Skip to main content

How to Interview for an Office Job

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Peg earned a BA Degree at UTD and a Master's Certificate in Project Mgmt. She managed multi-million dollar telecom projects across the U.S.

Three women at an interview

Three women at an interview

First Impressions

Your resume is flawless, you've honed your skills to a perfect match for the position, and you're ready to make a change in employment. What else is there to do?

When that long-awaited call comes inviting you to interview for an office job, you'll want to make a good impression on the hiring manager.

What will make your skills stand out from the other applicants? What things might eliminate you from consideration? Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when that important day comes.

What is the proper etiquette for shaking hands? How long should it last?

What is the proper etiquette for shaking hands? How long should it last?

A Proper Handshake

Hiring managers form an impression of candidates from the first moment they meet. What kind of impression does a weak handshake make on a hiring manager? It often leaves others with a negative impression, particularly if the job requires meeting and interacting with customers. If you're not sure what kind of a handshake you have, test yours out on a trustworthy friend who will give you their honest reaction.

Failing to have an acceptable handshake can weaken your chances at a job offer, although it's not a complete deal-breaker. You may be able to recover ground if you don't continue down this path.

What Works and What Doesn't?

As a placement director for a business school, I set up interviews for students that graduated from the admin training program. For students trying to move out of the retail or hospitality jobs into office work, many had never held an administrative job or interviewed for one.

Prospective employers let me in on their first impressions after students interviewed for jobs with them. They shared what worked and what kept candidates from being hired. These are a few of their observations.

Knowledge of office-type applications and software is important.

Knowledge of office-type applications and software is important.

5 Body Language Tips

Reacting to the body language of the interviewer is important. Adapt your responsiveness to match their preferences.

  1. Walk with confidence, shoulders back, head up, facing the person about to greet you.
  2. Once invited to sit, sit all the way back in the chair. No slouching.
  3. Observe the posture of the hiring person. If they lean toward you, they're likely interested in what you're saying. If their gaze is somewhere over your shoulder or out the window, they're probably bored.
  4. If you lean slightly toward them, it indicates that you're listening. If they stand up, your interview is likely over, and it's time to wrap it up and go.
  5. Rather than drilling into the interviewer's eyes, keep your eyes focused on their face and occasionally make eye contact.

Career experts have long analyzed body movement as a way to determine a person's character."

— Yohana Desta, Mashable

What to Wear?

Brian Tracy, author of Master Strategies for Higher Achievement, believes that "casualness leads to casualties" when it comes to choosing a work outfit.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Toughnickel

A business suit might be too dressy, but wearing sweat pants, halter tops, or torn jeans to an interview can lead to disaster. Err on the side of dressing too professionally rather than too casually. This is an interview, not a date. Revealing clothing like see-through tops, visible bra straps, or low-slung pants may have the opposite effect you're trying to achieve.

Cleanliness is also noticed by the astute hiring person. Baby food stains or safety pins on an outfit can diminish your chances of getting the job. Actual feedback from a hiring manager said the applicant was not offered the job because of stains on their clothing. Don't let your first impression at a company be your last one.

Set up a dress rehearsal and mock interview with someone who holds a professional job at an office or a bank. People with office similar work experience can guide you in the right direction. Use caution with who you ask. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance, but remember, choose your adviser carefully. A best friend's opinion of your interview outfit might lead you astray rather than provide an honest answer.

Conference room table

Conference room table

Interview Reminders

  • Arrive on time—not too early, and never late.
  • Don't bring your children, parents, boyfriend, or pets.
  • While in the waiting area of a prospective employer, you're being watched from the moment you arrive.
  • If you got a ride with someone, have them wait elsewhere to avoid drawing attention to your lack of transportation.
  • Turn off your cell phone or set your phone to mute in the reception area.
  • Never bring food or drink to the interview.
  • Don't chew gum.
  • Avoid the use of foul language and slang.

People look for reasons not to hire you when they have a lot of applicants applying for the same job.

Monitor your behavior while at a career fair. The recruiters are watching.

Monitor your behavior while at a career fair. The recruiters are watching.

How You Treat the Staff

While you're waiting to be called into the hiring manager's office, never disrespect the receptionist. Don't grab their pen out of their hand or use their phone without permission. Interfering with their work duties is not acceptable.

As you fill out the application, don't complain about the repetitiveness of the form or leave gaps in your answers. Your handwriting on the application indicates your attention to detail, your patience, and your ability to follow instructions. Be smart. Remember, your attitude is being noted.

The reception area is where applicants can lose points. Be careful what you say and do. You are being watched.

The reception area is where applicants can lose points. Be careful what you say and do. You are being watched.

Using Retail Experience on Difficult Questions

What if they say, "Tell me about yourself." This can be a tricky question to answer. Most importantly, they do not want to know about your personal problems or family history. They are interested in how your background would be a match for their requirements.

If you're transitioning from retail into an office environment, you may not have a long job history, but you may have other skills the company would value like:

  • the ability to learn quickly
  • attention to detail
  • an aptitude for numbers
  • self-motivated
  • courteous, friendliness, outgoing personality

Relay a story about how you've studied on your own to learn word processing or how you're exceptionally good with numbers. Provide evidence from retail experience.

"When it came to cashing out our registers, mine usually balanced to the penny."

"The manager often called on me to train new employees to set them off on the right path."

"I won an award for perfect attendance."

Two Equally Qualified Applicants?

What happens when two candidates are nearly equal in their skill set, appearance, attitude, and experience? One vice president told me the way she made her decision between two applicants. She said, "I hire the one who asks me for the job." No amount of hinting about how you would love to work for the company will do.

When the interview is wrapping up, they often ask, "Do you have any additional questions?"

  • Clearly and succinctly ask for the job.
  • Ask when a decision will be made.
  • Ask if there is anything else you can do to prove you're the best choice for the position.
  • Ask if you might provide a sample of your work on a trial basis of a few hours.
  • If so, ask if they would consider you for the job at the end of the apprentice period?
  • Ask if there are any areas of your experience where clarification of details will help lead to a decision to hire you.

Tread the line carefully between confidence in your abilities and arrogance.

Finally, promptly follow up the interview with a thank you letter, whether by email or snail mail. Writing that letter could literally change your life.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peg Cole


Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on January 26, 2013:

Absolutely, LL. No gum chewing at an interview is a really important tip. Plus the posture is key to present the right degree of confidence. Wild gesturing is also quite distracting and the interviewer tends to watch a person's hands to look for signs of nervousness and nail biting, etc..

Thank you for adding some insightful knowledge to this hub and for your visit today. Also thanks for the votes and the share.

L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on January 26, 2013:

You've provided great tips and food for thought about how to conduct yourself in a job interview. Something I have had to be mindful of in the past is my own body language. Posture is important as is what you do with your hands. I trained myself to keep them safely in my lap for the most part, unless gesturing while speaking. And no chewing gum.

Great hub; voted up and Shared.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on August 04, 2012:

Hello Eyes. Volunteering to help unemployed individuals is a great way to share your knowledge and expertise from real world experience. Sometimes it may seem like common sense but until you know it, it's not very common. We sometimes forget what "first times" feel like once we've done it a few times. Thank you for your volunteer work in this area and for your thoughtful comments about this hub.

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on August 03, 2012:

This is excellent information. I volunteer and help unemployed individuals find positions that fulfill their goals and passions. I enjoy providing them with interview tips, but your hub has summarized it even better than I relay. I know where I can lead my next mentee!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 22, 2012:

All the best, Jaswinder64, in your job search. Remember that it is a two way street as to where you will spend your days, your choice as well.

jaswinder64 from Toronto, Canada. on April 21, 2012:

Very helpful and informative article for those, who are looking for a job.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 28, 2012:

Thank you for passing this along to your sons, Dbro. I'm sure they will already be well educated in the basics of interviewing and put their newly acquired legal knowledge to good use. Congratulations on your son's accomplishments in completing law school. Nice to see you here.

Dbro on March 28, 2012:

I'm sending this hub to my two sons about to graduate from law school. These tips are good for anyone seeking a job. A lot of if sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised what people don't think about - especially when they're nervous! Thanks for all this great advice!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 06, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! Nice to meet you here.

idigwebsites from United States on March 05, 2012:

This was a very helpful and informative hub...Thanks for posting!!!

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 04, 2012:

Hello Debbie,

Thanks for your great comment and for posting this on Facebook too. From personal experience I've probably made most of these errors and learned the hard way what not to do. I'm hopeful this information will help others avoid the No pile. When there are too many candidates, hiring agents are looking for a reason to eliminate a few.

Nice to see you here and again, thanks for your input.


Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on March 03, 2012:

what a wonderful hub.. it is so useful and awesome. You sound like you really know what you are doing.. I will post on Facebook.. for those that need to do great resumes etc.



Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 03, 2012:

Thanks..Frank. Wow, blush. You really know how to make someone feel great. We had a Job Board on the wall in my zone at the school, along with a bulb chart on placement percentages. Some of the students truly did not want to take a job so it made things challenging to say the least. Thanks again for your great comment and for stopping by today. May God Bless you too.


Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 03, 2012:

Peg.. this hub should be on every Job Board up and useful.. every point you make is clear and understandable it is a must read hub for everyone who wants that first foot in the door.. bless you Frank

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 03, 2012:

Hi Bretsuki

What you've said is absolutely true. The interview is a two way street. Your first impression of the company will definitely be affected by this hiring manager who may or may not be in the picture after you get the job. You do have to consider whether the company meets your standards and whether you really want to spend your days there.

Dead fish handshakes are as bad as the vice grip types that leave your bones aching - receiving either of these handshakes sets a certain tone and ends it as well when the meeting is over.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 03, 2012:

Thanks Eddy. I'll bet you already knew most of this stuff. But thanks for the vote and the bookmark and for stopping in today.


Bretsuki on March 03, 2012:

Hello PegCole17, thanks for some great tips.

One question though. A lot is mentioned of candidates having a good handshake. Am I the only person who has had interviewers with terrible handshakes.

It often unnerves me and I often wonder about the peerson interviewing if their handshake is like a dead fish, Do I reallyt want to work for a company that employs this person?

The interview is after all a two way process. You are interviewing a prospective employer as much as they are interviewing a possible employee.

Eiddwen from Wales on March 03, 2012:

A great and so useful hub;which I vote up and bookmark.

Take Care And Enjoy your weekend.


Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 03, 2012:

Hello Maria,

I understand what you mean by outrageous job applicants. And you're absolutely right about the tattoos. One of the graduates had a "controversial" tattoo on her hand. When she went for interviews it was difficult to conceal and eliminated her from some opportunities. Others had facial piercings that can be offensive in the straight world of bankers and business executives.

The eye contact thing is definitely tricky. Some people put a lot of stock into making meaningful eye contact. Others, like you said, for cultural reasons don't like it.

Thanks for your input about the patient's reactions in the medical world. When we were trying to get home health services for my elderly auntie, she was uncomfortable with the eyebrow piercings on one of the workers and didn't want her back although her work was quite acceptable.

Yes, it does sound prissy and petty but it can be a reason to get eliminated from potential jobs.

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Love back to you my sista,


Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 02, 2012:

Hi Sista,

This is a well-written and much-needed piece in today's job market especially. Your experience is most evident!

In my years as a manager, I saw some job candidates that were outrageous. In a professional capacity, the tattoos need to be covered and the piercings (I won't detail, too traumatic...) need to be removed. Even earrings should be simple posts, not dangling... sounds prissy but a patient does not want all that 'stuff' hanging over them by the bedside.

I am a bit cautious with the eye contact business. Some cultures find direct eye contact offensive and disrespectful. There obviously has to be some balance in an interview. However, I am not quick to assume the worst in these cases.

Voted UP & UAI... have a good night and enjoy that gorgeous weather. Love, Maria

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 02, 2012:

Hi Mck, You and I both know the receptionist can make or break the deal with their reconnaissance. Too many candidates have blown their chances with carelessness in this domain as well as in their choice of clothes. Thanks for stopping in to comment. It's always good to hear from you.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 02, 2012:

Hello easylearningweb and thank you for asking this question. I appreciate your positive comments and your input.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on March 02, 2012:

Very informative hub. I did some hiring in my time. I can't tell you the people who did not make it by the reception desk because they did not follow simple rules such as dressing right for an interview. This will be helpful to all who read it and absorb what you have to tell them.

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on March 02, 2012:

Awesome answer and great tips...thanks, PegCole17. Well said, and I totally favorites are a firm handshake and asking for the job. Assertiveness and positive confidence works!

Thanks. :-)

Related Articles