Business etiquette and the job interview

chairs in a meeting roomThere is a lot of advice around that’s intended to make you feel more relaxed about job interviews. Many people say you should just treat an interview as a business meeting. But what if you’ve never been in a business meeting?

As a student or recent graduate, it’s likely that you don’t have much, or any, experience of business meetings, so what should you expect?

Business etiquette

Most business etiquette is based on common sense and good manners – which means that some of these tips will sound obvious. There’s no mystique about this: generally, it’s about behaviour that shows you respect the other people and want to make them feel comfortable.

  • Dress professionally.
  • Be punctual: turn up on time or a bit earlier.
  • Shake hands when invited to do so.
  • Expect some small talk before getting down to business. This helps create rapport between people who have not met before.
  • Business meetings generally have a chair – someone who leads the discussion, ensures that the agenda is covered, and signals when the meeting is over. At a job interview, this may not be explicit but you will notice the HR manager or someone else on the interview panel take this role. Be particularly aware of what this person is saying.
  • Wait for someone to stop speaking before you reply; don’t interrupt. Answer thoughtfully and make eye contact with the person who’s talking.
  • Don’t swear, and avoid slang as much as possible: it may not be understood by all present and can sound unprofessional.
  • Avoid making jokes: these are best avoided with people you don’t know as they can misfire. They may also suggest that you are not taking the meeting seriously.
  • Give your full attention to the meeting. Turn your phone off (and if you’ve forgotten, don’t answer it in the middle of the interview!). It’s acceptable to take a drink of water, though, if it is offered, and it’s also OK to take notes.
  • At the end of the meeting, thank people for their time.

An agenda

A productive meeting always needs an agenda. In a business meeting, this might be a formal document circulated in advance. For a job interview, it’s possible that you may be sent a note about what to expect. More often, you are likely to be given a summary at the beginning of the interview. This could be along the lines of: ‘We will give you some information about the job and then ask you some questions. There will be time for you to ask questions at the end of the interview, but feel free to do so as we go along.’

A meeting of equals

At a job interview there is, of course, also an unspoken agenda. You may think that the interviewers’ agenda is ‘Choosing who to hire’ and yours is ‘I want them to give me a job.’ In fact, both sides should have the same underlying agenda: to find out whether you are a good fit for the job. It’s in your own interest, as much as theirs, that you come out of the meeting knowing the answer to this question.

So the best approach is not to treat the interview as a one-sided interrogation but as a meeting of professionals with a shared aim. Yes, you still need to present your case persuasively – as happens in many business meetings – but it’s also a two-sided conversation where listening and learning can take place.

This may not stop you being nervous, but it will help you to come across as considered, confident – and businesslike.

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