How-to: Interview Etiquette

Towanda Williams, career specialist. Photo by Megan Withrow.

Towanda Williams, career specialist. Photo by Megan Withrow.

Megan Withrow


Going to an interview can be extremely scary and overwhelming. Most of us have tons of questions about how we should dress, when we should arrive and how to act. Here are some tips and tricks from Towanda Williams, career specialist at The W, that will help people breathe more easily throughout the interviewing process. 

What should one wear to an interview?

“The more formal, the better. You should wear something that you feel comfortable in and that makes you feel good. Men should always wear a suit jacket and shine their shoes. Women should wear knee-length skirts [and] light makeup. And hair needs to be out of your face.”

What time should the interviewee arrive?

“You should arrive about 10 or 15 minutes early. Try not to arrive any earlier. It gives you a chance to take everything in, to go over questions you want to ask the interviewer, and to breathe.

“Always remember that you're being watched and interviewed the moment you introduce yourself to the receptionist. They are watching your mannerisms and how you wait. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on your phone while you wait. You don’t want someone to think you’re impatient.”

What is your advice on handshakes or non-verbal communication during an interview?

“As bad as it sounds, you will be judged on your handshake. Make sure that it’s not too firm or too limp. Practice with someone before going, so they can give feedback. Sit up straight in the chair, lean forward and make eye contact. Don’t get too comfortable ─ some interviewers don’t want you to be laid-back. Be careful about folding your arms across your chest. It can come off as a defensive posture.

“Listen very closely to what they are saying. Keep focused on your interviewer. You're sitting in that chair to sell solutions to their problems or challenges. When it comes down to it, it's about them, not about you.”

When should an interviewee give the interviewer his or her resume?

“You can wait for them to ask, or just give it to them as soon as it begins. It can break the ice and give you something to talk about at first. If you have certain experience in areas and want to draw attention to them, say it. Experience is important, and you should sell yourself.”

What is your stance on taking notes during an interview?

“Well, you should bring a professional-looking binder with you if you are wanting to take notes. It’s completely OK to take notes. You can always ask if it’s OK with them to take notes. It shows that you are genuinely interested in the position and want to remember what the interviewer mentions during the process. It also gives you a cheat sheet to put your own questions or points you want to make during the interview as well.”

With that in mind, how do we judge the flow or atmosphere of the interview?

“Follow the interviewer's rhythm. Don't try too hard and talk too fast. Answer concisely and with a confident, calm manner. Pause before you respond, even repeat the question if need be, to buy yourself some moments to gather a measured answer.”

What should the interviewee focus on?

“You should just sell yourself. Write down and practice at home three main selling points about yourself to help you stay focused. Have specific examples that feature your strengths and skills to share. It’s easy to get off track during an interview, so make sure you remember why you’re there and what your purpose is.”

How should the interview end?

“Be prepared with at least two or three questions to ask. If this person would be your boss, and you feel comfortable, you might ask: what makes you excited to come to work each day? What do you like the most about working here?”

Do you have anything else you like to add about interviewing or the process?

“Always, always, always send a hand-written thank-you note after your interview. This is a must! It is common courtesy, it shows you care, and they will remember you and your name when making the judgment on who they want for the position.”