An interview is about what you can do for an organization. Your job is to fill their need. It is not about you developing your skills or finding a job that excites you or is beneficial for you. Each company wants someone who will bring value to their organization.
If we all treated our jobs as if we were the owner of the company, our whole outlook would change.
Before the Interview
- Dress professionally. Dark, conservative suits (men & women). Wear socks (men) and closed toe shoes (women). Your appearance can lend you confidence and confidence is attractive, so don’t cut corners here. Buy at least one quality suit (that fits) and good accessories to go with it prior to starting the interview process. (See Professionalism & Etiquette for more.)
- Grooming. Bathe, shave, go easy on perfume, get a good haircut & style, and have clean trimmed nails.
- Accessories. Stay minimal and classic; only one bag (purse OR briefcase for women, not both), and a professional portfolio that includes: extra copies of your resume, copies of your reference page, a notepad (to take notes) and samples of your work. Have all needed information well organized.
- Nothing impresses interviewers more than evidence that you researched the company.
- On the day of the interview arrive 10-15 minutes early. Drive the route a day ahead, plan for traffic at your appointment time, know where to park and how long it will take to get to the office.
- Practice! Most interview questions are common and can be planned for.
- Your 60-90 second elevator pitch is your answer to the typical first question: “Tell me about yourself.”
- Your resume is the agenda for the interview. Be prepared to discuss anything and everything on it. It’s best to package responses in story. Stories are memorable and illustrate behavior. Past behavior predicts future behavior. A question that begins with “tell me about a time” is a direct invitation for a story that illustrates behavior. (This is sometimes called the STAR method…an interviewer gives you a Situation or Task, and wants to know the Actions you took, and the Results of those actions.)
- If you have digital dirt (on Facebook, etc.) your potential employer will look for it. An interviewer may seek this information before or after the interview. You may have had a great interview and the interviewer is now looking for confirmation that you will, in fact, make a great employee.
Does your social networking site reinforce the strong work ethic you claimed or counter it?
- Pictures of you at events with alcohol, drugs, or inappropriate behavior (even if it is folks in the background and not you, directly) along with postings with vulgar language (you or your friends’ notes to you) can turn a hot job possibility cold. Employers want employees who are reliable and will not cause inappropriate workplace drama.
During the Interview
- Your non-verbals speak volumes. In fact, most interviewers have made their decision about a candidate (to hire or not) in the first 5 minutes and the remainder of the interview will be verification that this first hunch was right.
- Make eye contact, extend your hand in a hearty handshake, and smile! One of the biggest mistakes job candidates make is not showing enthusiasm for the job.
- Do not sit down until you are invited to do so. Call people “Ms.” or “Mr.” unless invited to use a first name.
- Take notes during an interview. Don’t be a court reporter and take down every word or it will be distracting (and creepy). But note important things, like names of administrative assistant, etc. so you can thank him or her on your way out and potentially impress. Taking notes shows you are conscientious.
- We all carry ourselves in a way that says much about our confidence level, whether we have a chip on our shoulder, how enthusiastic or comfortable we feel. Carriage is perhaps our strongest non-verbal signal.
- Do everything you can to radiate quiet confidence in yourself and your ability to do the job. If you are not hired, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong. Competition may have been fierce. While much depends on you, it doesn’t all depend on you.
- Keep answers short and to the point (1-2 minutes). If you have practiced, you’ll have a good sense of how long this is.
- Connect your skills and strengths to solutions. Employers want results and great outcomes. “Show” as well as “tell.” Take your portfolio!
- Your skills come from more than just internships and paid work experiences. They come from class projects, mission trips, international travels, club memberships, sports programs or events, volunteer work, job shadowing, career events, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answer to a question. Yes, it will look bad if you don’t know the answer to some questions like “Are you familiar with what we do here at Company X?” But sometimes trying to guess the answer to something is worse than saying, “I don’t know.”
- Have questions for your interviewer. Prepare these ahead of time, and take notes during the interview in case a question comes to mind. Smart, conscientious questions are impressive. “Who would I report to?” “With whom would I be working?” “May I follow up with you in four weeks if I have not heard back?”
- Some questions are illegal for employers to ask, such as ethnicity, religious preferences, health history, marital and parental status, and sexual orientation. Be aware of illegal questions and do not offer this kind of information during an interview as it can make people uncomfortable. Sometimes interviewers accidentally/innocently ask an illegal question. How you handle it says a lot about you. You can say “I prefer not to answer that question” or can gently steer the conversation elsewhere without attacking your interviewer.
- Remember, you interview the company while the company interviews you. Be observant of the setting, the tone, the atmosphere, etc. Did your interviewer seem prepared? Did the folks you passed on the way to the office seem miserable or engaged? Was the parking lot creepy? Traffic snarly? Is this company/work team/job a good fit for you?
- Leave on a positive note.
After the Interview
- Send a handwritten thank you note or a typed thank you letter immediately. Same day if possible. You may want to send an email within hours, but it shouldn’t substitute for a hard copy note or letter. A handwritten note is more personal. A typed thank you letter gives you the chance to write more and reiterate your qualifications and interest or perhaps some follow up information to a conversation during the interview.
- You should always ask before leaving the interview when an employer plans to make a final decision or what the next step in the process will be, then ask if you may follow up at an appropriate time. When you follow up, it shows you have follow-through and do what you say you will do. It also gets your name and interest in front of your interviewer once again. People hire someone they know something about 80% of the time. This is why networking is so critical and you should mention if you know someone the interviewer knows, like a former or present employee. Your goal is to become a known entity as it reduces the employer’s risk. Follow-up communications help you become a known entity.
How students should follow up with employers (Fox Business)
- Note the lessons you learn as you journey through the job-search process. It will help you develop into a stronger interviewee and will help you avoid making the same mistake twice.
- Seek mentors. Get advice from trusted sources during the job search process. Ask them to review your resume. Look for trusted mentors once you gain employment, both within your company and within your industry. Remember to thank everyone who helps you get where you’re trying to go. You never know when the great impression you made on someone today will lead to an incredible job opportunity five years from now.
Five qualities Google looks for as they hire new grads (GrowingLeaders)
Career Journal: Impressing at a new job (Wall Street Journal)