You’ve worked so hard to get this far.
You would be amazed at some of the interview stories we hear. It’s almost as if people are purposefully trying to sabotage their own success. Some have their own ideas of how the interview should go. Others talk to practically everybody, getting all the advice they can. And unfortunately, this can serve to confuse and distract the candidate. Stick to the basics and be yourself. You’ll be fine.
Here are a few ideas we think will help you with your job interview:
- Be on time. You might be surprised how many candidates show up late for interviews. Not good. Make sure you have proper directions to the exact address, building, floor, room number, restaurant, whatever. Allow for the most monstrous traffic jam you’ve ever seen, a couple of blown tires, a train derailment, and an attack by aliens from another planet. In other words, pretend you would get a million dollars if you got there on time. If you get there early, wait in the parking lot and review your interview notes.
- NO SMOKING!!! This is such a big job killer we wish they would put a warning on cigarette packs, “WARNING: SMOKING BEFORE JOB INTERVIEWS WILL KILL YOUR CHANCES”. Just say NO to smoker’s breath.
- Dress up one notch from the typical dress code for the company. If they are know for being “Corporate Casual”, go with a tie and sport coat for guys, a nice pantsuit for ladies. If they are more “Wall Street”, put on the suit, with white shirt, conservative tie and shined shoes. If they are jeans and flip-flops, go khaki pants and sport shirt. But whatever you wear, look comfortable.
- Greet everyone with a smile and a handshake that is neither too limp nor too strong. Try to match the hand tension of the person you are meeting. Never crush the poor person’s hand.
- Do not bring anything to the interview except a few copies of your resume, a few business cards, a pocket-sized note pad or a PDA and a pen to write or record something important. We don’t recommend taking notes during an interview. It can be distracting and you may miss something important while writing. If you are asked to bring something, like writing samples or a completed application, of course, bring that.
- Turn off all cell phones or other devices during the interview. Do not forget this. Most interviewers will think it is rude if your phone rings during the interview. Never answer a text or an email during an interview.
- Sit comfortably and upright during the interview. Do not lean too far forward or rest too far back. Keep your feet still, and on the floor. Keep your hands and arms inside a one-foot sphere around your body while talking. Remove any excess rings or jewelry to avoid distracting the interviewer. If you are sporting any extra piercings or tattoos, well, do your best to make them look tasteful, but they are what they are. Most people are not too concerned about it these days.
- It’s best to let the interviewer open the discussion. But be prepared to get the ball rolling with a casual question about the interviewer’s day or even a statement about how you have been looking forward to the meeting. If the interviewer is still not getting the meeting going, start off by saying something like this: “Well, Mary, I have been looking forward to our meeting. I have been able to do a little homework about the company, but it would be great if I could get your perspective on…”, and then go to your first question.
- Prepare questions for the interview. If possible, tailor them to the interviewer. Ask about the company, its history, its current situation, and where it is going. From there, zero in on the department, its culture, needs, issues, and challenges. Finally, focus in on the job and its major responsibilities, most difficult issues and roadblocks to success. These are the things you need to know to sell your background into the job.
- Be prepared to answer ANY question about your background. If you have made career mistakes, say so. But then talk about what you learned from those mistakes. If you took time off for travel, to have a baby, to write a book, go back to school, look for a new job, or just to catch some needed rest, it’s best to tell the truth. But stress that you are fired up about getting back to work.
- Be prepared to tell a short 60 second story about your background. This is the best way to answer the typical kick-off question, “Well, John, tell me a little about yourself.” The reason you want to keep it short is because most people really don’t want to know all that much about your history. But they don’t know how to get an interview started either. So keep your answer short, on career point, and fairly modest at this phase of the interview.
- Make the most out of your time. Some interviews are a little short. Be brief in your answers, but always ask if that is enough information or if more is needed. Keep your questions on point. Don’t wander to irrelevant topics. Don’t waste time talking about the weather, the big game last night, your friend in the accounting department or any other unrelated topic, UNLESS the interviewer brings it up. Then it is OK to spend a minute or so, but that’s it. Bring the discussion back to point.
- The interviewer may ask you, “Do you have any other questions?” You should always have one or two final questions ready. Try one like, “Why is the company looking to fill this role at this time?” Another one is, “How far along in the process are you?” Or you could ask, “Where do you see this person going career-wise from this role?” Basically, you are trying to avoid saying, “Duh, not really. You’ve pretty much answered everything.” Don’t be that guy.
- When the interview is about over, it’s time to close and summarize. We recommend something like this, “Well, Mary, I’ve really enjoyed meeting you and learning more about the company, as well as what you are trying to accomplish with this position. I feel, based on what we’ve discussed today, even more excited that when I first learned about the position. I also feel that I can be successful in the role because of the skills I bring. Do YOU have any other questions for me? Any concerns about my background? Is there anything I can clarify for you?” Of course at this point, the interviewer will probably say, “Duh, not really. You’ve pretty much answered everything.” But once in a while you will hear something at this point that is a Godsend. You may actually have one final opportunity to fix a major interview error. Take this opportunity and fix it. Maybe you misspoke, or you were misunderstood. Maybe you left something out. Now you can go back and correct the error. It may be you only chance to do so. Finally, ask this, “How do we proceed from here?” Ask this so that you will know when to follow up. It also gives you a little bit of insight into how you did in the interview.
- Get a business card, an email address, or even a phone number so that you can follow up. Give them at least the amount of time based on the response to “How do we proceed?” But if you haven’t heard anything at all in about 2 weeks you can send an email or even make a phone call, simply asking if the position is still open and if you are still in the running.
- Be sure to send a thank you note, after the interview and to each interviewer. State BRIEFLY, that you enjoyed the meeting, were impressed with the company, and that you remain excited about the position because of how it will both challenge you and allow you to use your skills. State that you look forward to hearing from them soon.
- Finally, a few general tips:
- Be consistent in your answers with all interviewers.
- Respond to salary questions by truthfully stating your current salary and that you are sure that if things go well, an agreement on the compensation package can be reached.
- No alcohol at lunch meetings and only one glass of wine at dinner meetings, if everyone else is having one. Of course, if you don’t drink, just say so.
- Never speak ill or a prior employer. Be tactful and try to deflect any questions about what you didn’t like in our previous job. Always tell the truth about everything, especially about why you left a prior position. But do try to put it in the best possible light. Call it “Spin” but it is important to try to make a negative experience a learning experience.
- Never answer a question with, “I really don’t have much experience with…” Instead, you should talk about what experience you do have.
- Always show enthusiasm, even if you are not all that excited about the position. People often change their mind after an interview.
- Don’t act coy, or aloof. Be engaging and cooperative. It’s just the professional thing to do. Make the interviewer feel good about meeting you, even if you are not the right person for the job.