Tip 10: Do be courteous throughout the interview process

This article is part of a series, 10 Tips for Acing Your College Interviews.

Maharaja Sidh Sen Receiving an Embassy, Artist A Master of the Mandi atelier (Indian) ca. 1700–10

Practice common courtesy before, during, and after your interview.

I hope this goes without saying! But just to be super-clear, I’ve said it nonetheless.

I know, I know. The niceties of etiquette can often seem cheesy and oppressive. But think about the general purpose of rules of etiquette, like saying “Thanks” when the barista hands you your latte. Rules of etiquette are little agreements people in a community make so it’s easier to recognize each other and get along. It’s a way of showing respect.

You show respect by wearing decent clothes to the interview. Guys wear clean, unwrinkled khakis or slacks and a polo or dress shirt. Girls wear a skirt or pants and a blouse—or a basic dress. As odd as it may sound, that’s one simple way of being courteous. It indicates to the interviewer that you take this little ritual seriously.

Another way is to stand up when the interviewer greets you. Look her in the eye. Then give a firm—firm, I say—handshake.

Another is to turn off your cell phone during the entirety of the interview. There’s nothing more rude than a buzzing phone interrupting a conversation. Or, heaven forbid, you thumbing off a quick tweet, however discrete, while your interviewer is speaking.

Yet another is to listen when the interviewer speaks—and never interrupt. This may be hard, as you’ll be tempted to rehearse in your head something you want to say when the interviewer is talking. She may be moving on to another point, while you want to address the one she just abandoned.

This is especially true for guys talking to a women. In our culture, it’s common practice for men to feel like they’re entitled to interrupt women. Resist the urge! If you find yourself, for whatever reason, tuning out what the interviewer is saying, bring yourself back to listening mode. Calm your mind and listen attentively to what she’s saying. Wait patiently for your turn to speak.

When your turn arrives, it’s okay to say, “That’s a good question.” Then pause briefly before you respond—in order to gather your thoughts. That’s actually a sign of depth. You’re showing that you care enough to think as thoroughly as time permits about your response.

When the interview finishes up, look the interviewer in the eye again and thank her for her time. As soon as you get back to your home or room, write by hand a thank you note. Mention in the note one or two specific things you discussed in the interview that resonated with you. Mail it to the interviewer that same day. She’ll appreciate the courtesy, and the note will go in your file.

Dr. Sean

Dr. Sean

Co-Founder at Readerly
Dr. Sean has over a decade of teaching experience at universities in the US and Asia. He earned a BA with honors from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. You can read more about his teaching and research here.
Dr. Sean