Job Interview 101
In this section:
The Good and the Bad
Preparation is crucial, but the day of the interview will ultimately arrive. Make sure that your knowledge and talent are allowed to show through. An interviewer will make an initial judgment about you within the first few moments of your meeting, so follow these tips to make sure you shine from minute one:
DO map it. Make sure you have directions to the office. If it seems confusing, consider a trial run the day before.
DO arrive early. There is absolutely no excuse for lateness in an interview. Plus, by arriving a few minutes early you’ll be able to check out the company and perhaps glean some last-minute information from the atmosphere and staff. Instead of whipping out the current issue of Cosmopolitan, try chatting up the receptionist instead. If you’re sitting alone, be sure to have a copy of the newspaper or an industry journal to read while you’re waiting. No romance novels—show your professionalism.
DO be hungry for the job, not for a sandwich. Eat something light before you arrive. Nothing too heavy to make you sick, just something to leave you satisfied. Bring some extra breath mints, but never chew gum or candy during an interview.
DO dress appropriately. Appearance does matter in an interview situation. Be formal and professional – wear a suit, minimal jewelry, and a neat hairstyle. For more information about how to dress for a stellar interview visit our “Dressing for an Interview section HERE.
DO treat support staff politely and professionally. Interviewers often ask their assistants how candidates presented themselves on the phone and in waiting areas. Consider every contact with the company as part of the interview process. In fact, getting an administrative person on your side may be the best thing you ever do, as they are the gatekeepers who answer the phone, do the scheduling, and open the mail!
DO bring collateral materials. Remember, this is a sales pitch and you want to be prepared with support materials for the product, You. Bring extra copies of your business cards, résumé, and any additional information about yourself. Come prepared with examples (writing samples, websites you’ve designed, grant proposals you’ve written, articles published about you—anything to demonstrate your past success). You may never remove these items from your briefcase, but it’s better to have them with you for a little show and tell.
DO have references ready. You may be asked to fill out a job application, including a list of references, so be sure to have their contact details with you at the interview.
DO aspire to sparkle. Regardless of what someone has done before, they must have a passion for something—anything. Whatever it is they’re talking about—jobs, family, or an event in the news—employers want to see excitement. Show it in your eyes and in your voice.
DON’T skip the homework. If you haven’t visited a company’s Web site, you might have to admit to it. Don’t assume you’ll learn all about the company during the interview. An interviewer might conclude that your lack of preparation reflects poorly on your overall ethic.
DON’T ignore the classics. From “tell me about yourself” to naming your biggest weakness to revealing what you hope to be doing five years from now, it’s often the most obvious questions that candidates spend the least time preparing. That’s a mistake. Click here for a series of likely and potential interview questions.
DON’T avoid connecting personally. By the time you’ve been called for an interview, an initial judgement has been made that you likely have the hard skils to do the job. Your education, experience and knowledge – all of which are listed on your resume – have given the employer reason to want to talk to you. A big part of the interview process is to size up your soft skills: your personality, your work style and your preferences. Will you be a good fit for the corporate culture? Will they like working with you every day? How’s the chemistry? It’s critical to connect personally, which can be started through chit chat in the first three minutes. Find some kind of common ground – local sports (Wow, how about that game?); a photo (Oh, is that your toddler?); or even art or an award hanging on the office wall (What a beautiful painting!). This initial small talk can break the ice and set the tone for a more comfortable conversion.
DON’T shy away from selling yourself. This isn’t the time to fear coming across as conceited or a show-off. Trot out your best ammunition to demonstrate why you’d be an asset to the organization. Your past performance is the best indicator of your potential for future success, so be willing to talk about your proudest professional accomplishments. If it’s pointed out that you’re missing a key skill, don’t bury your head. Explain that you’re a quick study and share an example of something you had to learn previously and how you did it. Don’t hold back.
DON’T discuss special needs in the first meeting. Unless the interviewer brings it up first, a first interview is not the time for you to bring up money, hours or special needs like flex time. Wait until they’ve established a strong interest in you. If you’re already talking about the hours or your desire to work from home in the first 20 minutes, you’re more focused on yourself and your needs than the needs of the employer. During that first meeting, you need to put them first, not you.
DON’T be negative about your past or your present. This includes bad-mouthing former bosses, as well as apologizing for the choices you’ve made. “If I had known then that it would be so hard to get back into the workplace, I never would have taken time out for my kids.” If you are feeling any panic or desperation, hide it. The mortgage is overdue, you’re going through a divorce, you’ve got child-care or elder-care issues; we all have personal challenges, but the interview is not the place to share this kind of baggage. Keep it to yourself. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.
DON’T bad-mouth former employers. Event though it might feel like loads of fun, it’s essential to resist the urge to spill the beans on what you really think of your old boss. The momentary pleasure you’d have venting just isn’t worth the long-term headache it’s likely to create. Remember, you never know who they might know. Rest assured that it’s natural to feel anger toward an unfair boss. What’s not OK is to burn bridges – with a long career awaiting you – based on those feelings. Recruiters see huge red flags when talking to candidates who harbor ill will toward former employers. Leave the baggage behind.
DON’T miss the chance to ask a smart question. Now is the moment to really sell yourself and you can do that not just by answering questions but also by asking smart questions. Some questions you should ask include: Why is this position vacant? Maybe someone was promoted from within — a good sign. Maybe there’s high turnover. You don’t want to discover on Day One that you’re the sixth person in three months to sit at that desk. Another key question: What’s the biggest challenge (or goal) facing this department and how do you plan to tackle it? Not only do these questions make you appear curious and engaged, they offer good insights to what you might be stepping into.
DON’T fidget and DON’T rush. This means don’t pick your nails or flip your hair, which convey a lack of confidence. Turn off the cell phone and pager. Sit still; don’t tap your feet or sway in your seat. Make strong eye contact. Take your time answering questions, even if it means pausing for a few seconds to collect your thoughts before responding. If you’re sitting in a swivel chair, don’t swivel or shift uncontrollably in your seat.
DON’T leave without establishing the next step It’s hard to get someone on the phone, so while you are still face-to-face in the interview, don’t leave without determining the next steps. Ask directly: What are the next steps? Will I be expected to meet with other people? How soon do you expect to bring someone on board? If I don’t hear from you, what’s the best method for me to follow up with you? The responses help manage your own time frame and expectations and enable you to follow up effectively to ideally land the job.
More Interview Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t become too familiar with the interviewer. Remain professional at all times.
- Do establish commonality—remember to use the research you gained and find a commonality with your interviewer.
- Don’t respond in basic “yes” or “no” answers—always elaborate.
- Don’t be shy about asking the interviewer to repeat the question or clarify what they’re asking if you’re unsure of something.
- Don’t rush into an answer you’re unsure of. If you need a moment to compose your thoughts, it is okay to have a silent pause. This may be seen as a sign of thoughtfulness.
- Do speak specifically about your role in any previous successes. Let the interviewer know what you did, said, and thought.
- Don’t argue with your interviewer, no matter what. If you don’t agree with something the interviewer says, you can acknowledge their point by saying, “I understand how you feel about that,” and move on to another subject.
Time to Shine
Always dress professionally for an interview. When the interview is set up, ask your contact to kindly tell you about the dress code. While a skirt isn’t essential, you can’t go wrong in a suit or very well-coordinated separates. Showing up for an interview in a corporate setting while wearing a casual top and jeans may very well be a mark against you. Whether your suit is from Target or Rodeo Drive, be sure that it’s clean and crisp.
When you’re job-hunting, be prepared to meet a possible contact around any corner. You wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone because you were dressed inappropriately. You don’t have to walk around in a suit every day, but take on a business-casual look as the norm when you’re looking for a job—even when you’re not interviewing.
- Choose clothes that fit and flatter your body type. Wear business clothes, not disco attire, to a networking event. If you can wear those clothes to pick out lumber at the lumber yard, they’re not good enough for an interview at a professional office. If you can lift your head and the bottom of your shirt rises to reveal your stomach, don’t wear that to work.
- Keep your hair neat, cut, and styled. A disheveled look will hurt your chances at the job.
- Wear daytime makeup: no heavy eyeliner or glitzy shadows. Lipstick is more flexible, but it is usually better to wear natural shades. Wear makeup that makes you feel you’re at your best, but not colors that are overpowering. Make sure that someone notices you, not your makeup. Keep fragrances to a minimum.
- Jewelry and accessories are your chance to express yourself. Wear jewelry that can serve as a conversation starter. When people pay you a compliment, you can offer the story of how you got it or where it came from.
Visit our Professional Dress section to read more Appearance Do’s and Don’ts.