How to go into an interview

During college I took what I called a “resume” building class. However, they also taught us how to act during an interview. The final exam for that class was to interview with actual companies that sent a representative on campus. Big names like Computer Associates, People Soft, Oracle and the like “mock” interviewed us. I even remember the teacher for the class, she was more of a Gym teacher than a career adviser but I now thank her for her harsh words during the process. They taught me how to go into an interview and ace it.

I also have to thank my first employer for teaching me a lot about the business world. He really made an impression on me about how to dress, how to talk and how to act in front of customers. It was a very hard job for someone just out of college but it really catapulted my career because of the difficult situations he put me through. Speaking in front of a room full of hospital CIOs is not easy, not only are they decisions makers about buying your product, they do not like to feel like their time is being wasted. The experience made me learn to react on the spot and use one of my strengths, humor, to make the time with the people something they would remember. Most important is to make sure that the people that you sell something to, even it if is just services that they remember the product and for the right reasons.

Lately we have been looking to fill some positions at work. I am not the one making the decision or interviewing this time, but it scares me that most of the people interviewed have no clue about writing a resume or even coming to an interview. So I figure I should share some of the knowledge I have gathered. It might be all common knowledge to must, but I have been surprised lately as to how many people make simple mistakes.

Mentality

The way you think will affect everything about the hiring process. If you think that you have no chance at getting the job, then why are you applying to it in the first place? Do not waste anyones time, specially your own.

Once you have found an opportunity that you think you have a chance on, start thinking for you actually working for the company. You are a product and you are selling yourself. Confidence is a very important tool that used wisely can land you a job.

Most decisions are made in less than 5 minutes. You have even less with a resume. Once you are on the other side of the hiring process you see that hardly anyone reads a whole resume. I bet you money that none of you has read my whole resume and even now putting a link will only make you glance at it. Think of your resume as your foot in the door, and most importantly never lie.

The hardest thing to get used to is to think inside of your head right before the interview as you are the one that is interviewing the company. Why would you want for them, besides getting a pay check? What makes this environment conducive to either your career or your happiness?

Presentation

As I already mentioned, the resume is very important and I don’t feel I am the best resume writer out there. However, I do have a rule for them. You have to customize your resume for every position you apply. The resume should contain what that company is seeking highlighted. Make your bullet points talk to the directly. Take their job description and see if you fit every single one of their needs or at least have experience that is good for them. Also use a guide on how to write a resume by using a good book, or information online.

If for example the company is looking for someone that has cash register experience, and you worked at a carnival taking money. You have the skill, you know how to count money and make change. Relevant does not mean you have had the same exact experience, but rather similar. Make sure you present yourself properly by letting the company know that you can do what they need you to do.

From the first moment you come in contact with the company either by e-mail or phone, make sure you sound very eager, but not desperate. You want to work for them, but not give your services away. Make sure that they think you want to work for them, just not work for free. Also that is the time to start gathering information from them… even though you should have already started.

What I mean by that is that before even submitting a resume or filling out an application find out who they are and what do they do. The more familiar you are with the company, the faster you are going to find things that in your past experience should be highlighted. If a company sells bird cages and you worked at a pet store for a summer you might already know dimensions, styles, sizes and what type of birds need what type of cages. You might have not even thought of putting that summer job there for a company called Acme Metal Works if you did not research it first.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but like with every product, the way you present it to your future buyers is the key. They have to want to buy the product, or in this case hire you. I am the most excited about a product when I go to the store, I located it very easily and it comes in a well marketed box. A clear good looking picture of the product, a good feature list and with tons of information about what is inside. You should look the same way to a potential employer, he should be excited about the product that he/she is about to purchase.

Interview

Plan for your interview day at least a day before, preferably a week in advance. What you are going to wear, how you are going to get to the place. If you are unsure about where the place is make a dry run to see how hard the place it is to find. It is really embarrassing (it happened to me once) to have to call someone to tell them you are lost. Arrive 15 minutes early. At the very least 5 minutes early. Take a notepad with you in a nice folder with some hard copies of your resume.

If possible have a friend quiz you before you go into the interview. Not just about the company or your experience but regular interview questions. You would be surprised how many places still ask about, 5 words to describe yourself or what does responsibility means to you?

How you dress makes a huge impression on your future employer. IBM used to be all about suits, white shirts and blue ties. Very agent from the matrix type. While you don’t have to go to those lengths you should investigate what the dress policy for the company is. During the pre-interview process, maybe phone interview, it is perfectly ok to ask what the dress code is.

Make sure you show up. If you miss your interview, even if you are calling before you miss it, it looks very bad. It shows that you either don’t know about time management at all, or that you have other irresponsibilities that preside your job. We all understand not having a babysitter, but you should already have a plan B for those situations. It does not sound as a permissible excuse and it makes the employer think about the possibility of you showing up for work. Same as having reliable transportation. If you planned with some time, you should not have to make any excuses.

You should always go one notch above from what the company’s dress code is. So if they are casual, go business casual. If they are business all the time, wear a suit. Never wear jeans to an interview, not even if you are going to work for a fast food restaurant. Just wearing a pair of khakis will give you the upper hand. Shoes are also very important, they should be polished and have no scuffs anywhere. Also don’t wear flashy colors, or put too much make up on. Clean shave, hair combed, pressed clothes and no overpowering perfumes are simple rules. A mint before the interview is good, but don’t go in there with a mint in your mouth or gum. Cell phone should always be off. Use the bathroom before you go into the interview, even if you don’t have to go in take this time to take a look and make sure you look your best.

2 Responses to How to go into an interview

  1. I always dread going through that process. I’m sure you could do a whole section here on bad interview experiences! I was once interviewed by a panel of women and then I was asked if I had any trouble taking orders from women. I said, “heck no, I’ve been taking orders from women my whole life”!! I didn’t get the job =)

  2. I was in the job market when I first moved to Seattle and I hated it. I think the downside is that interviewers also forget that it’s a two-way interview — I’m looking at them just as much as they’re looking at me. THe hardest part for me was when the interviewer was a poor interviewer and I could tell right away that it was not going to work out, and then you’re stuck answering stuff like “if I gave you $5 million, what would you do with it?”

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