In all likelihood, you’ve already heard the standard job interview tips: Give a firm handshake, make eye contact, have questions prepared, say and follow up later with a heartfelt thank-you. So, hopefully you’ve got those basics down already.
But even seasoned professionals can use a brush-up on modern interview etiquette before heading in to discuss an opportunity you’re really excited about. In fact, the longer you’ve been working, the more laissez-faire you might inadvertently become about your interview skills, especially if you’ve had a few great jobs and feel like they’ve prepared you to talk to anyone.
That might be the case, but you still might be surprised by some of the things that bug HR people and managers when they’re meeting an assembly line of job candidates. Here’s a list of stuff never to do if you want to be sure not to rub someone the wrong way:
1. Show Up 2 Minutes Before the Interview
It’s not enough time to slip into a bathroom for a quick mirror check—key for making sure you don’t have anything in your teeth or smudged lipstick and also for just making sure you feel and look ready. “Always arrive early enough to check your face in the bathroom or duck into a nearby Starbucks,” says leadership consultant and adviser Dana W. White, author of the new book Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be. “It’s amazing what can go wrong with makeup and hair in a fairly short amount of time, especially on a warm day and you’re nervous. Keep oil-blotting sheets on you, or use a clean toilet seat protector to blot away sweat on your face or underarms.”
2. Rock a Week-Old Manicure
To put it bluntly, chipped nails look gross—and they’re a common pet peeve among managers. Make sure your nails are clean and well-groomed, whether you’re wearing a color or going natural.
3. Wear Something Wrinkled
“It’s always shocking to me how many people will wear wrinkled clothes to an interview as if no one will notice,” says White. “People notice if your pants or shirt isn’t pressed, so iron or steam everything.” That even goes for a blouse you’re wearing with jeans to a super-casual office interview. Wrinkles look sloppy and generally send a message that you don’t care, which at a job interview, is the exact opposite impression you want to give.
4. OD on Perfume
An HR manager at one of New York’s major magazine umbrella companies once told me that her biggest pet peeve during interviews is when someone walks in sporting a strong cologne or perfume. Leave the fragrance at home!
5. Ignore the Receptionist
Bad idea. You don’t know who is friends with whom in this office—and it’s also bad karma to act dismissively toward people whom you don’t outrightly need something from. “Be friendly, smile, shake their hands,” says White. “Because people are nervous or arrogant, they can treat greeters, receptionists, or assistants as if they’re invisible. When you leave, your interviewer could ask them, ‘What did you think of her?’”
6. Come Across as Blasé
Smile and make it clear you’re happy to be there, being considered for this opportunity. Sounds basic, but a lot of people’s nerves can make them appear preoccupied or overly serious. “Believe it or not, one of the biggest mistakes people make is not appearing excited or interested in the job they’re interviewing for,” says Lisa Skeete Tatum, founder and CEO of Landit, a technology platform that aims to increase the success and engagement of women in the workforce. “Show enthusiasm!”
7. Pretend You Know Something You’re Clueless About
While it’s important to appear (and actually be) prepared, it’s not worth lying your ass off pretending you’re aware of something the interviewer is talking or asking about and risk looking like an idiot. This is one instance where you should not fake it until you make it. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or say, ‘Excuse me, I’m not familiar with that term,’” says White. “Yes, it might reveal something you don’t know, but you can use it as an opportunity to learn and allow the person to educate you. Generally, everyone loves to show up as an expert, so let them.”
8. Ask About Salary
Don’t ever bring up salary or benefits during a first meeting: It can come across as presumptuous. “Be prepared with a polite answer if you’re asked,” says Skeete Tatum. If you’re meeting with HR, expect them to ask for your minimum compensation requirement; if they ask what you’re currently making, politely give a general range and then mention the range that you’re looking to make with this next move. Don’t box yourself in with specific numbers at this point.
9. Skip the “Closer” Question
Most interviewers will ask you if you have any more questions for them, or if there’s anything else you’d like to say before wrapping up. “Go in for the closer with your short bullet points on why you’re excited and a great fit for the opportunity,” says Skeete Tatum. “If something you wanted to communicate wasn’t covered in the interview, use this moment as an opportunity to highlight it. Leave them with something great to think about.” Even if it’s just reiterating your excitement about the opportunity!
10. Leave Before Asking About Next Steps
Make sure you know who’s getting in touch with whom next, so you can follow up appropriately. “Thank them for their time and ask when and with whom you may follow up,” says White. “This will prompt them to tell you whether they or their assistant will reach out—or whether the onus is on you.”
Originally published June 2016. Updated September 2017.