I'm currently trying to fill open positions for a web designer and a software engineer and in the course of conducting interviews, a few things have both amazed and disappointed me. One is how few truly qualified candidates seem to be available and (in this particular industry) willing to live and work outside of a major city. Another is how difficult interviewing seems to be for a lot of people.
To try to help I've compiled a list of tips that I hope will offer some assistance anyone that's currently on the interview trail.
1. Check the Cell Phone at the Door
Nothing drives me crazier than when people pay more attention to a cell phone than the person in front of them. This carries over to the workplace in a number of ways. I never bring my cell phone into meetings because at that time there should be nothing more important than the people in that meeting. Looking at your phone during a meeting says "I have better places to be and more important things to deal with." If there is a reason I need to bring my phone into a meeting, I make sure to state that reason immediately before the meeting starts so everyone is aware of exactly why that distraction is important enough to warrant the interruption. (I once had a client bring one in and went out of his way to apologize and let me know both is child and his wife were sick and he was waiting to hear from the school so his phone would be out and he might have to answer it. Thank you. Absolutely. Please take care of your family and I'll wait if I have to.)
When it comes to an interview, unless you have a use for it (e.g. you're showing me a portfolio and aren't sure if you'll have the technology you need available in the interview room), there's no excuse for it to even be in the room. Leave it in your car, or at the very least, be absolutely sure it's on silent (no, not vibrate, completely silent).
2. Your Demeanor Matters, Sometimes More than Your Words
If you're not confident in yourself, why would I be confident in your ability to do the job? I approach every sales meeting (make no mistake about it, an interview is a sales meeting, you're just selling yourself) with the confidence that what I have to offer is better than any of the other options available. If the client (or interviewer) is able to find an option that works better for them, then that's just the way it goes sometimes. Go into it knowing that you would be an asset to any organization that's lucky enough to have you; just remember, there's a difference between being confident but humble and coming across as cocky and arrogant.
Additionally, if your job will involve client contact, how you carry yourself in an interview translates directly to how you carry yourself in meetings and on the phone. When these opportunities present themselves, being confident in your ability to represent my company goes a long way.
3. "I don't know" Is a Perfectly Acceptable Response
In interviews, especially for entry-level positions, I always make this abundantly clear. I always ask some questions I don't expect the interviewee to know the answer to for a few reasons. The first is that I want to know exactly what your level of knowledge and ability is so I can figure out how long it's going to take and how expensive it's going to be to train you. The second is that a person's reaction to a question they don't know the answer to can often tell you a lot more than their reaction to a question they do know the answer to. This really comes back to #2 above. If you can confidently tell me "I don't know, but I will figure it out and get back to you," that says a lot (as long as you actually follow through with that promise).
You're never going to know everything you need to know to get your job done. The ability to recognize that you don't know something, admit it outwardly, figure it out or learn it on your own, and then apply what you've learned is extremely valuable to an organization. And if your prospective employer doesn't feel that way, there's a good chance you don't want to work there anyway.
4. Be Early!
Promptness means a lot. Five minutes isn't early and more than a half-hour can be uncomfortable for a busy interviewer; 15 minutes is perfect. Your best bet: Plan to be 30 minutes early, then wait to enter until 15 minutes prior to your interview. (Judge the half hour accordingly based on where your interview is and how you're getting there. If you have to drive into Manhattan, somewhere in L.A., or downtown Boston (to name a few), plan on getting there at least an hour early. If it's a 10 minute suburban commute, planning for 20 minutes early might be all you need.)
5. Follow Up!
I honestly can't believe the lack of follow up I get from interviewees. I'm not sure where this technique was lost along the way, but it seems that the generation of graduates coming out of college today were never told that you absolutely need to follow up with the person who interviewed you. Not doing so makes you seem like you don't care and don't appreciate the time someone spent trying to give you a job. And when it comes to follow ups, email is acceptable these days but a written letter still goes a very long way and will absolutely set you apart from the crowd.
A good technique is to also include something related to your interview or interviewer in your follow up. If you were asked about a specific skill or technique, include a link or a sample of an area where you've applied that skill. If your interviewer mentioned something personal they enjoy, share something with them related to it. It shows that you were paying attention, that you care, and that you can relate well with coworkers.
At the very least, a quick note to say "Thank you, I'm still very interested and hope to hear from you soon" goes a very long way.
6. Know the Company You're Interviewing With
It astounds me every single time someone comes in for an interview with no idea of who we are and what we do. And it happens a lot. Do your research. If you can't show that you've learned enough about the organization to get a good idea that it's a place where YOU want to work, it tells me you're either so desperate for a job that you don't care, or that you can't be bothered to put in the most basic of effort to get a job, so why would you ever work hard AT that job.
7. Have Questions for Your Interviewer
This really goes hand-in-hand with number 6. I expect interviewees to have questions for me to try to make sure they want to work for me and my company. If you're not going to be happy here, it doesn't matter how good you are at your job, it's not a good fit for either of us. I don't want you here if you don't want to be here, and you shouldn't want to work at a place that would make you unhappy every day. Prepare questions before-hand, and try to develop some additional ones during the interview. It's perfectly acceptable to interview your interviewer, and any good interviewer will not only welcome it, but reward you for it. It also makes you seem confident and shows that you are looking for a company that is a good fit because you want to stay there for a while.
8. Ask the Right Questions!
Having questions isn't enough, they should be the right questions. If you're being recruited from an existing job, it's ok to bring up money, but that's just about the only time. If you've sought out the employment opportunity, you should know whether or not it is a fit for your skills and expect the employer to be willing to compensate that hire appropriately. Any good company knows that money and vacation time are important, and that conversation will come when it needs to. If you bring it up first, it gives the impression that the work will always come second and money will always come first. And asking about vacation time is pretty much an immediate no to getting hired as far as I'm concerned. Again, I know that time away from work is very important, but if your first question is about how little you need to actually show up, you're not what I'm looking for.
9. Dress Appropriately
In my opinion, if you're interviewing for an office job, you should always wear a suit to your first interview. As with every rule, there are certainly exceptions to this, but for most instances stick with the suit. Personally, I always tell interviewees that it's the last time they should wear it here, but the effort shows a lot about your character and the way in which you approach your work.
That said, "appropriately" doesn't always mean a suit, and those exceptions are important. If I were interviewing with a beach-wear company, or a company in which the culture of the brand dominated the workplace (one of my favorite examples from college is a particular consulting disaster at Harley Davidson where line workers began cutting consultant's ties off with scissors), I would adjust my attire accordingly while remaining as professional as possible.
If you're unsure, always dress-up. But try checking taking cues from the company's website or social media feeds to see if you can get a good feel for the workplace and the culture, then always try to at least dress up one notch from what you see.
Photo: Flickr | Carolyn Coles