7 Ways Not to be a Jerk in a Job Interview

In my 15-year career, I’ve interviewed for lots of jobs. I’ve also interviewed a lot of people for jobs. Everyone is going to tell you to arrive on time, brush your teeth and research the company beforehand. That stuff is important. But, I think it’s also important not to come off like a jerk. Here’s how I’d avoid that:

1. Don’t make assumptions.

I once went to meet a candidate for an internship of the lobby of my then office. I walked in, said “hello,” asked if he needed anything and told him to follow me back to a conference room for the interview. When we sat down, he said, “And when will Mr. Mills be joining us?”

Not all bosses are men. Not all women are assistants. Not all creatives show up in sneakers and hoodies every day. Keep an open mind, and do assume that anyone you’re talking to once you enter the place of your interview might have a say in whether or not you get hired.

2. Please, for the love of God and all that is holy, no name dropping.

There is an OK way to name drop, “I met John Smith at a networking event; he was super helpful and gave me lots of good advice on the industry,” and there are a whole lot of terrible ways to name drop. If you are interviewing with someone who has been working in the industry longer than you have (and odds are, you are), be aware that the person you are interviewing with probably knows most people in the field better than you do. So, if you decide to play it up like you’re besties with John Smith, when your interviewer is actual besties with John Smith, it’s not going to reflect well on you.  

Also, if you’re going to name drop, it’s really, really important to get the names right. You also don’t want to go on and on about knowing John Smithson when his actual name is John Smith, and you probably don’t want to talk about your big meeting with Giant Media Company when they’re actually known as Giant Productions.

3. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

Of course an interviewer wants to hear about your experience and accomplishments. However, he or she doesn’t need to be told that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. In short: no bragging.

If you’ve written hundreds of articles or designed hundreds of logos, that’s awesome, but it’s also probably best to assume that if I’m the interviewer, so have I! It’s amazing to be on a team that won an Addy. That being said, having an Addy isn’t all that unusual in the advertising field.

Also, if you even think about mentioning a single accomplishment from high school -- unless you’re that girl who sailed around the world by herself -- close your mouth immediately, count to three and find another topic of conversation.

4. LinkedIn is your friend.

For the sake of avoiding 2 and 3, look up your interviewer on LinkedIn before the interview. This way, you can see which people in the field they already know and whether or not, just maybe, they might have done a little bit more in the industry than you have.

5. Show up prepared to talk about the job you are actually interviewing for.

If I have multiple positions open, I’m going to make it very clear which position I’m interviewing a particular candidate for. For example, if I’m interviewing for an assistant and a Director, you’ll know which one I want to talk to you about. Please don’t accept the interview for the assistant and then spend your time arguing for why you should be the Director.

I know what I need, and whether or not your qualifications and experience line up with what I need. I’m not looking to be sold. Also, if you’re not at all interested in the assistant position, you’ve just wasted my time, and I don’t have a lot of time to waste. (And if I did have that time to waste, I’d be wasting it on more “Pretty Little Liars.”) Odds are, you’re not getting either job, and you’re not getting another interview with me either.

Also, and this is very, very important, you are not usually interviewing for the interviewer’s job, so if you come prepared to sell yourself as the boss, it’s going to be really uncomfortable. Assume that “the boss” position has been filled.

6. Know your industry standards.

Most creative work is “work for hire.” This means that if you were paid to create something for someone, they own it. From the moment you cash that check, that work is no longer yours, and your employer/client can do whatever they want to with the piece. If they change the color scheme to something you hate, that sucks, but you have to move on. If they edit out 200 words of your piece, I’m sorry, but it’s absolutely within their scope to make that call.

It is not prudent to tell a potential employer/interviewer how much an old boss or former client “destroyed” your work. This sends a couple of major red flags:

A. You're going to be difficult to work with. Unless you are Jonathan Franzen, if I am an editor paying you to do work, I can do whatever I want with it. I don't want to hear about how it was repurposed or my edits ruined your voice, etc. Sharing that kind of artistic ennui is what friends are for, not potential employers.  

B. You don't know what you're talking about. Creatives need to have an understanding of rights, and "work for hire" is the most basic of those. Primarily, “all rights” and “work for hire” mean that you're out once you turn it in. First North American Serial starts to get into something else. But, if you're concerned about what happens to your work, ask first! Don't not ask and complain later.

7. Respect.

And all of this goes back to this: I know this isn't your dream job. But, we all start somewhere. And odds are, your employer/interviewer started with the same kind of work they are asking you to do. It's not just about what you're qualified to do or what you're capable of doing. It's also about paying your dues. I want to see hard work when it doesn't pay well. And when I can pay more, I'm going to pay more. Most likely, I'm going to reward the person who started off being easy to work with when the conditions weren't ideal rather than dumping that person for someone new. No one jumps the line.

Most things worth having won’t come easy. And like Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Personally, I prefer my Pinterest pin, “Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up.”

Either way, you’re interviewing for a job, and you’re going to have to work, before, during and after. If you’re getting to jump the line, unless you have pulled a Pied Piper, you might want to ask yourself if this company and this job is really what you think it is. Never choose flash over overalls, unless you’re prepared to get burned.