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Build Your Career Get the Job

7 Etiquette Mistakes to Avoid in Job Interviews

Job interview
Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock

Poor etiquette in a job interview can ruin your chances of landing a position, even if you're highly qualified. But coming across as a confident professional while remaining humble and polite can be difficult.

Seven CEOs and HR professionals shared behaviors that turn them against job seekers. Want to make a good impression? Avoid these seven mistakes.

When it comes to arriving at the right time, most interview candidates are worried about being late. But Rudeth Shaughnessy, a former HR director and current senior editor for Copy My Resume, said that arriving too early is poor etiquette too.

"While being five to 15 minutes early is very much appreciated, anything above 15 minutes puts the interviewer in a tough spot, as they may not be fully prepared for the interview by then," said Shaughnessy. "Similar to showing up to someone's house far before a scheduled time, being excessively early puts a lot of pressure on the interviewer."

Aim to arrive in that 15-minute window before your interview starts. If for some reason you are unable to make it on time, have the respect to alert your interviewer and reschedule.

Ignoring certain people in the interview committee can ruin your chance of landing the job. Yet many candidates do exactly that, directing their attention only to the highest-ranking person in the room. 

"If [you are] being interviewed by multiple people, make sure that you look at, talk to and engage with each person," said Jessie West, founder of West Coaching and Consulting. "If the interview is by committee, the decision to hire will be too. Connect with everyone to make a positive impression."

Dressing inappropriately sends a message that you don’t respect the interviewer or take the position seriously.

Most interviewers would rather see a job candidate overdressed than underdressed. However, overdressing to the extreme can also make a poor impression.

But the rudest thing a job candidate can wear is too much scent, according to Pamela Shand, the CEO of Offer Stage Consulting and a professional career coach.

"Most interviews still happen in a traditional office, which is an enclosed environment with no open windows or ventilation," said Shand. "This means that too much perfume or cologne will overwhelm your interviewer and distract them from the quality information you're providing."

Many interviews are conducted by phone or video, but you shouldn't treat them any less seriously. Formal interview etiquette still applies in remote interviews.

Make sure to test out your microphone or camera beforehand. Choose a quiet place to set up, and don't interrupt the interview to take calls, answer the door or talk to anyone else.

You also want to install any video or conferencing software ahead of time so you aren't making the interviewers wait while you troubleshoot your technology.

"It's endlessly frustrating ... when you're late to an interview because you're still installing Skype, Zoom or some of the other conference software we use," said Jon Brodsky, country manager for Finder.com. "We are always a hard pass on people who can't be bothered to spend five minutes doing basic pre-interview prep."

Interviewers don't just want to find the candidate with the right skills. They want to find someone who will be pleasant to work with. Any sort of inconsiderate behavior is going to make them think twice about hiring you.

Small actions like showing up with a takeout container from your lunch or a to-go cup of coffee will make you look as if you aren't focused on the interview. Answering calls or texts during the interview will indicate that you don't care about inconveniencing the other people in the room, and focusing too much on your own wants, rather than the company's needs, will make you seem selfish and immature.

"I had one person ask if they could have a Keurig in their office during their first interview," said Christen Engel, the associate vice president for news and communications at Augusta University. "If an interviewee is more concerned with their own interests than they are in the job or convincing me they're the best person for it, that's a huge red flag."

No matter the value of what you say in an interview, poor etiquette is going to count against you.

Even if you are excited or eager to answer a question, don't interrupt or speak over an interviewer. If you do accidentally start talking before they are finished, apologize quickly and let them continue speaking. Be sure to speak clearly when it is your turn; mumbling will come across as inconsiderate.

Also keep in mind the signals your body language is sending. Fidgeting, finger tapping or looking around the room are common nervous behaviors, but in an interview setting, they might make you appear rude or impatient.

"Communication is 93 percent nonverbal," said Jason Patel, the founder of college prep and career development company Transizion. "It's all about how you say what you're saying: shoulders back, handshake with a firm bridge, eye contact."

Valerie Streif, senior advisor with Mentat, a San Francisco-based organization for job seekers, warns job candidates to watch their tone.

"Something that hurts a lot of job seekers is being overconfident and unaware of how they sound in an interview," she said.

While being confident of your skills and excited about the value you can add to a company will benefit you, there is a fine line between poised and arrogant. Acting as if you are entitled to a position will instantly seem rude, no matter how qualified you are.

Additionally, if you are making a career change or do not yet have specific skills that the position will require, be honest about those weaknesses rather than pretending they don't matter.

"Don't be afraid to be humble and address [your] shortcomings in an interview," said Streif. "It will look better than lying or fabricating experience and acting as if you deserve [the] job."

No matter what else happens in an interview, a candidate who behaves politely and speaks honestly will leave a positive impression.

Katharine Paljug

Katharine Paljug is a freelance content creator and editor who writes for and about small businesses. In addition to Business News Daily, her articles can be found on Your Care Everywhere, She Knows, and YFS Magazine. Visit her website to access her free library of resources for small business owners, or follow her on Twitter as @kpaljug.