Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:10

The Do’s and Don’ts of Interviewing

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Published in Careers

In a previous edition, Dr. Eleanor Jennings provided information about the interview process from the perspective of the employer and tips on getting ready for the interview.  In this edition, Microbe Mentor’s Dr. Jennings provides advice on day-of interviewing tips.

Interview Set-ups

For late-career job candidates that have a higher worth, the interview process is often long and complex. Why? Companies rarely have existing openings for high-value employees.  Instead, companies find a candidate that they like and have to create the job around them.  This process can take months, depending on the company’s size and structure.  During this time, you may find yourself meeting with many people within the company.  Each one of these events has a dual purpose.  First, the company wants to show the candidate that they value them and are still interested.  Second, the company wants a wide range of strategic personnel to evaluate you, each focusing on one or more aspects of your abilities.    

For early-career job candidates, the interview process is more simplified. After a person’s resume has been vetted internally, the company instructs their Human Resources Department to contact the candidate and schedule an interview.  This interview can be done in the office, remotely (via Skype or over the phone), or even at a third-party location (such as over lunch or coffee).  These interviews can range from a simple meeting with one or two people, lasting an hour or less, or they can be an all-day event where a candidate meets with people both one-on-one and in a group.  The setting and level of involvement is dictated by the employer.  

Regardless of the interview set-up, you can use these do’s and don’ts on the interview day to prepare.            


  • Find out in advance the procedures for entering the company’s building if you are interviewing there.  Many companies require a photo ID to get past security.  Some even ask to search purses and briefcases.  Call the company’s main number to speak to a person who can tell you what to be prepared for.
  • Make sure you have your contact’s name and phone number with you, in case you need to call them from a front desk.  Many companies now require all guests to be escorted past security.
  • Show up a few minutes early.  If you are traveling to somewhere unfamiliar, account for the need to find a parking space and your interview location.  Check traffic patterns to help decide how much travel time to leave - you don’t want ongoing roadwork to cause you to be late.  And include time to get through any of the above-described security procedures before your interview.  It’s better to arrive early and hang out in your car or at a coffee shop if you have extra time, as opposed to being rushed (or worse, to be late).
  • Allow yourself time to do some breathing exercises to calm down any nerves.
  • Dress appropriately. Err on the side of conservative and go with a suit.  Remember that the employer is looking to see how well you will represent them to clients, other professionals, and the public.   So:
    • Cover tattoos
    • Wear minimal jewelry
    • Keep makeup simple and businesslike
    • Get a haircut if you need it
    • Pull out your full interview outfit in advance to prevent frantic searches for a missing shoe at the last minute
    • Make sure your clothes are clean, pressed, and tailored correctly. Check on this with plenty of time for any needed trips to the dry-cleaner or tailor.  If you travel overnight to your interview, invest in a portable steam iron to freshen clothes in your hotel the night before.   
  • Bring paper copies of your resume in a leather portfolio or other professional case, just in case the interviewer needs it. Have a place to secure any business cards you may be handed.  
  • Bring business cards of your own.  There are places online and in office-supply stores where you can get a box of 250 professional-looking business cards.
  • Be ready to briefly tell your interviewer about your past employment history, why you want to work at their company, and what value you will contribute to the job and company.   
  • Understand what questions are illegal for an interviewer to ask … and be ready to answer them!  Unfortunately, it happens a lot, so be ready to politely dodge these topics.  For example, if asked if you have kids or plan on having kids in the near future, reply with something such as, “I don’t allow my personal life to interfere with my work life.”  And then say nothing else.  This answers the question without really answering it and it also sends the message to the interviewer that you’re not falling for their illegal questions.
  • Feel comfortable revealing something about yourself to be relatable – but keep it to a topic that is not controversial or too personal.  For example, if being asked if relocation to a particular city is acceptable to you, you can say that you’re looking forward to living in that location because you like to ski in your free time. 
  • Have a realistic salary expectation in mind, if you are asked.  The key here is realistic, and your salary (and negotiating power regarding this benefit) will be proportional to your value to the company. Research in advance what salaries are common for your job in the geographic region.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Yawning during an interview is not good, so start getting extra z’s, beginning a few nights before the interview.


  • Chew gum.  This happens more than one would think and it is a huge pet peeve of many people doing interviews.
  • Dress inappropriately.  This means that you need to avoid:
    • Flip flops, casual shoes, or shoes with exposed heals or toes.  
    • Blouses that cut too low or skirts that are above the knee
    • Super high-heals
    • Huge bulky purses, backpacks, or oversized briefcase – instead, keep it simple.  
    • Sloppily tied ties or a shirt that has a shirt-tail that keeps coming untucked
    • Anything dirty, missing buttons, is frayed, etc.
  • Bash your former employer.  When discussing your current or former employers, do not complain about them, in any way.  This signals that you talk badly about others, and the interviewer assumes you will do the same with the company you are interviewing with.  If you had the terrible boss/mentor/major professor, find a nice way to talk about them (“He definitely challenged me, and I’m a better person for it!”) and then quickly move the conversation along.
  • Drink alcohol.  If your interview is occurring over lunch, avoid alcohol, even if the interviewer is having an alcoholic drink.
  • Pick something complicated to eat during a lunch interview. Keep your meal choice something easy to eat, so you can focus on talking and staying clean. Getting something that’s hard to eat can make you unfocused.  
  • Discuss your personal stories and private life, such as, family problems, upcoming divorces, personal issues, etc. Doing this will signal to the employer that there is something that can possibly interfere with your ability to focus on the job.
    • What happens if there is an emergency, such as a serious illness or death in the family?  Call your interviewer IMMEDIATELY, apologize, and reschedule. Without going into too many details, explain what the emergency is (“Death in the family” is all you would say, for example).  Then say when you can reschedule the interview for (“I will be able to make any time after next Monday.  Do you have an open time then?”).  Employers ARE human, and most will be sympathetic to your situation and appreciative that you are handling a difficult situation in the most professional way possible.  Make sure to thank your interviewer for being understanding at this time and repeat again during the rescheduled interview. Make sure they know that you appreciate them working around the situation.       
  • Say any statements that start with “I never …” “I never work on weekends” will suggest a weak work ethic.  Some jobs have times where personnel are needed on the weekend to get a task completed, and the higher up you go in your career, the more often this will be expected of you.  
  • Inform the interviewer that you have a side job. If you do, keep it to yourself.  An employer will think that you have something else that can possibly take priority from their tasks, and an interviewer will wonder about your ability to juggle both commitments.  

By preparing for your interview and presenting yourself to the company in the best possible light, you can significantly increase your odds of winning the position you are after.

The third installment in this series will focus on negotiating job benefits.  

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:23
Eleanor M. Jennings

Dr. Eleanor Jennings is a Principal Microbiologist at Parsons Corporation. She has worked on contaminant remediation projects on multiple continents, and currently serves as the U.S. science advisor to the National Science and Engineering Council of Canada.  She is also the Chair of the ASM Career Development Committee and is on the ASM Membership Board.