Do’s and Don’ts for Job Interview Success

Even if you aren’t sure you really want this job, your goal is to be impressive enough that the employer will extend a job offer.

As a job candidate, you go into every job interview interview with 2 goals:

First, you want to impress the employer with what a great hire you would be – your qualifications, accomplishments, and enthusiasm for them and the job.

Second, you want to learn as much as you can about the employer and this job. Even if you are unemployed, the last thing you need is to accept a job that will turn out to be a nightmare for you with another, tougher job search too soon.

Now, focus on your “customer” — the employer. To succeed, keep that focus in your mind as you meet your goals.

Employers have two primary goals for the job interview. First, they want to determine if you are qualified for the job and, second, they want to discover if you are someone who would fit well into the organization.

What You Should Do in a Job Interview

Employers view your performance in the job interview as a “sample” of your work product.

Demonstrate the high quality of your work by following these DO’s.

DO 1. DO show respect for the employer and the opportunity.  

Arrive ten to fifteen minutes early, dressed appropriately (or a little more formally) for the job and organization, and well prepared for the interview.

Be sure to treat everyone there with respect, from the people in the parking lot or on public transportation to the receptionist and the hiring manager.

[For more information, read Dress for (Interview) Success.]

DO 2. DO know the job and how you fit the job’s requirements.  

Bring a copy of the job description with you when you go to the interview. Before the interview, study the job description carefully, particularly the requirements.

Write down how you match each requirement. Then, document your successes that demonstrate you meet, or exceed, those requirements.

Quantify those accomplishments as much as possible — profit dollars increased or expenses reduced, for example.

DO protect the confidentiality of your current employer’s “secrets” — technology, clients, marketing strategies, suppliers, and other competitive information.

Don’t share an accomplishment unless it is relevant and impressive. For example, this accomplishment is impressive– “I was the bid manager for a successful $1.2 billion federal government contract proposal…” — but it is not relevant to a social media marketing job. Focus on your most recent accomplishments that are relevant to the requirements of this job.

If you can, check LinkedIn to see how other employees of this company describe what they do, particularly any accomplishments and recognition they share on LinkedIn. Include your similar or related accomplishments if you have them.

DO 3. DO be prepared to answer the standard job interview questions.  

Study the most commonly asked job interview questions, and prepare your responses in advance, customized to each employer, and have good questions ready to ask the interviewers.

If you have something in your work history that needs explaining, prepare a solid response to questions like, “Why did you leave your last job?” Focus on the positive with responses like “I left because opportunities to continue improving my skills ended. It is a well-run company, but I am interested in learning more about leveraging social media for marketing and sales, which is not something they are interested in doing now.”

Be ready to discuss your “salary requirements” if the question is asked. Base your answer on your research into what this employer and other employers pay for this job.,, and can provide some of this information. Push the salary discussion off as long as you can, until you understand more about the job and the employer understands more about your qualifications and experience. Check the Starting Salary Question for more tips.

[Read Smart Answers to Interview Questions for more information about answering the common questions.]

DO 4. DO research the employer.  

The quickest way to fail an interview is to know nothing about the employer or to ask uninformed questions like, “What do you do here?” Your research should include what the company does, where they are located, who works there, and how they are viewed.

Check the organization’s website, as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks. Also, use a search engine to learn more about them, search on terms like “[company name] reviews.” Read 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers for more ideas.

The best news is that the research will not only prepare you for the interview, including giving you good questions to ask during the interview, it will also give you a better idea if you want to work for the employer. Read 50+ Good Questions to Ask in Interviews for more tips.

DO 5. DO bring business cards and copies of relevant documents with you.  

Knowing the names (and the correct spelling) of your interviewers is essential for sending the thank you notes after the interview. An excellent way to collect that information is to ask for the person’s business card which should also give you their job title and email address. Exchanging business cards is a common practice, so make sure to give each interviewer your own business card.

Also, bring copies of your resume, examples of your work, if appropriate, and a list of your professional references to give the interviewers.

Be sure the people serving as references are willing and prepared to respond to contact from this employer. Provide them with a copy of the job description, a copy of the resume you submitted, and the name of the employer.

What Not to Do in a Job Interview

Most of the time, the people interviewing you want you to succeed. Make it easy for them to support you as a job candidate be avoiding making these mistakes.

DO NOT 1. Do NOT lie or misrepresent anything.  

Given the speed and ease of accessing online information today, with access to all kinds of information from driving records and tax payments to college attendance, making a false claim on many things can be easily discovered. So, to avoid making a bad hire, many employers double-check information provided by the job candidate using Google and LinkedIn as well as your references. False claims are deadly, so don’t risk it.

DO NOT 2. Do NOT trash your employer or any co-workers.  

Answering questions honestly is a requirement, but do not be negative about a current or former employer or co-worker. This is one of the biggest mistakes job candidates make. Saying anything negative is deadly.

Focus on the most positive aspects of the job and the people, even if you hated working there, with those people. When you are negative, the assumption typically made is that there are the proverbial “two sides to every story,” and the other side of this story may have something very negative to say about you.

DO NOT 3. Do NOT talk or text on your smartphone during the interview.  

Focus completely on the job interview. Turn off your smartphone, and do not access it during the interview. In fact, keep it turned off until you leave the employer’s or recruiter’s office.

DO NOT 4. Do NOT ask questions about background checks and drug tests, or raises, holidays, and vacations — until the job offer negotiation.  

Asking about the timing and intensity of drug tests and background checks make you look like you have something to hide, raising big red flags for the interviewer and, most likely, ending an opportunity.

Until you are negotiating a job offer, focus your questions on the contents and requirements of this job, how this job fits into the organization, who you would be working for (and with), and how it all works together. Remember your goal is to learn as much about the job as you can so that you can determine if it is a good job for you.

Prematurely asking questions about benefits, raises, etc. makes you look interested only in time off, not the content of the job and whether or not it is a good fit for you.

[See 45 Questions You Should NOT Ask in a Job Interview for more information about content and timing.]

DO NOT 5. Do NOT forget to send a thank you note after the interview.  

A good well-written thank you note is often essential, even when sent via email, but fewer than twenty-five percent of interviewees send them. Remember, the interview, and how you handle the whole process, is a sample of your work.

Demonstrate your understanding of the process, the rules of common courtesy, your commitment to complete a “project,” and your ability to communicate in writing by sending a thank you note (or email) immediately after the interview.

[Check out Job-Hunt’s Guide to Writing Thank You Notes After a Job Interview including Sample Thank You Notes (and Emails) for details and examples.]

The Bottom Line on Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Following these do’s and don’ts should help you be successful in your job interviews. Remember that employers view your actions in the whole hiring process as examples of your work. Show them what a good worker you are. Now, go and knock their socks off!

More About Successful Job Interviews

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
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