7 Things NOT To Do in an Interview (I Didn’t Think I Had to Tell You)

Other than to say I did NOT make this stuff up, my lips are sealed as to how I came up with this list of things you shouldn’t do in an interview (both to protect the innocent and me). But seriously…when it comes to interviews, did I have to tell you not to do any of this?

What You Should NEVER Do in a Job Interview

  • Please…I beg of you…don’t come to an interview if you haven’t bathed or brushed your teeth! If anyone thinks I’m kidding, I’m not. While this may seem absolutely obvious to almost everyone, I assure you, there are some folks who may not realize this matters. And if you are one of them…it absolutely does! You don’t have to come dressed like a fashion plate – in fact probably a good idea not to unless it’s some snazzy high-fashion job – and even then, less may be more. Tasteful, well-groomed, bathed…I think this pretty much says it.
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer! Even if you think you get where they’re going and have the most brilliant answer ever to their interview question, this is one of the most annoying things you can do. Give them a chance to finish. And at least do your best to maintain eye contact and show you are listening intently – and are very interested in and respectful of the person speaking.
  • Don’t take off on your own and answer a question that wasn’t asked. Following up on the previous “don’t”, you may think you know where they’re going, but they may throw you a curve ball. Or, in your nervousness or desire to make all your practiced points, you may in fact miss the point. I’ve seen people going off on tangents that may be interesting enough, but it  showed me they weren’t really listening. Listen carefully and be right there in the moment – and not racing ahead to your answer or thinking of next questions. It’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself in an interview. (Other than bathing.) Of course, if there is a related key strength you want to tell them about, there may be a way to fit that into your answer, as long as you don’t go on and on. But first…answer the question.
  • Don’t wear perfume or cologne. I hope I don’t need to explain this, but if I do…first, some people find perfumes or colognes offensive – worse yet, some people may be allergic.  They don’t belong in an interview…except maybe (once again tastefully done) if you are interviewing at the company that makes the product, I guess. Once again, bathing / showering will pretty much do the trick here.
  • Don’t go heavy on the make-up. (To be gender neutral, this goes for men or women.) The closer to natural you look, the more the real you can shine through.  To be candid, I have to admit now I haven’t used make-up for years, but if you do use it, artfully applied it can be a real asset. But too much and too bold…well, some employers will see it as a sign that you are more about looks and surface things than business. This general “don’t” can be adapted to how you dress, of course.
  • No gum, no candy – nothing in your mouth except teeth (hopefully) and other nature-given stuff.  You’re there to speak and listen – without anything else going on in there. Once again, you want to show you are about the business and not your own comfort or habits. I recently read that maybe you should even think twice about bringing your own coffee. (I’m not sure about that one – unless your choice of coffee sends the wrong message. 😉  If anyone read that article, I’d love the link.) Of course, if you’re offered coffee, tea or water, by all means feel free to accept. I myself do bring a bottle of water with me and I believe it has never hurt, but I’m open to hearing otherwise if someone wants to chime in here.  Oh…and while you probably shouldn’t bring much of anything in with you (other than anything the employer requested), one thing you SHOULD remember to bring is a few copies of your resume, just in case. (I read some people even bring their relatives with them…ewww. Again I would love the link.)
  • Don’t listen to your iPod, play video games, make cell phone calls, etc. while waiting to be interviewed. Take care of all that before you come in the door of the building.  Or, if you really need to make IMPORTANT calls while you wait, ask if you may use a private area to do so. Just like with dating, impressions form quickly. Watching someone dial a bunch of friends or play video games while waiting, leaves the impression the person will be doing that during their workday too. Since you are there to present yourself as a capable, serious candidate, start your presentation from the moment you walk in.  Impressions you leave can last well beyond the day of the interview. And you never know whom you run into on the elevator or even as you enter the building.  After the interview, maintain your best interview attitude until you are away from the building.

Hope that helps. Of course, there are many more things I could tell you not to do (and pray I don’t have to), but for now I think these are enough.

Please feel free to add your own don’ts as well as any exceptions you can think of; I’m sure they exist. Stories from real interviews would be great!

Some related posts you might find helpful:

10 Impressions You Leave Behind After a Job Interview

18 Practical Tips to Help You Ace that Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

Job Interviews: Where Do You See Yourself Five Years From Now?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Strength?

How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job When You Actually Quit

=> Browse the Career Dictionary <=


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I second the tip about perfume! When I was the Director of Volunteer Services for a literacy council, I would interview prospective tutors. One woman was wearing such a heavy scent that within five minutes, my eyes were watering!

    She did become a volunteer with us, but I had to advise her on not wearing perfume out of respect for the possible allergies of our clients.

  2. Here’s another: Be thorough, but don’t ramble. Give the interviewer enough of an answer to his or her question, but don’t go on and on. The answer should give the interviewer a clear, unambiguous answer with enough – but not too much – detail to absorb.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    I have a question. I like to bring a book with me everywhere I go, and keep one in my purse. It is always something tasteful, if going to an interview. is it okay to read while waiting, particularly if they say they may keep you waiting for awhile? My last employer said it was part of what set me apart from the rest, who were on their cell phones, but acknowledged that it was because she is also a reader.

  4. Melissa: Thanks for the comment. Great example of how something that seems so innocent to the wearer can affect her/his job or volunteer chances. And while you kindly helped clue in your volunteer, I’ve seen bosses…uh…turn up their noses at heavy perfume/cologne wearers and not even let them continue in the interview process since they viewed it as a sign of cluelessness.

    Rick: So true! It’s always about the listener.

    Jacqueline: Thank you so much for adding this example. It shows that things like this do register.

    I have to say I’m not sure and would love other people to chime in here, but for me a book reader seems a bit more serious. But of course, subject matter could make a huge difference. Although slightly off topic, when I was looking for an apartment recently, one of the brokers had a book in her car written by a political candidate that makes my skin crawl. The broker said she was reading it as a lark, but as open as I try to be to all points of view (even the wrong one 😉 ), I have to admit it changed my attitude toward her. So while I think a book is probably a fine thing, choose wisely!

    Personally, as hard as this may be for most people, I would bring nothing and observe. You may learn something that can help give you even the slightest edge – or at least gives you a clue as to whether the place is right for you.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  5. @Jacqueline: I am also a big reader, but I find that waiting for an interview is a bad time to do so with a book.

    First, unless you are a really fast reader, the odds of you getting through any major portion of a book while waiting for an interview are slim. (I always show up 20 minutes early, but not more than that so they don’t get uncomfortable.)

    Second, I find that the waiting time is a great opportunity for me to review and re-read the job description (memorizing keywords that they stressed as important which I can use during the interview), my own resume (so I can quickly address any questions they bring up about it without needing to refer to it), and any information about the company (you can never know too much about who you are applying for) and staff I’ve printed and already gone through .

    I find that also gives me time to settle in” and prepare myself for the interview so I feel more ready than if I read something unrelated to the job.

  6. I find that hiring managers are very particular. They seem to like to “play detective” and use any piece of information they can get their hands on as the basis to assume some deduction about your personality.

    Because of this, I would agree with Brett’s advice not to bring a book. Use the interview to paint a mental picture in the mind of the hiring manager and give him as little possible extraneous information upon which he can “come to his own conclusion”.

  7. Thanks Brett and DC Jobs. I like what you said. Makes good sense. I know anywhere I worked, we all played “detective” from the moment the person walked in. (Feedback from receptionists and anyone else add to the picture, btw.)

    Painting a favorable mental picture is exactly what interviewees need to do.

    Don’t I have the smartest readers? 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  8. shricky says:

    Always make sure you speak loudly and clearly. Don’t stumble over your words and do not mumble, and do enunciate. If you don’t do this it makes you seem less sure of yourself.

  9. And, from the other side of the desk…I once had a prospective employer interview me while he was clipping his toenails! I’m not kidding about this! His office was his own little world, and he did, um, almost anything in there.

  10. Hi Shricky! Thx for adding to the conversation. Absolutely…mumblers rarely get the job!

    Hi Muse! I’m cracking up. So hard to imagine…and yet I know this kind of stuff goes on – esp. in the power seat. Did he at least offer you your own nail clipper?

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  11. No joke. I’ve hired 300+ people in the last 18 months and I’ve got to agree.

    Interviewing can be painful.

    I’d also like to add one to the list:

    – Don’t flirt with the interviewer. Oh the stories I’m not at liberty to tell . . .

  12. GREAT addition, resumellow. (Love that name, btw.) Oh how we’d love to hear those stories. 😉 But needless to say, your advice is golden! Especially like hearing from folks in the trenches – on either side.

    And if the interviewer flirts with YOU or appears to, be very careful not to respond other than pleasantly and professionally. And if it gets too intense…well we’re all grown ups here, but don’t think it will go away if you get the job!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  13. Arizona Fellow says:


    Ronnie Ann:

    I have a dilemna.

    I took a professional job 4 years ago which was very attractive at the time with moving expenses, and housing assistance perks. I found out soon after starting that they LIED to me and I was not doing what I was hired to do.

    They were having me do other related mundane work that I hated and and I would never have taken the job if I knew this prior to moving .

    My office environment is very toxic , and disfunctional work environment…way beyond anything I have encountered before in similar past jobs. Employees in similar positions have come and gone like a revolving door.

    Needless to say I have done my best to ‘grin and bear it’ over the past four years, but I can no longer take it mentally nor physically.

    The plan was to get out of Dodge , however the recession hit and I was forced us to stay with underwater house here.

    Lately I have been overloaded and working many hours over 40/week on salary to meet unrealistic schedules ,and still getting chewed out by my boss and prodded to do MORE in the understaffed department. I told the boss to lay off me , but it falls on deaf ears.His boss is deaf too !.

    I am at my wits end, fed up and I fear my health has deteriorated after four years on this job, and i feel so stressed that I will have a heart attack.

    I intend to take an extended leave of absence to regain my health .. and look for another employer who has a work/life balance.

    I fear I cannot do this type of work anymore for i will die. I feel angry at my employer and feel i wasted four good years of my working life there, and my career reputation is severely damaged from this job.

    I fear I could get into the same trap again with another employer, and wonder if i can ever perform in my chosen field again. I gave my employer 150% but fear I will get little reference nor recognition from my managers.

    I read in your forum response that you say not to say ANY bad things about your employer during interview, but this place is a nightmare literally.

    How can I identify if an employer is telling the truth, and how could i have prevented this situation ? What does someone do when their health is in jeopardy due to stress ?

    How do I explain this to another employer why i want to leave this perceived “good job” ?

    Arizona Fellow

  14. I feel so awful for you Arizona Fellow! No one should endure that stress level for that long. Sounds like you gave it your all but now moving on may be your best choice. I only hope you’ll find a job soon that feel like a much better fit.

    (In most cases I’d have talked to you about asking your boss to work with you to set concrete goals and try to make things better, etc., but at this point and considering how you are feeling, sounds like things have gone far beyond that possibility by now.)

    No one knows for sure before accepting a job what it’s going to be like. Best you can do is check on the internet for information about the company and what former or current employees say (with a grain of salt) and really keep your radar up when you look around and speak to current employees during the interview. But in the end…it is a guess – on both sides.

    Why do I say don’t badmouth a former employer? (This includes online if you identify yourself as well as during an interview.) Because you will be seen as a disgruntled problem employee (I know that’s unfair, but it’s usually how it works) rather than someone looking for a new and better opportunity more suited to their skills and talents. The second way helps get you the job – the first way can help get you blackballed from an industry or at least from the job you’re interviewing for.

    Use this awful experience to help figure out what you want and don’t want. And to help you spot signs of a toxic workplace in the future. But other than that, as soon as you can, put it in the past and give yourself a chance at something you deserve. Also might help to speak with a counselor or career coach to help shake off such a stressful time. You’ll be surprised how those feelings hang on and color your next job search or even job!

    I’ve had horribly stressful jobs – one I even moved cross country for – but I can honestly say I learned from each one and used it to make me stronger. I wish you the BEST of luck! But first…enjoy your rest. Sometimes our best move is to give ourselves a break. 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  15. Arizona Fellow says:


    Thanks for the words of wisdom

  16. I’m sure everyone is rooting for you, AF. This stuff sucks, but one day…well…it will still suck. 😉 But by then you’ll be far beyond all this and doing something you truly enjoy.

    Good luck!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  17. One should always iron their clothes and ensure all the buttons are where they should be, there are no holes in them, etc. I was working in HR in emergency services and one of the candidates not only showed up for the job interview 1.25 hours early, her clothes were wrinkled and there was a hole under the arm of the blouse. Instead of leaving the house so early, she should have taken that time to inspect her choice of clothing!

  18. Hi Sheryll!

    Wow. Truth can be so much more interesting than fiction. Thanks for sharing this.

    I feel bad if her attire was a matter of her not having good clothes, but from my experience even the poorest person can and will sew up a hole and borrow an iron – or borrow a shirt if needed. An interviewer has nothing else to judge you on but what you say and how you appear. So while you don’t need to razzle-dazzle them with haute couture (in fact probably best not to), neat and clean is a really good start. 😉

    Oh…and speaking of clothing as a barrier to jobs, I’d like to mention a GREAT non-profit organization called Dress for Success that helps economically disadvantaged women who can’t afford good interview clothes, and also offers other wonderful programs.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  19. Great article Ronnie Ann, goes to show why people have trouble with what they should do and how they should act, because all they think about is what they shouldn’t do or how they shouldn’t act and really miss out on their unique characteristics which makes them who they are which ultimately shows up on the job. (The ones that can’t stand their job anymore)
    How someone dresses up or talks in a 20 min., 40 min. or even an hour interview is BS (pardon my French) and is the reason many workplaces have so many troubles, they select the best BSER.
    The day those who are in positions of power forgo judgments on people and see character, will be a new day.

  20. Hi dkinder!

    I totally get where you’re coming from. Would be nice.

    Of course, the interview becomes a microcosm for (and pretty much their only chance to assess) how the person would fit into the company and what they’d be like to work with every day. So as long as you dress within a range of normal, the best approach is still be yourself and let them see why you’d be someone they would like to have on their side on a daily basis. Real stories from your past showing resourcefulness, cooperation, and ability to follow through are their best gauge of character. It’s our job to help them see that. 😉

    I wish you much luck in your career!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  21. When I was a team leader interview for a vacancy I had a lady come in for an interview who smelt & looked like a bag lady complete with bags. I couldn’t believe it.

    I actually had a job interview today & I think I might have interrupted (politely mind) the interviewer a couple of times…. Doh!

    • chandlee says:


      Thanks for sharing your experience in your interview as a team leader — it is a good reminder on the importance of hygiene and professionalism in the job search. One strategy I’ve used when traveling for job interviews is to find a hotel close by where you can check bags.

      As for politely interrupting the interview, sometimes it isn’t all bad — especially if they have misunderstood your experience and you were setting them back on course. When this does happen, it’s even more important to follow-up with a thank you note.

      Good luck,

  22. Hi…quick question… I had an interview… I have no idea what the pay is. When is it appropriate to ask/find out? If they they make an offer?

    • chandlee says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      Yes, the best — and what I suggest is the only time — to ask about pay — is when an offer is extended. (They will tell you). The site Glassdoor.com has information on salaries by company and job title that have been submitted by employees. That site may help you get some gauge on what they may pay.

      Good luck!


  23. Hi Everyone,

    I am very happy found this website. It is great!
    I have not seen anyone with this issue yet, but here it goes.

    Is there anyone, after an interview, next day matter of fact, thinking,
    “Oh did I answer that right?” ” Was I too comfortable?” ” Was I too relaxed?”
    or ” Why didn’t I say that, or this etc..” Oh man only if I can redo this I know I could have…
    Should of, Could of and would have… Too little, too late. Feeling?

    But here is crazy thought too, Right after my interview, I felt really really good , as if I have already got the job feeling.
    I saw five out seven guys in the room smiled, nod and even made a small comments,.

    So all of you who have had this share your thoughts with me, would you? I am having
    like that article, ” After interview OCD” By the way this is the job (Government job) I have wanted for so long.
    I either got too excited and made an ass of my self, or I jsut felt so dang good, but now all those above things sinking in, So what gives…..

    Thanks guys,,


    • Ro,

      Nothing bad with feeling this way. Sometimes it happens like that, and you get the job!

      Keep us posted and let us know what happens.

      All the Best,

      • Thank you Chandlee.

        I am much better and getting over those should of, would of…. OCD
        I thought of how lucky I am at least I got a call for an interview, that others didn’t.

        If this job does come through for me that would be Super, but I will keep try till the right one comes along…

        Thank you again,

  24. Hi, I have an interview coming up and I know that there will be a bunch of us in a room and they will call people in one-by-one, and the wait can be quite long!
    I was just wondering, is it appropriate to bring a book to read while waiting? I am a university student and have a lot of reading to get done! It would be a book for one of my courses.
    The job is for camp counselor by the way.

    • Katrina,

      If the job is for a camp counselor and you are a student, it is certainly appropriate to read a book that you are studying for one of your courses as you wait to interview.

      All the Best,

  25. Hi,
    You said you usually bring a bottle of water, is it okay if you drink it during the interview? I have this problem with my amygdalas and my throat dries when I speak for too long, so i always need to take a zip of drink.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Sophie,

      It should be OK. If it’s not OK, you probably wouldn’t be happy working there, anyway.

      Good luck with your job search!

  26. should there be eye contact b/w the interviewer nd the candidate?

  27. Had an interview and when it was done I feel that an answer I gave was not taken in right context. What should I do?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Greg,

      When you send your thank you to that interviewer, clarify the context for your answer very briefly. Try to clear up any confusion without makeing a “big deal” out of it. Like, “By the way, when I mentioned…” or something low key but short and as clear as possible.

      If you’ve already sent your thank you, send this as “a follow up to clarify” your answer to that question.

      Hope this works out for you!

      Good luck with your job search!

  28. Hi,

    I recently had a job interview where my interviewing in general came up. I had been laid off but given a month to stay at the company. This allowed me to apply as an internal candidate until the month’s end. When I interviewed for the job it was after the month ended and the hiring manager wanted to discuss how I could be an internal one moment and an external the next. Of course this led to talking about interviewing and he wanted to know what other places I had been looking at.

    Later in the discussion, we were talking about animation and I had mentioned that I had seen what our animators were doing recently. Since the building the animators are in is locked down to even internals, there would only be two reasons I was there – interviewing or I actually worked with them. Since we both knew this, I was honest that I had been there for interviews. The hiring manager immediately seemed turned off and yet kept pressing me for details. I explained that after 6 interviews, I didn’t get the job and that it was a while ago. I tried to get out of that situation as quickly as possible, but I knew I had stepped into some serious do-do.

    This is the worst interview I have ever been on and I certainly learned from it. However, my question is what do you do when an employer asks you about the places you have been interviewing with? What do you do when they press you for information? When you are laid off they know you are interviewing, so how do you handle this without letting out too much information? And in my specific case, as I interview for more internal jobs as an external employee, how do I best address the situation?

    Any help would be great!

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Tracy,

      I think the best thing to do when asked about previous interviews is to be a vague as possible. It really isn’t the interviewer’s business where you have been interviewing. Hopefully, you won’t be asked this question again, or, if you are, you won’t have this kind of response.

      Check with HR, if you can, to see what information is available to an interviewer or hiring manager. Perhaps ask them what an appropriate response should be.

      I don’t understand the whole situation, obvously, but it’s not clear what you could have done differently.

      Good luck with your job search!

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