Got Manners?

…Better get some if you want to land a job in today’s economy.

If you are interviewing for a job these days, it’s likely that you are not the only candidate being considered.  It doesn’t matter whether you are interviewing for high level or an entry level position–if you want the job, you have to be the applicant who sets himself or herself apart.  This means that everything is important, including your manners.  If you are a little rusty in the etiquette department, this is the time to brush up.

Manners are crucial to a good interview. Your resume tells about your work experience and educational credentials. A phone interview gives intervieweers a feel for what you can do for their company. They can call your references to verify your job performance. But the face-to-face interview really tells the company about you.  Are you respectful?  Are you reliable? Do you play well with others?  And most importantly, how will you represent this company to the outside world?  Good manners will give you an edge in convincing the interviewer that you are Mr. or Ms. Right.

Start with a few basics.

Be on time

If your interview is at 2:00 and you arrive at 2:00—you are late.  If you arrive 10-15 minutes early, you are on time.  Arriving early gives you a chance to take a few deep breaths and review any notes you might have. The person doing the hiring needs to know that you are going to show up to work on time if you are hired–you are asking them to take a chance on you.  Show that you are enthusiastic and reliable.  Be early.

Use a firm—really firm—handshake.  It’s the de-facto standard to begin a business relationship in our country, and it’s the best possible way to make a good first impression.  Look the person in the eye and smile.  Shake 3-4 times and release, but continue good eye contact and an attentive smile throughout the interview.  If it makes you nervous to look someone directly in the eye, look just below their eyes or even at their nose—but not at your feet, up in the air or around the room.

Be prepared

Have hard copies of your resume available just in case you need them.  Take plenty of business cards with you (they are inexpensively printed almost anywhere including on-line) with phone numbers, email information and mailing addresses.  And make sure you have a pen and something to write on.  It’s not only polite, but shows you are organized and prepared—good qualifications for almost any job.

Cell Phone

Turn your cell phone off—not to vibrate, but off.  The vibrate function can sometimes be heard and you don’t want the interviewer to think there is anything more important to you at this moment than this interview.  Never, ever check your phone or text during an interview.  It’s considered rude in any business situation but you won’t get away with it in an interview.


Greet everyone with courtesy and sincerity—the security guard, receptionist, secretary or administrative assistant.  You’d be surprised how many times the boss asks them “What did you think?”  Make sure you treat each person you meet respectfully, and thank them for whatever service they provide.  You never know who is watching.

Dress for success

The interviewer will take notice of how you present yourself—if you are attentive in your appearance you stand a good chance of convincing the interviewer that you’ll be attentive to details at work.  Get your suit or jacket cleaned, make sure your dress shirt (not your best purple shirt) is pressed and trade the Sponge Bob tie for a more conservative one. Ladies, opt for a skirt or dress instead of slacks if possible.  A few years ago you might have gotten away with something a little more casual, but today you need to go all out.  Show that you are serious.  You want to appear polished and show that you can represent the company well.


Check your attitude, your personal problems and your feelings about your previous employer at the door.  A good attitude is a huge asset and demonstrates that you will require minimal management time.  Put on your best sincere smile and remain upbeat and confident even if you don’t feel it.


If you are interviewing over lunch or dinner, spend some time reading up on dining etiquette. Remember a few essentials:

  • Put your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down.
  • Remember the letters BMW (like the car). This means Bread, Meal, Water–from left to right–and will keep you from using someone else’s bread plate or drinking another’s water.  Use your utensils from the outside in as courses are presented.
  • Don’t order anything you have to eat with your hands or that is difficult to eat so that you can fully focus on the interviewer and not the food.  Chew with your mouth closed and bring your food to your mouth, not vice versa.
  • Keep your elbows off the table.  Mom was right.
  • Alcohol is a bad idea for an interviewee, even if everyone else orders a drink.

Follow up

Follow up the interview with a personal thank you note as soon as possible, optimally within 24 hours—you want your note to arrive before one from another interviewee!  A quick email immediately after the interview is fine but it should be followed by a something more personal.  A typed thank-you on nice letterhead is OK but a handwritten note on a plain note card is far better.  You want to be the one they remember!


You can get hired or not hired for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes the reasons have nothing to do with your qualifications.  But assuming you are qualified for the job, your manners can set you apart and that might well be the difference in you and the other top candidates.   And in the words of Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”Clarence Thomas

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.