It’s hard (but not impossible) to be completely prepared for the super-sharp double-edged sword that is the job interview. Why super-sharp, double-edged sword, you ask? Think about it: are there many events in life that are met with such equal parts glee and fear? All of those mystifying job descriptions, those countless résumés sent off, the cover letters you agonized over for hours, those “underqualifieds” (or possibly even worse “OVERqualifieds”)…you’ve finally broken through all of the obstacles and landed an interview! Hooray! Woo-hoo! FINALLY! So exciting! Or… is it???
We’re here to help you be prepared so you can go in feeling confident, make a great first impression, and maybe even dig up some insider information that will set you apart from those pesky other candidates. See?? It IS exciting!
It’s now time to put all of that application stress behind you, and gear up for the main event: the first-round interview. (You’re happy you got an interview, right? Who wouldn’t be? Wait, no – you’re just terrified! Most likely, you’re happy and you’re terrified…we know, we get it.) Before long, you’ll be sitting in front of someone whose actual job is to judge you, your past experience, and your present capabilities…oh, and what shoes you’re wearing too. Juuuuust fabulous.
First things first…you want to arm yourself with as much information you can about the company, the job, and that seemingly scary person who is waiting to ask you a million questions (and judge your footwear). The more you know, the more it shows! After all, the interviewer most definitely has done his/her research on you, so why not level the playing field a bit?
• Google the company. Find out what it’s all about…their values, their history, what the powers-that-be pride themselves on. Learn about their competitors. Dig for more than what their website offers. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn by using less traditional research methods.
• Search for your interviewer on LinkedIn. You should already know your interviewer’s name and position in the company, so now it’s time to dig. Not so you can be a stalker, just so you can get a little insight into his/her background and see if there may be any common threads you can easily work in, if the opportunity presents itself (you sly dog, you!). At the very least, it can provide a little heads up as to what type of person (and possibly interview) you’ll be dealing with. Our professional/educational backgrounds are our histories in the business world… they tell a story about where we came from and what we’ve done along the way.
Next, you want to make sure that your résumé and application information are flawless and ready to hand to your interviewer.
• There are thousands of résumé tips out there (some of which we recently highlighted in our little ole’ blog here, so check those out)! Use those tips, and make sure that your résumé is professional, accurate, and a good representation of not only what you’ve done in the past, but how your experience can relate to the current job for which you’re interviewing. Be able to talk about your entire background, not just the most recent job.
• Have several people read over your résumé, for grammatical content at the very least. If you wrote it, 99% of the time it’s going to look correct to you. Have a 2nd and 3rd pair of eyes ready to proofread your résumé!
• This is also a good time to start thinking about your references. If all goes as planned, it may not be long before you need to present a list of people willing to vouch for you! The references should be professional, not personal. Supervisors only; colleagues and co-workers aren’t going to get you very far. Give your listed references ample notice that you’re on the job hunt and make sure they’re willing to give you a good reference. This is also when you should verify their contact information. There’s nothing worse than providing 3 references and having 1 or 2 of those be unreachable due to a wrong phone number, which could reflect poorly on you. When the interviewer asks for references, that’s a good sign…but time kills deals, so make sure you’re ready!
There are a few things you want to do to prepare for the all-important first impression. Things like attire, professional appearance, and promptness can’t be over-emphasized.
• To make it easy on yourself the day of the big event, do a drive-by (or a walk-by for most of us, New Yorkers) a few days before the interview. Find the building, note the correct entrance, and learn proper information regarding parking lots/decks, etc. This way, you won’t waste precious time figuring out why you can’t park your car on this side of the street, or that the parking meter only takes quarters and not dollars (or vice versa). You must be prompt!
• Have your résumés (additional copies in case you meet with more than one person) stored in a flat folder where they won’t get creased or bent. I’ve seen multiple people pull folded-up résumés out of their pockets, no lie. (One was an ivy-league graduate that should have known much better – no one is exempt!)
• Pack a few things into a (professional-looking) bag the evening before: an umbrella, in case a sudden shower pops up; some breath mints, to chomp before you go into the meeting; two pens (nice pens, not gnawed-on writing sticks); and a portfolio or notebook (again… professionalism is key) in which you can jot notes.
• Make sure your suit is clean and pressed. Here’s where the clichés come in:
“it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed”, so wear a suit, even when you’re not sure it could be a deal breaker. For the accessories-lovers out there, “look in the mirror before you leave the house… and take one thing off.” You want your jewelry/accessories to be minimal and not-distracting. Same goes for makeup. If you’re on the fence, err on the more conservative side for most business interviews. Oh, and those shoes I mentioned earlier? Closed-toe, non-scuffed, professional. We know those aren’t always the MOST fun to buy, but it’s what you have to do.
• An extra pair of hose, ladies! All too often, women’s hose get snagged somewhere during the rush of the commute. Take an extra pair…you’ll feel better knowing they’re there, just in case. Peace of mind is priceless.
Now that you’ve done all of this prepping, you’ll be surprised at how confident you feel going into the interview. You’ve done your research, you’ve updated and double-checked your résumé, you’re ready to talk about your skills and achievements, you know exactly where you’re going and how to get into the building, and you have every possible solution necessary no matter what problems crop up. Breathe easy knowing that you’ve got all the tools you need to make this double-edged sword a little less sharp. Forge ahead, fearless one, forge ahead!