In Praise of Professional Manners for Job Seekers (LightFieldStudios) (LightFieldStudios)


When it comes time to look for a job, manners matter.

If you treat the people involved in the process poorly at any contact point – the initial contact, the phone screen, the interview, salary negotiation, or any other part of the process – you may kill your chances of getting the job.

Let me be blunt: nobody wants to work with a jerk.

Surely, many employers could stand to learn how to better treat their job applicants, and the candidate experience is known to frequently suffer. But that's a topic for another day.

I spent 19 years filling jobs, both as an internal corporate recruiter and as an outside recruiter with staffing firms. The most difficult part of my line of work was not trying to find that "Purple Squirrel" – the rare candidate with a highly specific set of skills.

By far, the most challenging aspect of my job was trying to convince managers to hire people who possessed every required and preferred skill in the job description, but whom the hiring manager simply didn't like. If a manager told me they just "weren't feeling it" about a candidate, that usually meant they didn't like the person.

You may be thinking to yourself, "Why would a company be so dumb as to pass on somebody who clearly meets all the requirements, and then some? What kind of idiots are these hiring managers?"

The answer can be explained by a simple number: 2,080.

That's how many hours of work there are in a year, based upon an average of 40 hours per week, and 52 weeks in a year. Sure, you need to factor in overtime and deduct vacation days and holidays, but generally speaking, that's how many hours your hiring manager and peers would spend alongside you. Every. Single. Year.

Sure, sometimes personalities simply don't mesh, but just as often, this personal aversion comes down to basic human interaction. People with poor manners can be rude, annoying, and generally uncomfortable to be around.

So, why give employers additional reasons not to extend you a job offer? The job interview process is the time to be on your absolute best behavior. Interviews are an intensely social setting - I can promise you that you're being observed for your ability to positively enhance the dynamics of the workplace (or at a minimum, not detract from them). Failing to use your absolute best manners sends a clear message about what it would be like to spend time with you.

Here are some (rather) common breaches of etiquette that are quite likely to cause annoyance or offense:

  • Showing up late to the interview.
  • Not saying "please" or "thank you," or not saying these with enough frequency or to everyone involved in the process.
  • Checking your cell phone during an interview.
  • Bringing up inappropriate topics, such as sex or politics. If you're applying for a job at the Kinsey Institute or at a Washington, DC, think tank, these topics could be quite appropriate – otherwise, steer clear.
  • Swearing, cursing, blasphemy, or irreverence.
  • Sexist or racist comments.
  • Complaining. About anything.
  • Being dismissive or condescending toward anyone you encounter.
  • Not sending "thank you" notes after the interview.

Clearly, these demonstrations of poor manners don't all carry equal weight, but any of these, during any point of the interview process, could give an employer ample reason to label you "unprofessional."

While it's difficult to muster empathy for interviewers who are passing judgment on you, failing to do so could cause you to come across as someone they don't want in their organization. Be your best self, and show ample respect for everyone. Don't be "That guy."

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,