10 Tips for Keeping It Professional When Job Searching

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Sometimes, an interview can feel more like a conversation with a friend than a professional screening of your candidacy for employment. Maybe you meet your interviewer for a coffee or cocktail. Perhaps he or she is around your age or a friend of a friend. You could interview in a casual office where the colleagues’ friendly rapport is extended all around. 

Regardless, it’s always important to stay professional - not just during your interviews, but throughout your entire job search experience.

From how you communicate with recruiters to how you conduct yourself in interviews, keep in mind that professionalism is always key. It’s easy to feel (too) comfortable in a laid back environment, but it’s important to stay on top of your game. Here’s how.

10 Tips for Keeping It Professional When Job Searching

1. Avoid “TMI.” Don’t be tempted to share “TMI” - too much information - even if your interviewer does. Say you’re in an early Monday morning interview, and your interviewer complains of a rough weekend and an enduring hangover. In a case like this, it’s absolutely best to sympathize - “I hope you start to feel better soon” - than empathize with a “Yeah, man, me too.” Comparably, don’t offer up irrelevant personal information. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know about your recent break-up, your newest girlfriend or your fight with your roommates.

2. Don’t be a creep! If you’re going to stalk your potential boss or interviewer online, do it carefully.

Don’t connect with his or her personal profile on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and don’t “like” anything. Engage professionally on LinkedIn instead, or connect with the company's profiles.

3. Use proper grammar, not acronyms. When you’re communicating with potential employers online or in text, use proper grammar, and don’t abbreviate.

“Thank you” is a lot more powerful than “Thx.” Along the same lines, don’t use emojis in initial communications, even if you’re trying to be nice or funny.

4. Compose professional emails. Even if the person you’re corresponding with is super-casual while emailing, you should be the one to keep it professional. Always use appropriate greetings (“Dear Ms. Brown” or “Hi Ms. Brown” is preferable to “Hey” or “What’s up”) and closings (“Thank you,” “Sincerely,” or “Best” are three go-to options) and make sure your email address is appropriate for the workplace.

More on email: Guidelines for Writing a Professional Email Message

5. Develop a personal rapport, but don’t go too far. It’s important to develop a rapport with potential bosses and coworkers. You’re more likely to be hired if your interviewer likes you as a person. But, be professional in how you attain this personal rapport. It’s fine to bond with some laughter or chatting about positive, work-appropriate and non-controversial topics, but, avoid the “Three P’s” - politics, profanity and poking fun. You never know who you might accidentally offend. 

6. Mind your social media presence. If you’re sharing your social media profiles with recruiters or your online presence is viewable to the public, keep it clean.

Be mindful of your usernames, what you’re posting, what you’re tagged in, what you “like” or share, and what profile picture you use. Employers notice everything.

More on social media: Top 10 Social Media Do's and Don'ts

7. Use appropriate channels of communication. Only reach out to employers via methods they suggest. If they say don’t call, don’t call.  If they say don’t come in and drop your resume off, don’t come in and drop your resume off.  Along the same lines, even if you dig up a personal email address, social media profile, cell phone number or address, mind your boundaries and only contact them via approved channels.

8. Act appropriately at a cafe, bar or restaurant interview. Treat an interview over food or drink in the same way you would treat an interview in an office. Listen carefully, pay attention to your interviewer and how you answer questions, and don’t overindulge on alcohol.

Be mindful of how you interact with others around you while in the presence of your interviewer. Don’t be rude to your server or hit on the waitress, for example.

More on interviews out of the office: How to Handle a Job Interview at a Restaurant

9. Don’t make jokes on your cover letter or resume. While you can express your personal sense of humor to an extent, don’t go too far making jokes on your cover letter or resume. Listing “Netflix bingeing” as a hobby or “beer drinking” as a skill won’t get you the job.

10. Don't be a slob. Even when the company is casual and there's no dress code anywhere in sight, up it a notch or two when you're interviewing. You don't need to (and shouldn't) wear a suit in a dressed-down workplace, but do dress like you want the job and not like you're stopping by between running errands and going to the gym.

Casual Doesn’t Mean Unprofessional

Keep in mind that casual, as many workplaces are, doesn’t mean unprofessional. That’s especially true when you’re job searching. After you get the job, you can tailor your communications and behavior to fit the job and your new employer.  In the interim, keeping it professional is the best way to go.

What Else You Need to Know: Professional Letter and Email Writing Guidelines | Avoid These Common Interview Mistakes