Professional Fridays: How to Ensure You Both Annoy Your Interviewer and Don’t Get the Job

I recently finished interviewing candidates for a number of positions at my current firm, from interns to mid-level managers.  While the job market is very competitive now, it’s important to remember that employers are looking for reasons to disqualify you.  It makes their job so much simpler if they have fewer people to actually consider.  Yet even though that’s the case, I’ve been stunned over the past few weeks by the behavior of the people I’ve been interviewing – it’s as if some of them don’t want the job at all and are doing some sort of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days experiment.  Let’s just review some of the ways my recent interviewees have ensured they will not be passed up the chain:

1) Make scheduling the interview as difficult and time-consuming as possible.  If you’re unavailable – really unavailable – on the day and time I suggest, help me out a little; don’t make me pull teeth just to find a time that works for us.  One candidate said she was terribly sorry, but she wouldn’t be able to make an interview at 11 AM that Thursday.  I said I understood, and then asked about 1 PM.  She apologized again and said that wouldn’t work either.  Only after I suggested 3 PM did she think to mention that she was unavailable the entire day because she’d be away at a work conference.  Mentioning that up front, and then letting me know that she can make herself available on any other day at my convenience, would have saved me an awful lot of aggravation.  If she hadn’t been so well-qualified on paper, I probably would have simply told her to forget it.

2) Show up 20 minutes early.  This one isn’t a dealbreaker because it’s clearly meant in the spirit of respect.  It will, however, serve to annoy me.  We’re all told to show up early for an interview, and this is true.  Here’s the caveat – don’t show up too early.  It’s likely that your interviewer has a packed day, and when I’ve booked my schedule to work on a project from 1-2 and interview someone from 2-3, that person showing up at my office at 1:40 stresses me out.  I don’t want to be rude, and I certainly don’t like the idea of you just sitting out in my front office for 20 minutes, so now I’m feeling pressured to get my work done and move my day along faster.  Some offices may also not be thrilled to have you waiting in the reception area for lengthy periods of time because it doesn’t look good.  My advice is to arrive at your interview location early to be sure you know where it is, but don’t go in and announce yourself until about 5 minutes beforehand.

3) Dress Like You’re Going to a Sidewalk Sale.  Different industries have different dress codes, but erring on the side of informal is a big risk to take.  If you’re coming to an interview at an office of a private firm, you should be dressed nicely.  A sleeveless cotton dress with hipster boots, too many bracelets that bang around as you talk, and multi-colored tights, is not an appropriate outfit for a job interview.  At least not here.  There’s some debate in the professional world about whether suits are still required as more industries have moved to business casual attire, but if you’re wearing something in which you’d also happily lounge around a public park, put it back in your closet and find something more formal.

4) Don’t Research the Firm in Advance.  I strongly recommend this one if you don’t want the job.  Definitely walk in and say you don’t really know all that much about our firm or about Fem2.0 (have you not heard of the internet?).  Even if you forget to look us up, or unexpectedly didn’t have the time, don’t walk in and admit it!  Ask a more specific question, such as “can you tell me more about the types of clients I’d be working for,” or “what project have you worked on here that was the most successful, or from which you feel you developed professionally?”  Whatever you do, don’t admit that you didn’t care enough about this interview to spend ten minutes on the intertubes.

5) Don’t Send a Thank You Note.  I know – it’s a little old fashioned.  Know what?  I’m a little old fashioned.  Sending a thank you note – or email if you will – has two purposes.  The first is to quite simply thank the interviewer for their time and effort.  Our society seems to have lost some politeness standards in its quest to be nimble and cutting edge, but it still counts.  The second purpose is to reiterate your interest in the position, or else to let me know that you’ve decided upon learning more about the job that it’s not a good fit for you.  An interview is a two-way street: I’m seeing if you’d be a good fit for us, and you’re seeing if we’d be a good fit for you.  Not sending me a thank you note leaves me completely hanging as to your interest.

Note: It is especially ok to not send a thank you note if it turns out you were vacationing in South Africa during the week of interviews and I made the effort to skype with you around your schedule.  And then to not reply to my email inviting you to the next round and asking whether you are still interested.  This ensures that not only will I not be offering you a job here, but it’s likely that I will remember this lack of professionalism should your name ever come across my radar again.  And trust me, it will.


These tips can all be summed up under the advice of “be respectful and polite.”  Show that you care about the position, that you respect the interviewer, and that you are the best candidate for the position.  You never know who won’t follow the rules of respect and courtesy, and at the end of the day, every little thing counts.  Good luck!


Photo Credit: Richard Masoner via Creative Commons License

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  • Stephen

    These are great rules of thumb Abigail. I don’t think you can overemphasize the importance of sending a thank you note in a timely manner. I would suggest asking for his or her business card before concluding the interview and sending an email within 24 hours. Some firms make hiring decisions very quickly and sending a card three to five days after the initial interview would do little to help your cause.

  • Good point, Stephen! I think your 24 rule is a good one, particularly considering how fast things move these days. By the time they get a snail-mail note 3 days later, they could have already made a decision.

  • Good tips. The thank you note will especially get you noticed since so few send them anymore.

    I work in high tech so our dress code tends to be pretty casual, but I’ve had candidates show up for interviews wearing shorts, sweats, and sleeveless shirts. People should at least *try* to look like they put some effort into their day!

    I’m glad your’e able to use my photo to illustrate this.