Rules Of Engagement: How to act Before, During and After The Job Interview

By guest writer Nelson Sebati, Entrepreneur and Non-Executive Chairman at Murason Business Services. He has 10 years’ experience in recruitment, talent acquisition, career transitioning & on-boarding, with a specific focus on IT and Executive skills. He is a certified Career Strategist and Job Search Coach. He studied Entrepreneurship at Wits Business School, Law at UNISA among other numerous qualifications & is currently a member of the YBSA, BMF, REC-UK, APSO, CSSA, ASA, and IoDSA.


Attire, body language and manners count during interviews. After all, interviewers are regular people like the rest of us, easily impressed by good behaviour and just as easily offended by inappropriate behaviour. Yet, surveys show that job candidates’ interview manners and other form of professionalisms are on the decline. For example,

  • According to , nearly 80 percent of employers surveyed indicated that interviewees’ manners had declined. Some candidates surveyed thought that certain inappropriate behaviours were okay, like removing one’s shoes or bringing a pet.
  • Among other bizarre behaviours, FacilitatorGuy reported that a candidate ate a hamburger and french fries in the interviewer’s office and even wiped up ketchup with her sleeve. Another interrupted the interview to phone his shrink for advice on how to answer specific questions.
  • Job Searching Guide, Alison Doyle said that one of her interviewees unbuttoned his shirt and started to drop his drawers to show her the scar from a boat propeller, as proof that an unemployed period wasn’t his fault! Needless to say, Alison stopped him from mooning her and didn’t offer him the accounting job. She also didn’t offer it to “the young lady in a bright red skirt so short and tight, that she could hardly sit down.”

With over 10 years experience in the People Solutions industry I have seen most of things that can happen in an interview. As a result I have complied some tips for acting professionally before, during and after interviews, to avoid offending interviewers and increase career-seekers’ chances of landing a job. These interview tips are based on good manners because good manners are appreciated everywhere. You might think that some of the interview tips are no-brainers. If so, that’s good. It means that you are already on your way to completing successful interviews. But, as you’ve read above, weird stuff really does happen! Consequently, these interview tips try to cover it all.

How to act BEFORE the interview

  • Do your homework: Research the company and study the job description before your interview, as your interviewer will likely ask what you know about the company and why you want the job. It also helps you to formulate questions about the company and job (interviewers typically expect you to have such questions).
  • With a friend, relative or by yourself, practice answering the common questions interviewers ask.
  • Prepare to negotiate salary by having a range in mind and studying the techniques. The internet has lots of salary surveys and negotiation resources you can research.
  • Collect and neatly arrange your important papers and work samples in a nice briefcase or portfolio. This makes you look organised and professional. Remember to pack relevant documents such as extra resumes and reference lists and immigrant work-authorisation papers. Carry at least one pen and pencil and a notepad too.
  • Practice good hygiene, comb or brush your hair and dress appropriately. Even if you know that the company dress is business-casual, dress up anyway. It shows professionalism and respect.
  • Dress conservatively and avoid bright, flashy colours. Navy blue, black or grey is usually best. If you’re a male, wear a business suit and tie or at least a blazer with pressed dress shirt and slacks and polished dress shoes. Get a professional haircut or trim. If you’re a female, wear a business suit or at least a dress blouse and long dress skirt or pants, with polished, low- to medium-heeled dress shoes. Style your hair tastefully or have it done professionally. Both men and women should keep jewellery to a minimum and especially avoid jewellery that distractively jingles or swings when you move.
  • Avoid wearing strong perfume or cologne. Fragrance is a matter of personal preference and your interviewer might not like your choice. It’s best to have no odour at all. A few minutes before the interview, a little breath spray might not hurt, but don’t use it during the interview.
  • Arrive five to ten minutes early for the interview. This shows that you are eager and punctual. If you’re not at least five minutes early for an interview, you’re five minutes late! But don’t arrive more than ten minutes early, as it might be inconvenient for your interviewers. Definitely don’t be late.
  • Don’t bring uninvited guests like pets, children or significant others.
  • Turn off your cell phone, pager, PDA alarms and other devices that might interrupt your interview.

How to act DURING the interview

  • Smile, immediately offer a firm handshake, introduce yourself and say something like, “I’m pleased to meet you.” or “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you.” Be sincere and avoid informal greetings you might use to say hello to your friends. Take the polite, conservative route.
  • Read the mood. If the interviewer is formal, then you probably should be, too. If the interviewer is casual, then follow along while remaining courteous and professional. In either case, try to appear to be relaxed, but not too relaxed. It’s not a good idea to put your feet up on the interviewer’s desk.
  • Wait to be told to take a seat or ask if you may, then say “thank you”. This shows good manners.
  • If it’s possible without making a commotion, scoot your chair a little closer to the interviewer’s desk or take the chair closet to the desk, like you’re ready to dive right in. This shows interest and confidence, but don’t invade the interviewer’s personal space.
  • Sit with good posture. If you don’t know what to do with your hands, keep them folded in your lap. This is another indication of good manners. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest, as it subliminally demonstrates a closed mind to some.
  • Even formally-trained interviewers are regular people like you, so they’ll expect you to be a little nervous while sitting in the “hot seat.” Still, try to avoid obvious signs like fidgeting.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer. Avoid staring or you might make the interviewer uncomfortable, but don’t look away too often either. To some, failure to maintain a comfortable level of eye contact indicates that you are lying, reaching for answers or lacking confidence.
  • Don’t eat, drink, chew gum or smoke, or even ask if it’s okay. But if the interviewer offers coffee or other beverages, it’s okay to accept. It’s probably better to say no thanks to snacks (unless you’re at an interview meal), so you don’t accidentally drop crumbs in your lap, be forced to talk with your mouth full and all that other stuff your mom told you not to do with your food.
  • Speaking of which, if you are attending an interview meal, do follow all the good eating manners your parents taught you. For example, put your napkin in your lap, don’t order anything complicated and messy to eat like ribs or crab legs, avoid bad-breath foods like garlic and onions, chew with your mouth closed, keep your elbows off the table, and order only moderately-priced items from the menu. Don’t order beverages of the alcoholic persuasion, even if your interviewer does. Let your interviewer pick up the tab and be sure to thank him or her for the meal.
  • It’s okay to ask questions to better answer the questions the interviewer asks you. But withhold the bulk of your questions until the interviewer asks if you have any, which is typically toward the end of the interview. Avoid asking the frivolous just because interviewers expect you to have questions. Instead, ask about important matters, such as job duties, management style and the financial health of the company. It’s not a good idea to ask questions about vacation, sick days; lunch breaks and so on, right off the bat. Ask about the lesser matters of importance during follow-up interviews.
  • Typically, you’ll negotiate salary, benefits, perks and such in a follow-up interview. Regardless, don’t bring it up until asked, yet be ready to discuss it at anytime.

How to ACT after the interview

  • Be prepared to attend two or three interviews at the same company. If you’re called back for another interview, it means that they’re interested in you, but they’re also narrowing the competition; so keep up the good work.
  • Be patient. It’s not unusual for interviewers to take weeks to narrow the competition, but if you don’t hear from them in about a week or so after they said you’d hear from them, it’s okay to send follow-up letters / emails and / or make follow up calls. (Don’t call everyday. Interviewers might consider it rude of applicants to interrupt their workday with unsolicited calls.) One follow-up letter or call per interviewer is sufficient. Don’t pester, as the squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the oil in this case. If they’re interested, they will contact you without prodding, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure your candidacy didn’t fall through the corporate cracks. It also shows that you really want the job and are eager to start.
  • Where possible send a thank-you letter to the main contact person or company representative. (to get their contact info, ask for business cards during interviews.) Sending thank-you letters is professional and courteous and will help to make you stand out in the minds of your interviewers. Besides, many interviewers expect it and it’s a good idea to do what interviewers expect. Email is perfectly acceptable these days and the quickest way to get your thank-you letters in front of interviewers, but avoid informal stuff like emoticons (e.g. happy faces), shorthand (e.g. u for you) and acronyms (e.g. TIA for thanks in advance). Whether you send thank-you letters by fax, email or postal mail observe professional business-letter standards.


Good luck on your next interview!