The interview process is a very important phase of your career search. Due to the current layoff trend and projections of a recessed economy, both recent graduates and seasoned professionals are competing for the most menial of entry-level positions. Possessing sharp interview skills is necessary if you want to maintain an advantage in today’s highly competitive job market.
Proper preparation is key. When accepting an invitation to interview, make sure you obtain as much information from the appointment setter as possible. Learn the name and title of the interviewer and/or the department head, the full title of the position being recruited for and the department in which the position will be held. If you did not retain a copy of the job announcement or if the advertisement was too vague, try to secure a complete job description as well. Visit the office prior to your interview, identify yourself as a potential candidate to the receptionist and let him/her know that you just wanted to make sure of the exact location of the company so he/she won’t be alarmed by your impromptu arrival. You can also request company literature and a job description if you had not previously obtained one. Usually, the receptionist will be willing to oblige. You can then use the information you have gathered to learn more about the company and what your expected role will be. Browse through the company website and locate your interviewer’s (or the department head’s) bio if there is one available. Take special notice of the company’s mission and think of a statement that would allow you to speak sincerely of how your own values align with the company’s objectives.
Don’t just leave it at company-specific research. Check out similar positions and other companies that operate in the same industry. Read the business section of local newspapers and trade magazines paying close attention to the status of public holdings. Look at current developments in the industry and the projected outlook of the field. Talk with people you know who hold comparable positions. Perform a salary comparison so you will know what type of compensation to expect and be in a better position for negotiation when the topic is broached. The information you obtain will prove valuable in letting the interviewer know you are truly interested in the position and will give you more ammunition during the inevitable small talk that occurs at the beginning and end of an interview.
Give yourself a mock interview. Think of answers to some of the most commonly asked interview questions such as “tell me about yourself?,” “what are your strengths…weaknesses?” and “where do you see yourself in five years?” Make sure your responses are positive. Turn negative experiences and weaknesses into strengths. For example, “I am very focused which is both a strength and a weakness because it prevents me from moving on to another task until I have completed the one I am currently working on” or “I am a really good listener which often allows for people to take advantage of my time with unnecessary chatter.” Jot down three to five facts from your research that can be developed into a great answer to the popular question, “why do you want to work for this company?” Also, create a list of questions to ask the interviewer. This is just as much an interview for the company as it is for you.
Knowledge is just half the battle. You must also look the part. The popular advice is to dress business professional. While this is not bad advice, it is not always practical to follow it. During your fact-gathering visit to the company, you should have also taken a good look at how the employees were dressed and keep in mind what is the industry standard. You don’t want to show up for an interview in four-inch heeled pumps to discover that you have to walk across a slippery factory floor nor should you be in jeans and sneakers to sit down with the Chief Financial Officer of a major marketing firm. The rule of thumb is never wear less than a pair of slacks and loafers and always be well-groomed with minimal jewelry (you can pull out a few piercings for a day) and without excessive makeup. Times are changing fast but old traditions still hold true to form. Unless it is an acceptable practice to the company at which you seek to be hired, cover up tattoos and save another day to try out that new green and purple hair dye.
This really should go without saying but be on time. You should arrive approximately ten to fifteen minutes early for your interview. You don’t want to be too early as this tends to just confuse your interviewer and you don’t want to be late at all. Tardiness is not an attribute you want to give your potential employer as a first impression. Now this may come as a shock to you but your interviewer should not be late either. Remember, you are there to interview the company just as the company is interviewing you so your time must also be respected. An appropriate wait time for an interview is no more than thirty minutes. Most employers allow ten to fifteen minutes for your arrival and an additional fifteen minutes for any paperwork you might need to complete. Anything in excess of an half hour is an abuse of your time and grounds for you to reconsider your candidacy at the company.
During the interview, be energetic and upbeat. Be articulate and self-aware. Use good attentive body language and refrain from chewing gum, cracking knuckles, twiddling thumbs and any other annoying habits. Turn off cell phones or pagers. Wear an authentic smile and maintain good eye contact. Ask the interviewer if you may take notes and actually do so, marking off any of your prepared questions that get answered. Take your time so you don’t rush responses. This will be especially helpful if you are asked a difficult or unpredicted question like “if you were a fruit, what type of fruit would you be and why?” Many interviewers like to throw these types of questions at you to see how you might handle stress or the unexpected. Taking your time will allow your senses to get over the initial shock so you can think of a creative response to the question. Ask the remaining questions from your prepared list. Stay away from salary and benefits talk. Most interviewers will bring it up themselves but if they don’t, make sure it is not among your first questions. End the interview with a firm handshake and request a business card. Make sure you ask how soon it will be before you can expect a response.
Follow up the interview with a thank you card or letter. In the letter, you should tie in any information you may have left out during the interview that might enhance your qualifications and recap significant points of discussion to demonstrate that you were listening. It helps to throw in a personal tidbit using any small talk that may have been offered up by the interviewer. For instance, the interviewer may have mentioned that his wife is expecting. You could say something like, “Congratulations on joining the ranks of fatherhood.” The interviewer will be flattered by the sentiment and more apt to remember your name.
Interviews can be difficult but with the proper preparation, you can set yourself ahead of the competition. Be as sincere, courteous and professional as possible. Remember, skills and qualifications are only a fraction of the screening process. Most companies hire based on who it was they liked the most rather than who was the most qualified.