One of the biggest mistakes that job hunters make is thinking an interview starts behind the closed door. "You are being watched as soon as you step off the elevator," says Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions. "It’s important to be engaging and friendly to anyone you meet, whether it’s the receptionist or the assistant who escorts you down the hallway."
Start the conversation lightly to help the other person relax. But keep it professional and avoid getting too personal: Commenting on wall décor or a desk accessory is acceptable, but saying you like someone’s shoes may be stepping over the line, says Kerry Hannon, author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.
Come prepared with knowledge about the company. As soon as your interview is scheduled, set up a Google news alert to make sure you are aware of what’s happening, especially if it is a larger corporation. But be careful about how you present your knowledge: There’s a fine line between being full of information and being full of yourself. "You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard," says Meredith Haberfeld, a business and career coach.
An interview is as much about chemistry with the interviewer as it is about having the skills to do the job. "They are only going to interview people talented enough for the position, so you’re already in the cluster for consideration," Oliver says. "It’s really about establishing a quick, emotional bond so that they like you better than the other candidates."
Think of your resume as your host (or hostess) gift. By taking it out at the beginning of the interview, it becomes an asset, rather than an afterthought. "If there are areas or responsibilities that you want to emphasize or explain, the interview is your chance to draw attention to them," says Hannon. "People think if something is on their resume, that it’s clear, but those bullet points don’t always speak for themselves."
Even if you have already been communicating with the interviewer through email or phone calls, asking for a person’s contact information shows a definite interest in wanting to follow up and pursue the job. "You should always ask what the next step is, how they prefer to be contacted, and follow that exactly," Oliver says.
It’s easy to get off topic in an interview, and writing down and practicing three main selling points about yourself beforehand can help you stay focused. "Towards the end of the interview, do a mental check to make sure you have discussed each of your topic points," Hannon says. Politely saying that you wanted to make sure you mention X, Y, or Z is a good way to emphasize these points, she suggests.
If the interview is nearing its end (most last 30 to 40 minutes), you don’t want to bring up anything that could be used against you, says Haberfeld. Rather than addressing issues like technological skills or an extended period of time out of work, switch the conversation to a lighter topic, like company culture, she suggests.
Make a mental note to come back to any questions you stumbled on or didn’t answer well before you leave. If you still need more time, bring it up in your thank you letter, says Hannon. "This is your last correspondence with them before they make a decision, so this is your platform to wrap up and emphasize areas you may have struggled with."