When it comes to creating a list of favorite things to do, rest assured that interviewing (and maybe negotiating to buy a car) has never made the list. However, few things have as much impact on your career options as your ability to interview well. Like it or not, acing the interview is a must if you want to get hired. Here are five tips for interview success:
1. Show up in the office five minutes before your appointment time. Although that sentence looks simple enough, it has two powerful and often overlooked components: "in the office" and "five minutes." This does not mean park five minutes before the interview or get in the building security line with five minutes to spare. It means walk through the office or suite door five minutes before your appointment.
While it is crystal clear why running late or cutting it close are not good strategies, the same goes for walking into the office more than five minutes early. Not every company has a huge lobby or waiting area. Arriving too early may mean that you are staring at the person who will interview you and have now obligated him or her to start your meeting earlier than planned.
If you arrive earlier than intended, hang outside the building or even in the bathroom before your ideal time. The extra few minutes will give you time to prepare and ensure that you don't impose on your interviewer.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, bring a coffee beverage to the interview. I know it is increasingly common to walk everywhere with some sort of coffee drink in hand, but never bring one to an interview. While you may get lucky and the interviewer or receptionist may offer you a coffee or water at the office, do not bring your own beverage.
It is, however, totally OK to have a small bottle of water neatly stashed in a briefcase or bag out of sight. Interviewing is nerve-wracking, and a well-timed sip of water can work wonders for dry, pasty interview mouth.
3. Look great. For you well-dressed people, I'm sure you're rolling your eyes at those two words, because you assume everyone knows that. However, after interviewing thousands of people for more than 20 years, I can assure you that the majority of job seekers are not fully aware of the impact of their image.
Having a great image does not require expensive outfits. It means selecting clothing, accessories, makeup and a hairstyle that command respect in your targeted industry. To portray this image, you have to think about the fit of the clothes, make sure they are wrinkle- and stain-free, look modern and are both age- and profession-appropriate.
Also consider fragrance, or lack thereof. A very light neutral scent, like baby powder or vanilla, can work well, but anything stronger could be an issue if the interviewer doesn't have the same preferences as you.
4. Arrive prepared. Bring a pen, notebook or portfolio with paper, several résumé copies and a list of questions you would like to ask the interviewer. Many interviews start first with a request for your résumé. Removing a neat, unfolded version from your notebook is an excellent first step.
Next, all interviewers like to know that they have said something useful enough for you to write it down. Jot notes throughout the meeting, no matter how positive you are that you will remember everything. Writing not only tells the interviewer you value her input, but it also gives both of you a break from staring at one another. Furthermore, it can give you a chance to glance at the notes you prepared before the meeting regarding key strengths you want to reference or questions you want to ask.
Finally, remember to look up at least as much as you look at the paper. Writing notes is important, but active eye contact tells the hiring authority you are paying attention.
5. Have a conversation. The best interviews are a give and take. Come prepared to discuss the company, the role, your background, current trends in the industry, the reason for the opening and any recent business events that may impact the interviewer, role, company or industry. Companies want to hire engaged employees who have taken the time to learn about themselves and the roles for which they are applying.
Without this critical preparation, most interviews are merely one-sided exchanges in which the interviewer asks questions and the candidate responds to the question but cannot expand beyond it. The ability to have fluid conversation conveys preparation, intelligence, people skills, active listening and a commitment to your career. Don't miss out on the opportunity to display these traits in the meeting.
Interview selection is more about how the interviewer feels about you than about how well you can do the job. That is not to say that you don't need to be qualified -- you do need to be in the ballpark. However, many highly qualified people get rejected because they do not clearly convey how they are an ideal (and likeable) match for the role. While it is important to display your business qualifications, it is even more important to create the right impression.
Securing an interview is a significant accomplishment. Make the most of the opportunity by factoring in these tips for an instant boost in your next interview.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.