Five Senses of Interviewing, Part 2: Throwing Them Off the Scent


Even if you don’t follow your nose, the person interviewing you will follow theirs.

You just bought a brand new bottle of your favorite perfume/cologne/body spray. Time to load up and let everyone within a thirty foot radius find out how good you smell, right? Or, if you’ve always thought you smell your best right when you first wake up in the morning (your significant other or roommate may have disagreed in the past, but what do they know?), why fix what isn’t broken?

If you’re going on a date, this could go either way (but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it!). If you’re on your way to an interview, this is most definitely a terrible idea. Just like most dates, hiring managers often make up their minds as to whether they like someone during the first two or three seconds of an interview. Once you’ve been thumbed down for smelling like a corpse (even a pleasantly fresh one), there is little chance of digging yourself out of the grave.

I won’t get into fragrance application etiquette here, as we all know it’s been an ongoing debate for decades and there is no unanimously agreed upon method that works for everyone. But I will say this: if you absolutely must wear perfume/cologne, please take it easy. Nobody, especially someone trying to assess your skills and background and decide whether they want to work with you every day, wants to be in the uncomfortable situation of being overpowered by your scent (even if you think it smells great).

I would argue that you’d be better off wearing no fragrance at all (the trend lately has been an outright ban on wearing a fragrance to interviews, in the workplace and in public institutions), but if you absolutely must, think of it like a tie (as mentioned in Part 1: Setting Your Sights on Success): if it draws attention away from you and onto itself, it’s probably too much.

Something that you definitely want to avoid is showing up for an interview with the smell (even if it’s slight) of cigarettes lingering on you or your clothing. If you smoke, try not to smoke once you’ve showered and dressed for your interview. Unfortunately there isn’t too much you can do if your car smells of smoke and public transportation isn’t an option, but maybe give yourself a little spritz of a non-exotic Febreze or some other subtle fabric freshener after you exit the vehicle. Smelling of cigarettes is arguably even worse than an overpowering perfume/cologne, so do what you can to avoid it. At best, quit smoking!

On the other end of the spectrum lies the big ol’ onion that is sure to leave a poor impression on the hiring manager: body odor. As we all know, some have it worse than others but either way, you should do your best to eliminate it before the big interview. Shower and wash thoroughly, ideally soon before you leave the house for your interview. If your deodorant is an anti-perspirant, be sure not to leave any white streaks on your clothing! If you’re someone who often showers quickly, it wouldn’t hurt to spend more time in the pre-interview cleansing. Try to avoid a strong-smelling meal before your interview. Brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash; if you think your breath might be an issue, pop a mint before the interview (do not walk in there chewing gum!). You want to avoid “the onion,” bad breath, and/or that just-rolled-out-of-bed odor at all costs. They are your enemies and will do their best to sabotage your interview!

These things may not seem like such a big deal, but in the past I have honestly had a candidate turned down for a job that they were a great fit for because they showed up for the interview stinking very heavily of cigarettes, and the hiring manager (who, unbeknownst to us before the interview, happened to have a serious aversion to cigarette smoke) ultimately decided that he didn’t want to be working with that person every day. This candidate had done excellently during the initial phone interviews, so it is very likely that this carelessness about one aspect of their personal presentation cost them the job.

About Adam Barron

Adam supports EDI and IT professionals throughout the Midwest region of the US. As a recruiter with EDI Staffing since 2006, Adam has over 10 years of experience working with candidates to fill contract, contract-to-hire and direct hire positions, aiming to match each person’s unique goals with those of our clients. He is a frequent contributor to our blog, where he shares insight on industry topics such as marketability enhancement, resume improvement, interviewing and offer negotiation. Adam believes that strong relationships are key to the business and strives to connect with people, often keeping in touch long after a person has landed a job or interviewed with our clients.

Adam graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. Prior to joining EDI Staffing, he worked as a Business Development Representative for its sister company, B2B Contact. Outside of the office, Adam loves to spend time with family and also enjoys writing, Boston sports, skiing, movies and board/video gaming.

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