Richmond Proper: On job interview etiquette

A reader writes, “I would love to read a Richmond Proper column on job interview etiquette. We’ve been interviewing people all week and the things they do astound me!” Here are a few simple guidelines we all should follow should we find ourselves in the hot seat.

“A job interview is the perfect time for making someone else feel that he or she cannot live without you and would be foolish to try.”

— Judith Martin

A reader writes,

I would love to read a Richmond Proper column on job interview etiquette. We’ve been interviewing people all week and the things they do astound me!

Although visualizing a successful job interview is easy enough, it’s amazing how quickly we slip back into unattractive and unprofessional behavior when we’re in the hot seat. Then again, fretting too much about making a good impression can reduce a job seeker to a bundle of nerves that no one would hire. Here are a few simple guidelines to make the whole process a little less scary.

Dress appropriately.
This will depend on the type of job you’re interviewing for, but your best bet is to dress a notch above what is expected at the workplace.  “The real reason for dressing up a notch is that you want the interviewer to focus on you, not your clothes. If the interviewer’s attention turns to your clothes, you’re probably wearing the wrong thing.” (

Be on time.
As far as the interviewer is concerned, your punctuality directly reflects your level of interest in the job. Being late doesn’t signify that you’re busy and important, it signifies that you’re not a grown-up and you can’t plan ahead.

Silence your phone.
No text message or Facebook notification is worth ruining your employment possibilities. Even a rousing speech about your efforts to find the cure for cancer will be down the drain as soon as your sweet Color Me Badd ringtone goes off. Silence your phone — the rest of the world can wait 45 minutes to continue pestering you.

Give a firm handshake.
Ah, the firm handshake — loved by Dads and bosses the world over. And really, just about everyone else. Nobody likes the limp handshake, which inspires feelings of suspicion wherever it’s offered.

Practice good posture.
This is a difficult one because it’s so incredibly easy to slump without thinking about it. Sitting up straight can go a long way to make a person look dignified and up for a challenge, while a person who’s hunched over looks tired and closed-off (and kind of resembles a caveman).

Be direct.
Check your tendencies to mumble and to be diminutive at the door. According to, job seekers should “speak clearly and make eye contact. Even if you are shy!”

Play up your strengths.
This is the time to mention all the good things about yourself that make you an asset in the workplace. “Having devoted her life to extolling the virtues of modesty and quiet charm, Miss Manners feels bound to admit that these are not wildly successful qualities to exhibit in job interviews,” writes Judith Martin.

Be enthusiastic.
The studied aloofness that’s so very cool in social situations should be ousted in favor of rapt enthusiasm. “In business, it helps more than any other single qualification, with the possible exception of being the owner’s eldest child,” says Judith Martin. Smiling also helps.

Don’t be too familiar.
Stay away from the plague of TMI. Talking about bodily grievances, the latest steamy Mad Men scene, or how adorrrrable your three-year-old is makes you seem a little immature and takes the focus off of your work abilities.

Don’t be negative.
Don’t indulge in topics like your wicked witch of a former boss, or your sob-worthy divorce. Try to avoid giving the impression that chaos and tragedy follow you everywhere you go, even if this actually is the case.

Send that thank you note.
Actually, you should thank your interviewer in person at the end of the meeting, and then in a written thank you note sent the next day. This lets them know you appreciated his or her time, and reinforces the feeling of goodwill between you.

That’s the essential list, but personal experiences are always the gems in the Richmond Proper tiara. This is where we could use your help, interviewers. What are the things that have made candidates stand out or fail immediately? Comment below.

Have an etiquette question and need some advice?  Email

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

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