you one more chance to solidify the positive impression you worked so hard to create. Think of it this way: if you were trying to choose between two job candidates with similar experience, who both seemed like they’d fit in well on your team, wouldn’t the one who sent a thank-you note after the interview stand out?
A good thank-you note only needs to be a few sentences long. Thank the interviewers for meeting with you, first of all, but take the opportunity to reference the interview specifically. For example, you could say “I really enjoyed having the chance to discuss Company X’s work on Y, because I’ve enjoyed working on Y in my previous projects. I’m excited about the opportunity to contribute to that work on your team.”
Send the note by email within 24 hours of the interview, but not minutes after you’ve left the building — show that you’ve taken some time to reflect on the experience. Get business cards or the email addresses of everyone you meet during the interview or from the recruiter. Send a thank-you note, tailored to them and what you discussed with them, to each person you interviewed with. The exception is a panel interview if your follow-up response is appropriate to send to all panel members.
Finally, use your thank-you note to clear up any confusion that came up during the interview, or to ask any remaining questions. If a better solution to a problem came to you after the interview, you can mention it quickly here. If you were unsure of a particular detail of your experience during the interview, this is a chance to clarify it. And if you just didn’t get to a question you really wanted to ask, you can ask it in your thank-you note.
We hope this advice leaves you feeling prepared to handle the etiquette of interviewing, whatever format your own meetings will take. Good luck!