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Interview Etiquette: Seven Tips

11:54am Wednesday 8th June 2011

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Your CV has successfully found its way to the top of the pile and you have been invited to come and meet your prospective new employer. They know your skills and experience and believe that you could be the right person for the job. All you have to do now is get through the interview and you will be halfway to nailing the job that you want. But, do you know what you should say and do at your interview, what etiquette befits the situation, and what will give you a competitive edge over your competition?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes 'etiquette' as "The code of polite behaviour in a society." So, if you are uncertain of what is deemed as appropriate interview etiquette, here are some useful guidelines to help you excel at your next interrogation.

1. Dress appropriately

Be conservative and err on the side of caution. If the company does not have a specific dress code, then it's better to overdress than under dress. To take the guesswork out of choosing the appropriate attire, you should dress a step above the norm of that environment. For instance, if most people wear jeans and t-shirt, then you should wear trousers and a shirt. Everyone wears trousers and shirt? Wear a suit.

Several surveys have found that women who dress more like Hillary Clinton or Natasha Kaplinsky are more likely to be hired or promoted than someone, say Pamela Anderson, who looks like they are auditioning for a job at Spearmint Rhino. In other words, your clothes (or lack of) shouldn't be stealing the show.

"Women are advised to stay away from slinky dresses, low-plunging necklines, short skirts or tight-fitting trousers," says workplace etiquette expert, Pamela Holland.

"Men should refrain from unbuttoning more than two buttons on their shirts and wearing overly fitted shirts that show off their muscles," Holland added. As Shakespeare said, "Apparel oft proclaims the man." Don't expose any body parts --you are there to get hired on your merits, not your assets.

2. Be on time

There is no exception to this rule and no excuses. Most employers will assume that if you are late for your interview, you will be late for work, late for that all-important client meeting, that you are disorganised or, worse still, you are rude. So, plan your route and give yourself plenty of time to collate your thoughts and get mentally prepared for the interview ahead.

3. Take note of that handshake

The handshake is an important component of the first impressions that a potential employer will form of you. Indeed, psychologists suggest a correlation between an individual's handshake and their personality.

The eminent psychologist, A. Vanderbilt, argued that a handshake is "as much a part of personality as the way we walk and, although we may modify and improve a poor handshake if someone calls our attention to it, it will usually be just like us, assured or timid, warm or cool."

So, make sure that you create the right first impression with a firm handshake with a steady grip, and avoid a limp, cold or clammy handshake that can make your interviewer feel uncomfortable. "Nothing creates a poorer impression than a weak, couple-of-fingers handshake," warns Robin Ryan, career coach, author of "60 Seconds & You're Hired!"

4. Non-verbal communication, eye contact and flirting

Playing with your hair, nervous giggling, looking around the room or staring blankly at your interviewer, are definite no-nos. Your demeanour is under scrutiny from the moment you enter the office as your interviewer will start to build a picture of you.

Therefore, maintain eye contact but don't stare. If there is more than one interviewer, make sure you address each one equally when responding to a question.

And, if your interviewer makes your jaw drop, your heart pound, lose all sense of composure to leave you feeling like a love-struck teenage who has a crush on their teacher, make sure you resist the temptation to flirt - focus on the task at hand: getting the job. Even if your interviewer is a dead-ringer or Cameron Diaz or Brad Pitt, don't flirt -- even if they flirt with you, be friendly and remain professional.

5. Inspire confidence and avoid bragging or lying

Interviews are designed to give you the opportunity to sell "You PLC." And employers are looking to you to convince them that you are confident, competent in what you do and able to fit in with their culture. So, when asked questions, you need to be aware of why they are asking those questions.

"Fill your answers with specifics and frequently give examples of how you've done things well in the past," Robin Ryan advises. "Employers aren't impressed with vague generalities. Be detailed but concise when you answer."

And avoid exaggerating your claims. Don't respond like the character Helen Marsh on "The Catherine Tate Show," who responds with "I can do that" everything that is asked of her, when she has no idea what she is doing and is of no help to anyone.

Remember, most employers will check to see if your claims are justified because they need to ensure that they are going to get a return on their investment if they hire you.

6. Turn it off!

If you cannot respect the most basic social graces at interview stage, then no employer will hire you. Peeking at your mobile phone or BlackBerry at any stage of the interview is a bad idea. And if you keep it switched on, and it rings, you will be tempted to see who the caller is. This is not only rude, it is also a clear signal to your interviewer that you are easily distracted and unable to focus on the immediate task.

7. Leave a lasting impression

The interview isn't completely over until you have written a short thank you note to your interviewer that evening. Email is acceptable but snail-mail is the preferred option because it is more personable and implies that you would also be prepared to put extra effort into your work, which could tip the balance in your favour

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