And How You Can Avoid Interview Embarrassment


by: Kathleen Jorgensen, Business Operations Manager




Congratulations!  You just made an appointment with a new company for a cultural interview.  Now you just have to figure out what a cultural interview is and why it is important to this company!


Cultural interviews do not contain questions you might have answered in your high school Social Studies class.  We are not talking about that type of “Culture.”  Instead, a cultural interview focuses on the atmosphere within each company, how people work, and how people work together.


Questions asked during the interview are very different from what you may have experienced in the past.  The “what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?” types of questions are gone, and replaced with questions to help the company determine your work style, how you solve problems, how do you think through processes, and how you work with other people.  Some questions may be based on the company’s Core Values or Mission Statement.


So, how do you prepare for a cultural interview? 


First, visit the company’s website and do some research on your own.  What do you like about this company?  Can you, at first glance, see yourself working for this company?


Second, take a step back and think about your career so far.  What have you done that you are really proud of?  What didn’t turn out so well and what did you learn from that experience?  What is your career path, and how could this company fit into that plan?  How can your experience and expertise contribute to this company’s success?


Third, it is important that you understand that your interview starts the minute you walk through the company’s front door.  It is shocking how many people think that the interview starts with the first question!  How you interact with staff, how you behave while you are in the waiting area, how you greet the interview team, your appearance, your body language, everything is part of the interview.


To stress my point, below are some interview disasters I have had while interviewing candidates for a variety of job openings (I wish I were kidding):

    • Candidate 1 showed up to the office while on a date.  This candidate further decided that making out with their date in the waiting area was a good idea.


    • Candidate 2 showed up to interview for a business-professional position in jeans, untucked cotton shirt and sunglasses on her head, and kept the sunglasses on top of her head during the entire interview.  It distracted the interview team from listening to what they really had to say, because she couldn’t be taken seriously.


    • Candidate 3 showed up 30 minutes late for the interview and then was furious that I would not interview him.


    • Candidate 4 completely ignored the Front Desk Receptionist, who had tried to engage the candidate in conversation.  FYI – The Front Desk Receptionist was being promoted and the candidate was interviewing for the Front Desk Receptionist position.


    • Candidate 5 took a call on her cell phone during the interview because, “this is important.”


  • Candidate 6 related every answer she gave to how she works with horses.  The position that was open was not at a veterinarian’s office.


To avoid these interview faux pas, focus on these tips to help you succeed with your cultural interview:


    • Walk into the office, ready to interview, 10 minutes earlier than the appointment time. If you arrive earlier, it is a bit too soon.  If you arrive only 5 minutes before the appointment, it could be interpreted that you don’t plan ahead and like to cut close to deadlines.  Probably not the first impression you want to make. (See Disaster #3)


    • Leave your cell phone in your car or at least in your bag and forget that you have it with you. Sitting in the waiting area, scrolling through emails or getting caught up on your Facebook posts is not something you should be doing right now!  Do not look at your cell phone or even touch it again until you have left the company’s offices.  (See Disaster #5)


    • Dress for success may sound old-fashioned, but you are trying to get a new job, you are not hanging out with friends! Take some time to consider what you will wear, choose something that is simple and fits well.  What you wear tells the interview team how serious you are about the interview.  If the position you are interviewing for includes travel and/or meetings with customers, it is imperative that you look like you can handle it all with style, confidence, and ease. (See Disaster #2)


    • Smile and talk to people (if they aren’t busy) while you are waiting! Make sure your conversation is short and appropriate. This isn’t the time to complain about anything or exchange email addresses.  How you treat the Front Desk Receptionist tells the interview team a great deal about how you treat people. Sort of like an interview at lunch, where the real test is to see how you treat the wait staff.  (See Disaster #4)




At MKK Consulting Engineers, we may not take ourselves too seriously, but we sure take our culture very seriously.  We look for individuals who want the best work environment possible so they can perform at their top level.  It starts with recruiting the best candidates we can find.  It ends with employees who match our core values and mission statement:  to Consult More.  Consume Less.