The Interview – Being Judged from Beginning to End

You can’t expect to get the job if you don’t look and act the part. Career coaches call it “making a good impression” but I call it being on your “A” game – because you need to bring it to win it. Leave your limp handshake, your frown, your woes, and your mumbling at home. You don’t want to spend the entire interview trying to dig yourself out of the bad impression hole you put yourself in.

Upon Your Arrival

Be punctual (no more than 5 minutes early or late), leave your cell phone in the car, and treat the receptionist kindly. You can be guaranteed that the employer will ask him or her to give an opinion of you. Make sure that the opinion is a positive one.

Act like you would if you knew you were being watched. If you did bring your cell phone, make sure it is on vibrate or off – and don’t play games. Never attend to your personal needs (fixing your makeup, adjusting your clothing, or pulling out a candy bar to eat). Be professional at all times because they may be looking to see how you handle yourself when you think no one is watching.

Remain standing so that you don’t struggle to get out of your chair and don’t keep your arms crossed.

It is too early to accept an offer of coffee or water. You want your hands free for a handshake and having to put down a drink to do it is sloppy. You will most likely receive the same offer in the interview room.

Don’t act perturbed by a long wait; remember that the hiring manager is in control.

The Greeting

Present a genuine smile when greeted by the hiring manager – it will show that you are friendly and approachable. Introduce yourself clearly and speak loud enough for them to hear you. A whispered name is one easily forgotten.

Never underestimate the power of the handshake. It shouldn’t be limp or overpowering; a firm one will demonstrate your confidence in yourself. Don’t hold on too long, but don’t pull away as if you are uncomfortable touching them.

Being Escorted

You will be brought to the interview room. Walk tall; good posture presents confidence and makes you look like you have a game plan, even if you don’t.

While you walk, don’t get sidetracked by the workspace, the employees, or the décor. Keep in pace with the hiring manager – you don’t want to walk in front of them or very far behind. You may encounter other employees on the way, and regardless of their status in the company, you will be introduced to them. Smile graciously and shake their hand. Remember that they will offer opinions once you leave, so let them be positive ones.

You both want to establish rapport, so make some small talk. Pay a compliment to the company, not the person. You never want to say that you like their shoes or haircut. Compliment them on the company’s success. For example, you can say, “I heard that your expansion in the mid-west has tripled your earnings in the last fiscal year. That is quite an accomplishment.”

Interview Room

Always wait for the hiring manager to open the door. Walk through, stand off to the side, and let them pass you. You must wait for an invitation to sit – don’t presume to just sit in any chair in the room. Once you are offered a seat, sit down gently, straighten your back, and keep your knees close together. Women can cross their ankles, but try not to cross your legs. Sitting still and tall shows respect. If you are seated in cramped quarters, avoid crowding their personal space. No one ever likes that!

Don’t place any personal items on the desk or table (this does not include your pen and folder). No phone, no purse, no coat.

At this point you may be offered a beverage, usually coffee or bottled water. You can politely decline or accept. If you accept, always take the water. By asking for coffee with condiments, you run the risk of making a mess. The employer does not want to have sugar all over the place.

The Interview

Before you even begin, keep in mind that the interviewer is there to see if you fit their needs. Maintain a professional distance and don’t get too personal with them. To avoid looking so serious, offer appropriately placed smiles or lighthearted laughter. Unless you are interviewing for a stand-up comedian, don’t crack any jokes!

Establish and maintain eye contact. Nobody wants to talk to someone staring at the floor. Staring at them, however, may make them uncomfortable. Looking around occasionally breaks it up – don’t get distracted and make sure to come back to eye contact. Gazing at everything but them will show that you are not interested or bored.

Your body language is being judged. They want to see how you handle yourself. Do not fidget in your chair, wring your hands, use too many hand gestures, or play with your clothing or hair. Hold a pencil or a pen if you need to control your nerves.

Occasionally throw in the interviewer’s name while speaking. For example, “Yes, Ms. Jones, I have worked in many retail positions.” Unless they have specifically said that you can call them by their first name, address them as “Mr.”, “Ms”, or “Dr”. “Mrs.” is not appropriate.

Don’t swear, use slang, or make innuendos. Flirting or making references to the interviewer’s looks is unacceptable and may be perceived as sexual harassment. Never make comments about race, religion, marital status, or sexual orientation. Federal law prohibits the employer from asking some of these questions so you don’t want to put them in an awkward position.

Enunciate your language. A hiring manager shouldn’t have to ask you to repeat yourself or wonder if they heard you right. Don’t cut them off in the middle of their sentences, Wait for the pause before answering. The pause is your clue to start your answer. Rambling is never in your best interest. Keep your answers clear and concise and make sure you answer everything asked of you. They should not have to repeat the question unless you did not understand it. Don’t answer “yes” or “no”, try to expand on your answer with a sentence or two.

When it is time for you to ask questions, have at least 3-5 prepared. Don’t ask “yes” or “no” questions, and before you even ask, make sure they didn’t already cover the topic.

Never mention money first!

The Closing and Walk Back

When the interview comes to a close, re-iterate your interest in the job and thank them for their time. Let them get out of their chair first and then follow them out. Thank them again in the lobby, shake their hand, and let them leave the room first. Remember to be cordial and say goodbye to the Receptionist. Don’t get on your phone the moment you step out of the door, remember, they may be watching you.


There are more than just job-related questions and answers in an interview. You are judged the moment you walk through the door. Make sure you make an impression. It is not optional to be professional from the beginning to the end of the interview – it is required.

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