Compliments at Job Interviews: to smell… or not to smell?

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Image result for angry work interview pictures

Honestly, for my non-Nigerian friends looking for broader (yet, entertaining) views on different aspects of life, you should get a back-up twitter account, and join Nigerian twitter.

Just stroll through those streets casually from time to time.

There, you’d find fodder for a wide range of discussions: from sarcastic advice on training mice (Yes. Mice.), to defiant retweets ensuring that Kevin Hart recognises a drawing of him by a 15 year-old.

Every once in a while, we get that one burning topic on Nigerian twitter, which spills right out from Twitter, and culminates into a real burning national (and sometimes, international) issue.

Last month, the issue was Aunty Taiwo, and her scent-digging interviewee.

(Stay with me)

This was the tweet which set the naija Twitter-verse (and the rest of its cousins: Zuckerville, Instatown and Whatsapp-county) on fire:

Lots of reactions to the tweet began rolling in. Some condemnatory, some supportive, and others… just plain hilarious.

Even major brands jumped on the train, and used it to “sell their market”.

Beyond the bants and fleeting humour that trailed the initial tweet however, we know that job interviews are serious business. A job (or lack of one) could single-handedly shape the trajectory of your life.

Which brings us back to this burning question: was the interviewee wrong (or right) in paying those compliments, and was the interviewer right (or wrong) in taking exception?

In answering, perhaps I will start with the second part of the question: the interviewer’s reaction.

I agree she was a tad bit insensitive (immature even?) in her delivery of her reservation. I mean, what if the interviewee is on Twitter? Are their feelings not supposed to be considered? Are details of interviews no longer private?

(I know… Social Media is the new shrink everyone goes to vent)

*rolls eyes* 

And compliments at work are not necessarily a bad thing.


(You knew there was a huge BUT coming right?)

There are three reasons this particular comment will easily draw ire, and here is why:

1. Nature of relationship

Yes… compliments at work are not necessarily a bad thing.

But that’s the thing! This case was not one of “work”… yet!!

This is a fact-finding mission to find out if you’re the right person for the job. You’re not colleagues, yet. Y’all are not “chummy”, and having Thursdays office pizzas together.


You DO NOT have a relationship with the interviewer, obligating them to appreciate your compliments.


Also, considering that there are probably a thousand other people applying for the same job, the interviewer is likely to be in elimination mode. Especially if everyone who applied is technically qualified. The interviewer is grasping at claws to eliminate candidates, for the tiniest reasons.

Why on earth would you let your heightened sense of smell be used by you, to sabotage yourself, and put you up for elimination?

2. Nature of compliment

Some of the condemnatory reactions on social media were along the lines of how abc complimented their boss about a bracelet and bonded with that boss, or xyz complimented a potential client about a wrist-watch, and got the contract.

Asides the obvious that in the most of these cases, there is already a relationship, the nature of these compliments are not what one could qualify as (what’s the word???) personal Intimate.

Admiring a bracelet or a wrist-watch is something that has to do with sight. You can see it from afar, even through a picture.

But smell?? Phew! That one is touchy you know.

It could quickly cross the line from being ‘sweet’ to down-right creepy.

(Especially with all those movies of serial killers smelling their victims’ hair or clothes, before ‘offing’ them)

This is not to say that you could not pay ‘personal’ compliments. But you still have to find a way to make them come across as complimentary, without being over-familiar.

Example: “I couldn’t help noticing the lovely salsa shoes in the corner of your office… my sister dances salsa as well.

You see what we did there? We showed we pay attention to details, and complimented the beauty of the shoes, without over-personalizing the compliment or over-familiar with the interviewer.

3. Context is everything

Having lived and worked in Nigeria, I understand first-hand how difficult it is as a woman to be in a position of power, no matter how little the power.

Especially if you are a young and (seemingly) ‘unfettered’ woman.

Irrespective of how many degrees come with your name, or how hard you have worked to get to the position you occupy, it is as though there are people at every corner waiting to trivialize your worth… sometimes cloaked in words of endearment or compliments.

When you’re not “baby-Lawyer”, you are “fine-Girl”. And if you dare attempt to express reservations at these condescending ‘compliments’, it quickly flips to “Proud-idiot”.

Heck… you cannot even walk through the markets without being ogled against your will in the name of compliments, and insulted for taking exception.

I also know what it is to be in the middle of what is supposed to be a professional conversation with a person of the opposite sex, and have it suddenly swing - from 0 to 100 in a second - to “Give me your number… let me call you tonight”, with the batting of an eyelid that is supposed to come off as (maybe) something sexy.

Against this backdrop, could we blame Aunty Taiwo for getting alarmed at this (very intimate) compliment?

As our people say, “na from play e dey enter clap. From clap, e dey enter dance. From dance… e don finish”.

In addition to all the foregoing, it is only an undeserved sense of entitlement that would expect you to expect that every compliment is welcome. Giving a person a ‘compliment’ is your own assessment of them or what applies to them. Whether or not they accept it, or how they receive is a risk to be well considered before giving the compliment.

If you are not sure whether a given compliment will or will not draw an interviewer’s ire, please don’t give the compliment. Nobody I know has ever lost a job, because they failed to compliment the interviewer. If you MUST compliment, just compliment the Company itself, professionally.

In any case, your parents (or guardians) did not eke out all that school fees for you to graduate, and be smelling another human being upanda at an interview. Again, it may be most advisable to keep your olfactory super-powers to yourself, or your personal acquaintances.

That being said, Aunty Taiwo, next time, remember that the devil is in delivery.

Don’t throw the baby and the bathwater out in passing useful interview tips. A calm-headed “this intelligent young man came for an interview today, although I was left a bit uncomfortable with him telling me I smell nice after the interview” could equally have done the job.

But hey… it’s the Twitter age. Welcome to the age of being “savage”.



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  1. If I'm interviewing someone, I'm assuming the person is on their best behaviour and showing their best side. If they give me any hints that they may say something inappropriate in the future, I will not be offering them a job. I think it's good that she clapped back "that's rude". It was. What if he's speaking to an important stakeholder in the future and says 'I like what you're wearing'. Inappropriate. What's good is that she told him and didn't just refuse to give him the job. He needs to learn. I interviewed someone once and he asked me why I didn't take my partner's name when we got married - so inappropriate. The people should be asking questions about the company - not my personal life.

  2. Oh my! That's the most inappropriate.

  3. I went for an interview one time and my interaction with the interviewer was basically him trolling the football club I support at the time "Arsenal". I got the job afterwards. I dont think interviews should be that serious where the interviewer and interviewee won't be able to express themselves, at least that way the interviewer can know the personality of the interviewee. My take.

    1. You said him trolling your favourite football team. First, the interviewer controls this narrative, he can steer the conversation how he wants to see how balanced an individual you are, and how well you'd casually fit into their team. Second, you're both males. Third, it did not have to do with either of you smelling the other person.

      If interviews will not be "so serious", it is in the interviewer's place to determine this pace.