There is a phrase, “common sense is not so common.”  This is so true.  Over the years as a recruiter, I could recount endless crazy stories of poor job search technique and bad interview behavior.  Beware of the pitfalls.

Job Search Dos

  • Treat your job search as a full-time job.
  • Maintain a task list.  A daily task list, which you prepare and complete each day, will keep you on track and help you foster a sense of accomplishment.  Make your last item on the list something you really look forward to.  Job searching every day is a grind and an uphill battle.  You need to keep yourself focused and as happy as you can be.   
  • Keep your search expansive by working with agency recruiters.  In addition to the fact that you would have more people working for you, good recruiters have their fingers on the heart of a company and can often submit your resume directly to the hiring managers.
  • Take advantage of any outplacement assistance your former employer offers you.  It is good to work with outplacement firms especially if they offer you the ability to network with their former clients. 
  • Return e-mails and voicemails promptly within an hour if possible.
  • Prepare your professional references in advance.  Be sure to call them well in advance to make sure that will represent well.  Ideally, you should have three solid prior supervisor references.  If not possible, line up two supervisors and one peer.

Job Search Don’ts

  • DON’T submit your resume to a company if your agency recruiter has already done so.  This will look bad and may cause a conflict for the hiring company.  One solution for them would be outright rejection of your candidacy. 
  • DON’T sign up with just any outplacement agency.  If you are paying the agency fee, you want to be selective and interview a number of them. 
  • DON’T submit your resume as a .txt file if you can avoid it.

Phone Interview Dos

  • Be positive and engaging.
  • Demonstrate a sense of humor as it often takes the tension down a notch.
  • Be prepared with a 2 or 3 minute description of your background, accomplishments and job goals.
  • Have a list of success stories demonstrating your capabilities, achievements and contributions to your former employer.  You should be able to take this from your resume.
  • Have answers to the ten most commonly asked interview questions:
    • Tell me about yourself.
    • What do you know about our company?
    • Why do you want to work here?
    • What are your goals?
    • What are strengths/weaknesses?
    • Why did you leave your last job?
    • What do you like/do not like to do?
    • What was your biggest accomplishment/failure?
    • Why should we hire you?
    • What salary are you seeking?
  • If the phone screen is a technical phone screen, have whatever technical references you may need to answer the questions at your fingertips.  Don’t rely completely on your memory for technical phone screens.

Phone Interview Don’ts

  • DON’T be negative.  Don’t bad mouth your former employer.  Don’t criticize your prior bosses for making bad decisions.  Don’t complain about how long your job search is taking.  Don’t complain about the economy.
  • DON’T mumble on the phone.  Speak clearly and concisely.
  • DON’T conduct a phone interview on a cell phone if you have poor signal reception. 
  • DON’T ever let a pre-scheduled phone screen call go to voicemail. Be by the phone and prepared.  Ask what the caller ID will be for the call in advance.
  • DON’T conduct a phone screen with loud noises or kids in the background. You need to put your best foot forward at all times.  It is not an appropriate time to begin your interview with apologies.  Remember, the person on the other end of the phone is a stranger.  In addition, you don’t need distractions. 

In-Person Interview Dos

  • Consider booking a hotel the night before the interview if you are out of state, your commute is lengthy and/or the interview is very early in the morning.
  • Make sure your car’s exterior is clean.  Company staff may be looking out the window watching you arrive.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early.  It is standard in today’s business world and demonstrates organization and respect.
  • Be friendly and respectful to receptionists.  Surprisingly, they can sometimes have an influence on hiring decisions.
  • Dress appropriately.  Find out the proper interview dress code from either the recruiter or the company contact.  Just because you may be able to dress casually on the job, you cannot assume that the same dress is at all acceptable for the interview.  Even if you are in technology, unequivocally, no jeans.    
  • Be physically well-groomed. Shave if you have a facial hair shadow.  Trim your beard or mustache.  Don’t overdo perfume or cologne.
  • Make sure your clothing is clean and pressed. 
  • Bring duplicate copies of your resume.  You should expect that the interviewer has a copy, but if s/he does not, you will look prepared and organized. 
  • Bring reference contact information.
  • Bring any information you may need to thoroughly complete a job application.  For example, if you don’t know the details of the dates of hire and termination of previous jobs, you will be caught unprepared.
  • Eat appropriately beforehand to keep your energy up.
  • Bring breath mints.  Use them before each session.
  • In advance, prepare 5 to 10 questions.  The questions should pertain to the company as a whole and the specific job or role you are seeking.     
  • Take notice of the company’s atmosphere.  If you are too nervous or thinking too much about what you might say, you will miss out on valuable information.  Is the atmosphere serious and calm or friendly and casual?  Is it super quiet or chaotic? 
  • Show energy in your voice and appearance and a strong desire to become part of the company.  Remember, especially in a down economy, there will be numerous candidates with equal skill-sets, experience, and compensation requirements.  Figure out what makes you unique in personality and character and use it to your advantage
  • Be yourself and try to complement the tone of the interviewer.  You want the interviewer to like you.  You want to be at your best.  For instance, if you have been told that you tend to be excitable or may appear cocky, try to tone it down. 
  • Be aware of the way you fill the silences between thoughts.  It is all too easy to throw in “you know”, “um” or “like”.    
  • Maintain good eye contact.  It is too easy to let your eyes wander around the room either from discomfort or working out an answer. 

In-Person Interview Don’ts

  • DON’T write on a job application “See resume”.  Complete the job application thoroughly.  You want to appear willing to comply with their directions even if some may seem repetitious.
  • DON’T plan on winging the interview.  Preparation is key to appearing well-spoken, informed and interested.
  • DON’T answer a question until you fully understand it.  A wrong answer will knock you out of contention.
  • DON’T complain about parking or directions.  You are a guest of their and complaining definitely gives a poor first impression.
  • DON’T think it’s okay to have only a few questions ready to ask.  During the course of the interview, especially if it is a long one, the interviewer may cover all of the material in your questions, leaving you without a thing to say.
  • DON’T ask questions about benefits and vacation until you have the offer.  You are there to get the job offer first so focus on questions about the role itself and the organization.   
  • DON’T use your resume to retrieve details.  You need to know your resume cold.
  • DON’T act too casual or forget to thank the interviewer.  You don’t want anyone to think you are presumptuous.
  • DON’T slouch or swear, even if your interviewer does.  It’s not appropriate and the interviewer could be testing you.
  • DON’T forget your interviewer’s name.  You want to use it on the way out of the interview when saying goodbye.
  • Some of these items may seem silly and ludicrous, but here are some for whatever they are worth:
    • DON’T drink a carbonated beverage before the interview.
    • DON’T eat intense-smelling foods before the interview
    • DON’T carry a pen in your shirt pocket. 
    • DON’T forget to check the gas level in your car. 


Marsh Sutherland, president of Walden Recruiting, has recruited talent for Boston software startups for the past 12 years. Marsh also has years of experience as a serial tech entrepreneur from his time in Boston and Seattle.