Interview Etiquette: Lessons from a First Date

You’ve heard the analogy: An interview is like going on a first date. Think about it. Blind dates can be painful without some chemistry. And they even check your references. Translate your dating knowhow to win over your next interviewer.

Going on an interview is like going on a first date. I’ve used that analogy hundreds of times. For over 20 years as a recruiter, I’ve been preparing candidates for that scary and mystifying experience — going on an interview.

Most of us have only limited experience with interviews. But first dates, no matter how long ago…or how we’ve tried to forget, are something we can all recall. So what can you glean from those awkward encounters? Well, there won’t be chocolate shakes or a good night kiss, but there are a few ways to translate your dating experience to better prepare you for that first interview with an employer.

Don’t show up too early, and never show up late.
We’ve all seen the movies where the poor guy is sitting in the living room getting grilled by the dad while the young woman frantically applies a last coat of mascara. Similarly, the business world tends to run on a schedule. Arriving too early for an interview can make the managers uncomfortable. They end up leaving you in the lobby, fidgeting in a chair pretending to read the ancient copy of Fortune magazine on the coffee table. It is best to arrive 10-15 minutes early; that’s it. That way, you send the message that you are not only punctual, but also appropriate.

Arriving late is a no-brainer; don’t do it. It is always seen as disrespectful. Though you might not get shoes thrown at you (back to the movies again), you have instantly damaged your chances of making a good first impression and getting the job.

Make a good first impression.
In the dating world, this is all about cologne or your skinny jeans. In the interview world, good first impressions are equally crucial. You can never dress “too professionally” for an interview. If it’s a corporate environment, that means a suit for men and a pants suit for women. The devil is also, as they say, in the details: polished shoes, appropriate heels or flats and clean finger nails. Practice a firm handshake and direct eye contact with a friend to make it feel like second nature. There are finer points to consider, but the key is to start off on the right foot. Additionally, bring a couple extra copies of your resume. The more people you meet, usually the better, and you want to be prepared.

Don’t tell ‘em you snore.
Of course, you want to be honest during an interview, but this is not the time to give away all your secrets. The company can verify a great deal of information through employment background checks and references, so you want to make sure you present yourself honorably and that means honestly. But don’t advertise your negatives. You would never tell a first date that you snore. You’d wait until she falls in love with you and will find all your idiosyncrasies endearing. In the same way, make sure that you are presenting all your information by putting your best foot forward. It is the job of the manager to figure out reasons you don’t fit, not your job to red flag them. Stay positive and present the glass half full. If you have little or no experience with something, then respond with an answer that says, “No, but….” Then present the closely related skills you have, your ability to learn quickly or a relevant class you completed. Sell your strengths; do not point out your weaknesses.

Don’t ask for the kiss before the date.
Applicants are always concerned about how to respond when they are asked for their salary requirements. It’s an important part of the process, but it does not belong at the beginning. As many of us have experienced, the kiss belongs at the end of the evening; likewise, the salary discussion should be saved for after the company “falls in love with you.” A safe answer regarding your salary requirements is: “I’m sure you will make me a fair offer, and I’m interested because _____.”

It’s great to get fixed up, but it’s all about the chemistry.
When your friend tells you all about a potential date, you listen for key details. Maybe you care about the date’s job history, or where he went to college or what sports she’s involved in. If you hear something that sparks your interest, you decide to meet. In the same way, your resume got you in the door. It said something the employer liked. But we’ve all met people we thought sounded interesting, but turned out to be a dud. An interview is similar. The manager has to walk away feeling like you’d fit into the team. You can help this along in several ways. First, look around while you are sitting in the lobby or walking toward the manager’s office. Is it a quiet place or do people seem to be working in teams? Based on what you see, that’s what you emphasize. Additional chemistry builders: lean forward in your chair, don’t fidget and smile. Be prepared. Listen. All of these are simple things which increase your likeability.

Tell him what a good time you had.
The technical term is “closing the sale.” Think about it, are you more likely to call the other person back when, at the end of the evening, he says what a good time he had? Of course! No one likes rejection. Companies do the same. They are more willing to call you for a second round of interviews or offer you the job if they think you are interested in them, too. So, before you walk out the door, thank the interviewer for her time and tell her what you like about the job and why you’d be a great fit.

Though the results are different, a first date and job interview both involve one person trying to impress another. Because it’s so unfamiliar, yet so important, the world of interviewing can be a scary place. Hopefully, thinking of something familiar offers some reassurance. Though these are just a very few pointers, they give you an idea about how this all works. Just relaxing a bit will make you more successful and increase your chances of success. Now go out there, and get that job!