Creating the Interview Context

Beginning -- and continuing -- the interview on the right note goes a long way toward making a positive and lasting first impression.

We call this process Creating the Context for the interview.

You may be highly qualified for the position you want, and confident that you can show the interviewer how your background and training make you uniquely valuable to the company. But for that message to be communicated effectively, you also have to be seen by the interviewer as a self-assured, competent professional.

The first few minutes of your time with the interviewer are extremely important. This is your chance to demonstrate qualities that may not come through on your resume or reference letters. These few minutes will set the tone for what follows – so be prepared to make a strong and confident first impression.

Keep in mind that we all communicate in many ways in addition to the words we use. Pacing and tone of voice, eye movement, posture, body language, grooming, attire and much more all contribute to the messages that we send to people.

Pay attention to your manners, especially if food or beverages are involved. If you aren’t 100% certain that your manners are impeccable – then they aren’t. Read some books on business etiquette and research the topic on the internet.

Start the interview off right – even before it starts: Be on time!

  • Get to the hallway outside the interview location early
  • Enter the interview location no more than five minutes before your appointment
  • Think what a priceless opportunity this is for you to send the message: “I am a thoughtful professional”

Don't worry. Be happy

  • Smile
  • Nothing communicates a positive attitude better than a smile
    • Set the tone for everything that comes afterwards, simply by smiling and being pleasant
    • Just imagine the message you send when you’re frowning or extremely nervous
  • Studies have shown that if you make yourself smile for a minute or two, your smile will actually become genuine
  • When you’re smiling, you really will feel more relaxed and pleasant

Remember: This section is about context: The Big Picture.

Pay attention to everything that's going on around you – before during and after the interview.

Don't focus so myopically on your time with the interviewer that you miss the rest of what’s going on.


  • From the moment that you’re in sight of the building:
    • Stand up straight, with your best posture
    • Don’t run or look flustered or nervous
    • Your clothing should be completely ready for the interview
      • Your tie should be all the way up
      • Your hair should be combed and neat
      • Don’t adjust your undies!
    • Why worry about all of this so soon?
      • Because if you can see the building, someone in the building can see you
      • It’s never too early to start making a good first impression
  • Be pleasant and polite to everyone you meet in the lobby of the building
    • Relax
    • Smile
  • Be particularly pleasant and courteous to everyone you meet in or near the interviewer’s office
    • This includes, of course, any receptionists or secretaries or admin people
    • Remember: Anyone you meet may be asked for their impressions of you
    • In many environments, the “interview” actually starts well before you’ve met the interviewer
  • Always maintain a pleasant, professional and positive attitude

Follow the interviewer’s lead in setting the level of formality and the pacing of the interview.

Be polite! Be respectful of the time and opportunity you’ve been given.

You and the interviewer are actually on the same team

  • Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the interview is an adversarial procedure
  • After all, both you and the interviewer want the meeting to go well
    • You want the job (or you at least want to make a good impression)
    • And the interviewer doesn’t want to be wasting his time
  • It’s okay to be a bit nervous
    • The interviewer will expect this and not judge you harshly for it
    • Most interviewers will do their best to put you at ease
  • Remember this and follow our tips, and both you and the interviewer will have a successful and productive experience – and a more enjoyable one as well

Find out who’s who

  • Be sure to ask for the business card of the interviewer
    • Do this right as you meet, or
    • Find a logical time during the interview
    • Don’t leave the meeting without the interviewer’s card
  • If you’re meeting with more than one person, get a card from each one
  • As soon as you can, unobtrusively make a note on the card to remind you who was who:
    • Use a physical description
    • Indicate where they were seated
    • Note any personally descriptive information they shared, etc.

Shake hands like a professional

  • If your hands are sweaty, wipe them unobtrusively on clothing before the time comes to shake hands
  • Use a firm (but not too firm) grip, whether you’re male or female
  • Do not let your hand be limp
    • No dead fish at the interview!
    • This is one of the deadliest messages you can send
  • The way you shake hands communicates more in seconds than almost anything else you do or say
  • Like it or not, you will be evaluated in large part on the way you shake hands
  • Practice!
    • Practice and practice again, if you need to
    • Get feedback from friends and colleagues
    • Become expert at communicating your professionalism through your handshake

Sit up straight, just like Mom always told you

  • This is an easy way to send a strong, positive message about yourself
  • You can also demonstrate your respect for the interviewer and for the company
  • You communicate your interest and attention
  • Don’t fidget or make unnecessary movements
  • Don’t overdo it and sit absolutely still; you’re not a statue
  • When you practice your interview, practice your body language at the same time

Watch your eyes!

  • Make eye contact with the interviewer during the interview
  • Don't let your eyes dart around the room
    • You'll look nervous
    • Worse yet, you'll look as if you aren't interested in the interview
  • Look at the interviewer as you answer questions
    • Looking away suggests that you're making something up
    • Looking away can also suggest that you just don't care about the question and your response to it
  • Keep in mind that your goal is to build a positive relationship with a fellow professional

Speak well

  • Study our Professional Demeanor page
    • Practice how to speak like a professional
    • Remember and apply those tips during the interview
  • Speak clearly and use correct grammar and syntax (at least you don’t have to worry about spelling!)
  • Enunciate clearly
  • Control your rate of speech
    • Don’t get carried away and talk too fast
    • Not only does rapid speech suggest nervousness, hearing yourself sounding nervous can make you nervous
  • Despite the advice above: Do communicate excitement and enthusiasm
  • Avoid the dreaded “ummm,” “ahhhh” and “you know”. Practice speaking without these
  • Don’t use slang or profanity – no matter how good your rapport with the interviewer seems to be
  • Minimize your use of professional jargon, buzzwords and acronyms
    • The interviewer may not be familiar with all of these terms
    • Buzzwords can suggest that you’re unable to communicate with non-technical people
    • Unfortunately, jargon can suggest to some people that you’re showing off
  • Do we have to say it?
    • Don’t have gum, mints or candy in your mouth when you enter the room
    • If you had a breath mint beforehand, make sure that you’re finished before you enter the interview room

Sound like a professional

  • Make sure that you sound confident – but not arrogant or cocky
  • Watch experienced public speakers, take notes, and learn from them
  • Keep your comments and responses brief and to the point
  • Avoid long, drawn-out tales about past projects or experiences
  • We can’t emphasize this enough: Know when to shut up!
    • Don’t monopolize the conversation
    • Be sensitive to what the interviewer is trying accomplish
    • Consider responding to a detailed question in this way:
      • "Here's the short answer. Let me know if you'd like to hear the more detailed one."
    • Listen, respond - and then let the interviewer speak
  • Include practicing how you sound in your interview rehearsals. Use a recorder and ask a friend or colleague to provide feedback as well

Questions and answers

  • Be sure that you’ve studied all of the potential Interviewer Questions we listed. Rehearse your best responses to them so you’ll be prepared
  • The answers that you have ready should be specific and to the point
    • Don't ramble
    • Don't drift off the subject
    • Don't get trapped in war stories
  • Listen carefully to each question you’re asked, and answer only that question
  • If you can find a natural and organic way to introduce some of your "selling points", go ahead and do that
    • Work from the notes you made of the company based on all of your research
  • Practice all of the questions you want to ask
  • Know exactly what information you’re seeking when you ask these questions

Show your enthusiasm

  • Make it clear that you’re truly interested in the specific position
  • You may think that this is “showy” or unnecessary, but employers really do want you to care about the job
  • Show your interest in the company or organization
  • Communicate your interest in, and commitment to, your technical competencies and professional abilities
  • Demonstrate your appreciation for this opportunity to discuss your qualifications with the interviewer

Empathy and Rapport

  • An interview does not consist merely of questions and answers
  • The whole point of the process is for you to learn what the company needs, and for the interviewer to learn what you can contribute
  • Listen to the interviewer
  • Get to know the interviewer as well as you can in the brief time available to you
  • Do your best to develop a rapport with the interviewer
    • Look for opportunities to exchange some appropriate bits of personal (but not too personal) information
    • Try to get a clear sense of what they’re looking for
    • The more you know about each other, the more successful the interview will be
  • If you're not sure about a question or comment:
    • Ask for clarification
    • Rephrase and repeat the question to verify that you understand it
  • Listen between the lines of each question the interviewer asks
    • What is the real question?
    • What does the interviewer want to know most about you?
  • Make your responses – and your own questions – relevant to everything that has been said before in the interview
  • If you can establish some empathy and rapport with the interviewer:
    • Each of you will feel more comfortable asking the tough questions
    • Both of you will get more out of the interview
    • And isn’t that what the whole process is about?

Do your very best to demonstrate loyalty to your former employers

  • Try to avoid speaking negatively about places you’ve worked
  • We know that can be pretty difficult sometimes. But do your best
  • Remember that any negative comments you make about previous employment situations will tend to bring a negative tone to the interview
  • Interviewers may also wonder if somewhere down the road you will speak disparagingly of their company as well
  • If you had to work through countless problems, incompetencies and personal sniping in a previous job:
    • Talk about how you overcame those obstacles, and how you got the job done
    • Focus on the positives
    • Emphasize what worked, not what didn’t

By the time the interview is over, you want to have proven to the interviewer that:

  • You're a likable, experienced, competent professional
  • You are sincerely interested in this specific opportunity with this specific company
  • Your education, training and experience make you the right person for this position
  • Your intelligence and personal characteristics will enable you to make a unique contribution to the organization


  • You've read – and followed – all of our tips
  • You've done your homework
  • You're completely prepared for this interview
  • There's simply no reason for you to be nervous