Basically the professional equivalent of a date, an interview is kind of a personal thing – it’s all about the two of you getting to know each other and determining whether the job is a good fit. Nevertheless, just as in dates, some standard rules apply (i.e. no tuna breath), and it’s a good idea to try and stick to them.

Brush up

At the bare minimum, review your potential employer’s website before you go in there. Know their industry if possible, and prep for the interview like you would for the job – if it’s a tax position, study the relevant tax codes; if it’s an audit position, study audit procedures. Reading some articles about the place in industry publications – recent ones, especially – should arm you with enough background info not to say anything colossally moronic (example: “Now what is it you all do here, again?”). At the same time, don’t get overconfident and try to drop current-events science on your interviewer. More often than not, your musing about whether the SEC should allow IFRS over GAAP will get you in over your head and looking like a grade-A doofus.

Start strong

This is where that handshake comes in. But before your steely thumb-web interlocks with theirs, before you’ve even gotten your “Hi” out, you’ve already spoken volumes with your appearance and demeanor. Note that your look is only part of it – they’ll judge you with their other senses as well. So no chain-smoking (or perfume-bathing) beforehand, even if you’re nervous. Standing up straight, smiling and making eye contact will rarely steer you wrong. Being on time, which of course means 10-15 minutes early, is also critical.

Wear clothes

Unless you’re applying for a position at a nudist colony, you’ll want to dress well for the occasion. Go business casual if you like (i.e., if you don’t want the job); in this business it’s always safer to just wear a suit. Make sure it’s pressed, too, and that your shoes aren’t scuffed/pantyhose aren’t rife with runs. People notice the little things.

Pipe down

Here’s a rookie mistake Big Four firms are known to look for: The interview is going smoothly. You’re fielding the easy stuff beautifully, showing your communication skills and willingness to learn. Then they hit you with a question you couldn’t possibly know the answer to. What’s this? You panic, stammer, and blurt out the first lame thing that comes to mind. Ooh, the agony of defeat. Try this instead: Keep calm and admit you don’t know. It’s okay. Or say something like, “Hmm, let me think about that for a moment.” Explain how you might go about learning the right answer, and for bonus points give an example of a time you learned something under pressure. Congrats – you just passed the grace-under-gotcha test.

Let it flow

All things have a beginning, middle and end, and in the case of your interview it’s helpful to know when you’re transitioning from one to another. The opening chit chat should give way to the information exchange (all the tough questions), which is then followed by the closing wrap-up. That’s when you get to ask when you’ll hear further from them. And then get a business card and clear out; you don’t want to overstay your welcome. But do follow up on the visit. (See sidebar.)

How about a practice round? Start rehearsing your very best answers with our Interview Simulation.