The Fine Points of Interview Etiquette

July 6, 2010 at 3:07 am 1 comment

I’ve given so many tips on what to do (and what not to!) in interviews over the nine months I’ve been writing dcworks that I had thought I’d exhausted the topic…but a friend whose son just graduated from college and is on his first serious job hunt suggested that I repeat some of this advice for all those newly minted grads out there, as well as anyone else who wants to brush up on their interview skills.

The basics of interview etiquette are the same as in any type of social situation — one should be courteous, polite, friendly and listen well even as you try to make the best case for your candidacy for this job. Good manners aren’t a plus when interviewing, they are a necessity — a hiring manager likely won’t be able to get past any possible rudeness or odd mannerisms to determine whether your skills could be a good fit for the position.

So here are some reminders on the fine points of interview etiquette that should help you get to the next step of the hiring process:

*Arrive early but not too early. Being late to a job interview likely will end your candidacy with that organization right then and there — unless there are major extenuating circumstances, and you call to explain them. With that in mind, give yourself much more time than you’ll likely need to get through traffic or to take the Metro to your destination. If you’re more than a half hour early, don’t go to the company’s offices just yet — find a coffee shop around the corner and review notes of the points you want to make. (Also, use the bathroom there to do a last-minute check in the mirror to ensure you look professional and especially that your hair isn’t falling into your face. Interviewers will be looking directly at you, so make sure they can see your eyes, and you don’t want to be brushing your hair or fixing your makeup in their waiting room. See Oct. 26 post, “Looking the part…”) A too-early interviewee can throw a hiring manager off schedule, and you don’t want that. Get to the offices about 10 minutes early, and be prepared to wait a bit. Read a magazine or newspaper if one is sitting there — a job candidate sitting calmly and reading will be a good first visual impression for the hiring manager.

*Turn off your mobile phone, BlackBerry, I-Phone, pager, or whatever in your briefcase or portfolio might make noise. Give the interviewer your complete attention and they are likely to be more focused on you as well. Don’t fidget or tap on the desk or play with the edges of your portfolio. Sit up straight and comfortably with your hands in your lap or atop a folder if you’re nervous — sometimes it helps to have something to hold on to. Always look directly at the interviewer, if you don’t look them in the eye, they will wonder what you’re hiding. Smile when appropriate and show signs that you’re paying attention — a slight nod or an affirmative noise such as “right,” or “I see” — can help you make this more of a conversation that the interviewer will remember. Never interrupt an interviewer or appear to be rushing them to make a point — they, not you, are in charge of this situation. (See Oct. 14 post, “When the interviewer becomes the interviewee.”)

*Ask questions of the interviewer at the appropriate time. Though one should always prepare questions they want to ask, don’t start off the interview with them, and never appear to be cross-examining the hiring manager. A first interview also isn’t an occasion for asking details about pay, benefits or work schedules. If you do this too early in the process, the hiring manager may think you’re being too forward or may wonder about whether you really want this job or just want any job. So hold off — make a first interview about the position, the organization and your fitness for it. Politely and conversationally ask questions with that focus in mind — don’t ask too many, though, especially if the interviewer appears to be in a hurry. In that case, ask them if you can follow up with further questions in an email later — that gives you a good opening for further contact.

*Act like a consummate professional. A hiring manager — especially a veteran one who has conducted many interviews over the years — will size you up not only to determine whether you’d do well at this job, but whether you would be a good colleague in this organization. Every interview is a bit of a tryout. So consider the things one looks for in a good colleague — friendliness, being supportive and respectful of others,  being a good listener and having a good sense of humor come to mind. Try to show those qualities even in the somewhat forced interview situation. And conversely, avoid saying or doing things in an interview that would annoy others in the workplace — impolite questioning, unprofessional communication (too many “uhs,” “you-knows,” or swearing), saying anything negative about those you have worked with in the past, and slouching or mannerisms that could be viewed as annoying. Pretend as though this interview is being video-taped, and think about how what you say and do will come across. Practice beforehand — especially before a mirror, or better yet, with a trusted friend who will give you feedback. This is a conversation you can’t afford to botch, and conversely, you can win big points by acing an interview.

*Lucky me; I get to start off this (four-day) work week by congratulating a dcworks supporter who has landed well — El Medhin, known to radio and TV audiences in Rochester, N.Y., as Liz Medhin, today starts a job in D.C. as communications coordinator for the ONE Campaign ( She is leaving two jobs — as a TV reporter and fill-in anchor for the ABC affiliate in Rochester, 13WHAM News, and as news director and radio host for WDKX 103.9’s “Wake Up Club.” When asked to pass along some advice to other job seekers, she wrote, “I would say stop applying to everything and start applying to ONLY the jobs that you would actually like to have! A focused, consistent effort yielded way more responses than the “let me just apply to anything” approach. That… and be persistent! It took me a year to get to this point.” She says the wait was worth it as the position with the ONE campaign is a “perfect fit for both my skill set and my life, and it’s for a cause and an organization I TRULY believe in.” Good, heartfelt advice that’s worth pondering….congratulations to El, and much success to her in her new position!

*Here’s a batch of fresh leads to consider:

*Voice of America in D.C. has several openings, including for an executive editor for the Persian News Network:

Executive Editor, GS-1001-14 – [DEU]
Broadcasting Board of Governors – Washington, DC
Editor for the Persian News Network, with direct responsibility for the supervision of Managing Editors… serves as the Executive Editor for the Persian News… $105,211 – $136,771 a year
From usajobs.gov2:49 PM

*The Environmental Defense Fund is looking for a marketing communications director — D.C. is one of the places the position can be based:
Marketing Communications Director
Environmental Defense Fund – Washington, DC
capacity, the Media and Communications Director will be responsible for developing media strategies and a broad array of communication tactics that successfully…
From JobThread

*The National Endowment For The Humanities in D.C. is looking for a senior communications and outreach officer:

Senior Communications and Outreach Officer
National Endowment For The Humanities – Washington, DC
of Communications. As Senior Communications and… supports the overall communication objectives of NEH. Ÿ Develops a communications strategy for NEH’s… $123,758 – $155,500 a year

*This next opening could be a good fit for a transitioning journalist — especially one who has covered defense — looking to move into communications; Kratos Defense and Security Solutions in Arlington has an opening for a director of communications and outreach:
Director of Communications and Outreach
Kratos Defense and Security Solutions – Arlington, VA
seeking an experienced communications professional to provide strategic communications efforts for multi… marketing  Crisis communications  Familiarity…
From Kratos Defense and Security Solutions

*Politico in Arlington is looking for reporters and editors; it has an immediate opening for a weekend Web editor:

*Another news organization doing some hiring in D.C. is Al Jazeera, which has several positions open here including those for a program editor and a deputy program editor:

Al Jazeera English

Program Editor

Location: Washington, D.C.

This is a senior job; creating four news shows a night for a broadcast live from our central DC studios.  The winning candidate will have advanced TV production and writing skills, control room experience, and the ability to motivate a team of journalist, and a thorough understanding of global news and the Al Jazeera mission. If you are interested in working in an exciting and challenging broadcast environment please email your resume and cover letter to: please include the job you are applying for in the subject line.  Al Jazeera English is an equal opportunity employer

*WETA-TV in Arlington has an opening for an associate producer for Washington Week:

WETA TV (Washington Week with Gwen Ifill)

Associate Producer

Location: Arlington, VA

WETA, Washington DC’s public broadcasting station has an exciting opportunity as  Associate Producer for its production, Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.  Washington Week is PBS’ longest-running public affairs series and features Washington’s top journalists analyzing the week’s top news stories and their effect on the lives of all Americans.  Incumbent will participate in the development and production of Washington Week as assigned by the Managing Editor, Senior Producer and Producer.  Primary responsibilities include research, television program production, and web content development and production.  Incumbent will also provide administrative support to program host.  Must have demonstrated ability to make strong editorial judgment and knowledge of current events, U.S. politics, geopolitics, history, and government/political process and national news periodicals.  College degree in political science, journalism or related field.  Minimum 3 years experience in television production on a weekly news and/or current affairs program with exceptional pre-production and post-production skills. Come be a part of our dynamic team.   For consideration, please send letter of interest, salary requirements, and resume to or visit our website at for the full job description and on-line application.

*And last but not least today, Thomson Reuters has an opening in D.C. for a financial crimes reporter:

Thomson Reuters

Financial Crimes Reporter

Location: Washington, D.C.

The successful candidate will take the lead in writing major aspects of the financial crimes story from Washington. The emphasis will be on building strong sources to break news important to investors about U.S. Justice Department and FBI investigations of white-collar crimes growing out of the financial crisis. You will also help to lead a team of other correspondents in Washington, New York and elsewhere who are covering financial crimes within the companies and with correspondents on political and general news teams. You will also coordinate with correspondents and editors around the world, in particular with financial industry centers such as London, Zurich and Hong Kong, often writing cross-border stories. Some travel will be involved as you chase down leads. The beat will include criminal fraud linked to the largest U.S. financial firms and the shadow banking system, as prosecutors and regulators root out fraud and corruption that fueled the financial crisis or sprung from the federal government’s multitrillion-dollar effort to stimulate the economy and bail out the financial system.


We are looking for a correspondent who has a hunger for being first with major news, who is comfortable with both source-driven reporting and with using databases and court records to produce stories. The successful candidate will be a journalist with the desire and ability to do dogged initiative reporting, to truly set the agenda, and to dig deep really deep. You must be a team player, show leadership qualities and understand financial accounts.  At least five years experience at a major news organization is required along with strong writing skills and a track record of breaking news.

Required Skills:

  • Good news judgment
  • Strong writing skills
  • A track record of breaking news
  • Ability to generate smart and incisive story ideas and to look beyond immediate developments to wider implications
  • Ability to work well in high-stress situations
  • An enthusiasm for the subject matter
  • An ease with new technology

Please apply online at:

Happy hunting!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Reasons to Avoid Overselling Your Skills What to do When You Really Need a Job

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Daniel Stuhlman  |  July 9, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    What about the organization interviewing you? I once was invited to an interview and when I went to the address it was not there. The addresses on that block were out of numeric order. When I found the building entrance, a person fell down the steps a a few seconds before me and the security people were taking care of her and wouldn’t even check me in. When the security person took care of me, the interviewer had not put me on the list of approved guests. After the security person tracked down the interviewer and got me signed in I had to wait for an escort. It was was more than 30 minutes from when I arrived at the building to when I got to the office I was supposed to meet in. I was not impressed.


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