In a prior life, before I entered into academia, I once spent a few months working at a temp agency. Not like they sent me out on jobs, but I actually temped at the agency as a hiring and placement specialist. My job included interviewing and testing people, matching temps with positions, and training people how to be appropriate employees. Limited as that experience was, it taught me some good basic skills about interviewing. I’ve been on a number of interviews in my life, most of which I landed (although some, thankfully, I didn’t). Since those days as a temp, I have been on the other side of interviewing for both business and academic positions. One of the things I find fascinating is some of the stumbles people make that may not be deal breakers, but don’t do them any favors. Some of these things might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.
- Know where you are interviewing. No matter the job, know the company. Someone is going to ask why you want to work for their company (not a company, but theirs) and you should have an answer to that. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize their information, but today most companies have websites with some sort of mission statement indicating their goals and values. Answering why do you to work here with, “My husband does and I want the same vacation time,” or “I need a job so the bank won’t take my house,” may seem honest to you; however, it is incredibly off-putting to potential employers.
- Know the position for which you are interviewing. Not just the title, but the actual job requirements. If you aren’t clear on what something is, ask before the interview if at all possible (probably before you apply). Companies would rather you ask for clarification early in the process than waste their time interviewing someone who clearly has no idea what the job will entail.
- Know who you are interviewing with. Most of the time when the interview is scheduled someone will tell you the name of the person(s) you will be interviewing with. If they don’t, just politely ask who you will meet with and if there will be any others present. Interviewing with an HR screener is different than interviewing with a manager. While both should be taken seriously, knowing the interviewer(s) helps you prepare. When the interview is over, within 24 hours, send thank you notes or at least emails to all the people you met with.
- Use that website to set the tone. Many companies have images on their websites. Look at those for how people dress and present themselves. One of the number one complaints I hear from managers is people showing up to interviews looking like they are going to the movies or the beach. We once interviewed a girl who claimed to be a professional administrative assistant who showed up to the interview in leather flip flips, a white blouse, and a black bra. I would go so far to say that even if the company doesn’t have a website, avoid the open-toed shoes, visible underwear, jeans, anything dirty or worn out, overly bright make up or distracting jewelry, and anything too low or too short. An interview is not a fashion show; be clean, comfortable, and professional. (Of course if you are interviewing at Vogue, that’s a different animal.)
- Be honest, but not Judd Apatow honest. Don’t lie in interviews. If you do, it more likely than not will come back to haunt you if you’re hired. That being said, keep your jokes and your self-disclosure to a minimum. If you didn’t work for a year because you were dealing with your alcoholic brother who ruined your life, rephrase that into something like, “There were some family issues with my brother that required my attention. Once those were resolved, I was ready to return to work.” This type of answer indicates that it was a personal issue (and rarely will anyone push for more information) and it is now over, so the company doesn’t need to worry about you leaving for more family issues.
- Have extra copies of your information. Many times, the interviewers will be seeing a number of candidates. They may have been emailed your information or seen it in passing, but don’t have it at a glance. Bring several copies of your current, error free resume, list of references, and any other supplemental information you were asked to provide. You don’t need a fancy briefcase or anything like that. Buy a nice, simple black portfolio (you can get one at an office supply store for about $20). Use it to bring copies of those elements. It should also include a working pen and notepad for . . .
- Your questions. Every interview I have ever been on I have been asked, “What questions do you have for us?” When asking those questions from the other side, I am shocked when people have no questions or ask something completely inappropriate like if the schedule can be adapted to their needs or what the salary will be. Avoid HR questions unless you are talking directly to HR. Instead, ask for clarification on something that was brought up in the interview (“Would you elaborate on the training program you mentioned for your networking software?”). Always, always, always have something ready to go if nothing comes up in the interview for follow up. Some of my favorites are “What qualities would your ideal applicant for this position possess,” “Why do you enjoy working here,” or “What do you find most challenging about working at this company.” These all show interest in not just the job, but the company and your potential place within it.