Setting the Right Tone
You’re on your way to a job interview.
By now, you’ve probably spent a great deal of time preparing. However, you must not let your practice and preparation become a disadvantage. Once the interview begins, you must focus on interacting effectively with the interviewer. If you’ve prepared adequately for the interview, your conduct and responses should effortlessly convey to the interviewer the image you want to project.
It’s important for you to know that the interviewer’s decision about whether or not you’ll be invited back for an additional interview will probably be influenced by your attitude and personality as much as by your qualifications. So although preparation is important, your performance during an interview can make an even greater difference. Generally, you should try to stress the following qualities in your choice of words, your tone of voice, and your body language:
- Easygoing manner
- Strong work ethic
A word of caution: Don’t concentrate too much on trying to project the perfect image. Just try to relax, visualize yourself as smooth and confident, and you’ll almost certainly do well.
Dressing for Success
How important is proper dress for a job interview? Although the final selection of a job candidate will rarely be determined by dress, first-round candidates are often eliminated because they’ve dressed inappropriately. This is not to say you should invest in a new wardrobe; just be sure that you’re able to put together an adequate interview outfit. A good rule of thumb is to dress for a position just above the one you’re applying for.
Men should wear a clean, conservative, two-piece suit; a white shirt; and a silk tie. Lace-up wing tips are your best bet for shoes. This is the basic corporate wardrobe; however, in some industries, a quality jacket, pants, shirt, and tie are fine. But if you’re not sure what dress is appropriate at a certain firm, play it safe and opt for a two-piece suit. A man should always wear a jacket and tie to an interview–even if everyone else in the office is in shirtsleeves. Dressing this way shows that you’re taking the interview seriously and treating the company with respect.
For women, a professional-looking dress or suit with low-heeled shoes makes the best impression. In more conservative industries, like law or banking, a suit’s probably your best choice. However, some hiring managers in creative industries, like advertising or publishing, look for a more informal, stylish look that reflects the applicant’s individuality. Use your best judgment and wear whatever is both professional and comfortable for you. However, be sure to avoid excess jewelry or makeup.
Impeccable personal grooming is even more important than finding the perfect outfit. Be sure that your clothes are clean, pressed, and well fitting, and that your shoes are polished. Hair should be neat and businesslike, and your nails should be clean and trimmed. Both men and women are advised to skip the cologne or perfume–you never know if the person interviewing you will be violently allergic to the cologne you’re wearing.
Timing Is Everything
Although it may seem hard to believe, many job seekers arrive late for interviews. This is easy enough to do–you might simply take a little unplanned extra time to prepare for your interview or underestimate how long it will take to get to the interview location. Don’t let yourself make this fatal mistake!
Allow plenty of time to get ready for, and to travel to, your job interview. You shouldn’t arrive at the interviewer’s office more than ten minutes in advance. However, if you’re driving across town, allowing yourself an extra ten minutes probably isn’t enough. Try to get to the location at least thirty minutes early; you can then spend twenty minutes in a nearby coffee shop or take a walk around the building. Interviews are important enough to build in a little extra time. Here’s another tip: If you’ve never been to the interview location, visit it the day before so you know exactly how to get there, how to access the building, and where to park.
Sometimes the interviewer will be running behind schedule. Don’t be upset: be sympathetic. Interviewers are often pressured to see a lot of candidates and to fill a demanding position quickly. So be sure to come to your interview with good reading material to keep yourself occupied and relaxed.
What to Have on Hand
A briefcase or leather-bound folder, if you have one, will help complete the professional, polished look you want to achieve. Women should avoid carrying a purse if they plan on carrying a briefcase–it may detract from a professional image. And don’t forget to wear a watch!
Before leaving for the interview, be sure that you have: good directions and the phone numbers and names of the people you’ll be meeting with. You should also bring the following items with you to the interview:
Several unfolded copies of your resume and cover letter
A notepad and pen (for taking notes during the interview)
A list of professional references
Examples of your work, such as writing samples or clippings (taking care that these don’t breach the confidentiality of previous employers).
The first minutes of the interview are the most important. A recruiter begins sizing up your potential the instant you walk into the room. If you make a bad impression from the start, you may be ruled out immediately, and the interviewer may pay little attention to your performance during the rest of the interview. An excellent initial impression, on the other hand, will put a favorable glow on everything else you say during the rest of the interview–and could well encourage the recruiter to ask less demanding questions.
How can you ensure that you make a terrific first impression? The easiest answer is to be sure you’re dressed well. When the recruiter meets you, he or she will notice your clothes and grooming first. Nothing other than impeccable grooming is acceptable. Your attire must be professional and squeaky clean.
Your body language will also speak volumes, even before you and the interviewer exchange a word. Any recruiter will unconsciously pick up on and react to the subtle signals of body language. Here are some important things to think about:
- Do you smile when you meet?
- Do you make just enough eye contact without staring at the recruiter?
- Do you walk into the office with a self-assured and confident stride?
- Do you shake hands firmly?
- Are your briefcase, notepad, and coat in your left hand, or do you have to juggle them around in order to shake hands?
- Do your eyes travel naturally to and from the recruiter’s face as you begin to talk?
- Do you remember the recruiter’s name and pronounce it with confidence?
- Do you make small talk easily, or do you act formal and reserved, as though under attack?
It’s human nature to judge people by that first impression, so make sure yours is a good one. But most of all, try to be yourself.
As if formulating solid answers to interview questions isn’t tough enough, you’ll also have to overcome a quite natural, inevitable nervousness. Most employers won’t think less of a job candidate for a bit of nervous behaviour — but they will pay close attention to how you hold up under pressure. Displaying excessive nervousness can easily eliminate you from further consideration.
One good way to overcome pre-interview jitters is to exercise positive thinking. If you’re feeling nervous about an upcoming interview, imagine in detail what the experience will be like: Think of what you’ll say, the questions you’ll be asked, and how you’ll answer them. Picture yourself responding calmly, effectively, and in a controlled manner. This type of mental rehearsing won’t guarantee success, but it should help you feel more optimistic and self-confident which will undoubtedly enhance your final presentation.
Above all, you should practice interviewing as much as you can. You’ll become more confident and your answers will become more polished with each interview you have.