Congratulations! You just got the call for an interview. In all of the accompanying excitement and bustle, many people don’t do a good job on focusing what they need to do in advance of the interview. Preparation in advance will lead to CONFIDENCE in the interview. I guarantee it!
Coming up with a standardized interview checklist is a good way to make sure you stay on track, are fully prepared and organized, and are ready to present yourself in the best light possible. Here are some tips to make yourself stand out on your big day:
1) Dress conservatively. Solid, muted colors are best for most interviews, unless, of course, you are applying for a highly creative field where colorful attire might play well with your audience.
2) Dress one step above your career position. Know the corporate culture where you are going, and wear clothing styled above the norm for every day office work there. This will subliminally communicate respect and professionalism to the interviewer. Remember, you might be able to wear shorts once you get the job, but you can never go back from first impressions! Don’t cut yourself out of the running by wearing inappropriate attire.
3) Leave the bling and the perfume / cologne at home. These might be part of your personal ‘signature’ look or aura, but in an interview, these two areas can end up being downright distracting.
4) Conduct an image audit. Are your shoes scuffed? Nails clean and clipped? Facial hair trimmed or shaved? Do you have good breath? Attention to the small details can improve your self image and your interview confidence. Take off any politically-motivated buttons or pins, and don’t use a portfolio that has any stickers on it that could be misconstrued against you.
1) Bring the full contact information of the interviewer. One time in a million, an accident can happen to you enroute to an interview. If you can do so (safely), call the interviewer as a courtesy to let them know that you had a flat tire, etc. just so you don’t leave them hanging.
2) Arrive early. Use Mapquest or another mapping feature to get a precise location on your interview destination. Budget plenty of time for traffic tie-ups. Bring enough change for parking meters if you need to use one. I always suggest arriving 15-20 minutes early to your parking spot, and spend five minutes ‘staging’ yourself before arriving ten minutes prior to your interview at the destination company.
3) Key materials to bring: The resume you submitted to the company, your cover letter, a list of references, notepad /portfolio, two pens, copy of the job description, a business card (if you have one), relevant work samples, and any background research you’ve been able to dig up.
4) Research the target company. A friend of mine actually brings a three-ring binder of her research on a company. She uses one of the clear-sleeve ones and drops a big copy of the interviewing company’s logo in the front, so it stands out. So now, she is walking into an interview with a big book on that company, and that always perks up the attention of the interviewers! They want to know what that notebook is all about. By spending the time on this research process, you are not only a subject matter expert on their company, but also the target position. Knowledge is extremely powerful and confidence-building.
5) TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! It is always an expectation that you should have turned off your phone, but we are all human and forget from time to time before going into an important appointment. But nothing can put interviewer’s teeth on edge than a candidate’s phone going off in the middle of the interview.
6) No food, drink, or gum. Eat or drink something before or after the interview, but never during. (Yes, I have actually seen someone bring a sandwich to an interview… we were all aghast!) This boycott includes not bringing a soda drink to the waiting room. If you are offered water, you can accept; some people get so nervous that they get dry mouth during interviews and need a drink of water. If the employer offers, it is fine to accept this. But be careful about fidgeting with the glass on the table during the interview. And if you have bad breath, chew the gum on the way to the interview, then remove it before entering the building.
In the interview:
1) Smile and make eye contact. That directly communicates confidence and enthusiasm. Let’s put it this way- would you want to hire someone who couldn’t look you in the eye?
2) Break the ice. The most awkward phase of the interview is the beginning. They don’t know you and you don’t know them. Generally, you’ll be ushered into a room and asked to take a seat. Break the ice by saying something like,”Oh, is this the ‘hot seat’? Is all warmed up for me? I’m ready!!” which usually elicits a laugh and starts things flowing, breaking the stiffness of the moment.
3) Write down the names of your interviewer(s). You’ll need that information to refer to them later during the interview (nothing communicates confidence if you use that person’s name when addressing them), and also for your follow up thank you note either mailed or emailed to EACH interviewer.
4) Ask questions back. Many times, interviewers will ask you at some point whether you have any questions. You ABSOLUTELY need to have some questions prepared in advance. I recommend having at least 10 things to ask (both generic and company-specific) because sometimes things get covered in the interview, so you’ll need some backup. Smart questions to ask include:
a. What are some of the biggest challenges that your company is facing, and why?
b. If you could name some of the top successes that have happened in the last two years, what would those be?
c. What types of professional development does your company offer?
d. If I were hired tomorrow, what are the top five things I’d need to know to hit the ground running?
e. Based on your observations in the interview today, do you have any concerns about hiring me?
f. When can I expect to hear back? (Asking permission for a follow up is an important tool!)
5) Thank the interviewer(s) at the end. Showing appreciation goes a long way!
Keeping focused on the goal and then working through these details can help you have a successful interview!