What Should You Bring to Your Interview

Yourself, on time which is no more than 15 minutes early.   I’ve had people arrive for an interview an hour early.  I’m assuming they’re thinking, “what’s the harm in being early,”  or “the earlier the better.”  I’m thinking, “why is this crazy person here an hour early?”  The truth of the matter is that I have blocked off a certain amount of time to interview you.  Arriving early kind of forces me to rearrange my schedule to accommodate you which changes up my whole day and quite frankly makes me grumpy.  My first impression of you might not be good.   It’s always better to be early than late but if you find yourself extremely early, walk around the block. Go to a Starbucks and calm yourself down.  Do not bumrush your interviewer because they are not ready for you.

Copies of your resume and cover letter.  When I asked an interviewee for their resume, they replied, “don’t you already have it?”  Sometimes interviewers ask to see if you’re prepared, sometimes it’s because they honestly can’t find it.  Other times a new person might come into the room to jump in on the interview that hasn’t seen your resume.  Regardless of the reason, you should have copies just in case and refrain from providing a smart answer when questioned.

A pen.  It seems trivial but you should always have a pen.  Sometimes we’ll give you an application without a pen to see if you’re prepared.  Sometimes we might be out of pens.   You should have pen at all times because you never know when you’ll have to take notes.  It’s always helpful right after the interview to go someplace and take notes so that you’ll know what information to add to your thank you letter.  A pen helps when doing this.

A printed list of professional references.  This has two parts. First, you should have at least three professional references.  What is a professional reference?  Preferably someone has worked with you, managed you, and can attest to your professional demeanor and work ethic.  Some employers don’t mind peer references but for the most part, they want to talk to someone that has managed you in some capacity and can tell them how well you performed your job duties.  The second part is the actual printed list.  We’ve all been there.  You’re filling out the application, get to the reference part then pull out your cell phone to try to find numbers and email addresses.  Do yourself a favor and compile this info beforehand.  (Make sure you’ve already contacted these people to let them know that you’re listing them as a reference).

Questions for your interviewer.  These shouldn’t be questions with answers that can be readily found via searching on their website. Try to focus on questions related to the culture/environment of the company, goals and expectations for the candidate that they hire, upward progression within the organization, etc.  Interviewers like to know that you are engaged and most importantly interested in their company and the work that you could potentially be doing so ask them about it.

A smile.  It sounds corny but it’s extremely important.  Sometimes I’ll interview someone and they are so nervous that they don’t smile.  Not smiling and being short with answers makes them come off as extremely cold.  I don’t want to work with a cold person.

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Pre-Interview Prep

Congrats!  You’ve received a call back and are scheduled for an interview.  What should you do now?

1.Return their call/email right away to schedule your interview. Right away doesn’t mean immediately 2 seconds after they contacted you but it should be the same day if possible.  Confirm date, time, location, and person(s) you are meeting once you connect.

2. Start your research.  Research the organization/company, the person/people you’re meeting, and any current events that pertain to the organization/company.  My very first interview out of college my interviewer asked me if I had seen the organization in the news recently.  Before the interview I went over the website but blatantly missed the section on press releases.  When I said no, he made a face and told me about the story that featured the org that was all over the news.

3. Review the job posting and know what the job requires backwards and forwards. Sometimes they’ll ask you to tell them about the job to see if you have a good grasp of the position.  If you fully understand all aspects of the position you can better articulate why you’ll be a good fit.

4. Review your resume.  Make sure you know what you’ve written.  It seems silly but sometimes people don’t remember what they’ve listed on their resume.   In the midst of a job search, when was the last time you actually read not skimmed  your resume?  Going over your resume will also allow you to identify and develop answers for any red flags. Do you have gaps?  Why was the length of time at that last position so short? Did you take a pay cut/demotion?

5. Get directions to your interview location and figure out travel time.  If possible print up alternate directions because you never know what can happen the day of.  If the location is unfamiliar, don’t feel shy about asking the person who’s scheduling your interview for directions.   Decide what time you need to leave and leave about half an hour earlier than that.  Lateness can lead to no interview or an interview where the employer has already decided they won’t consider you.  If you get there early, walk around for a bit until you have about 15 mins before your interview time.   Too early isn’t good either because they’re not ready for you yet.  Use that extra time to calm yourself down.

6. Make sure your suit is ready to go.  Yes your suit. Every adult should own at least 1 full suit.  Business dress varies by sector but that’s after you have the job.  No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview but there’s a chance that someone will fault you for not wearing a suit.

7. Print out copies of your resume if possible on resume paper.  When you get to your interview someone might ask you if you have a copy of your resume.  Most of the time they have your resume already, they just want to know if you came prepared.  Other times you might meet with someone else that hasn’t had time to review your materials.

8. Think of some questions to ask.  These questions shouldn’t be general information that can be found on the website.  They should deal more with the culture of the org, the goals for that program, the goals for your prospective supervisor etc.    You want your interviewer to know that you are engaged and interested.  If you really can’t think of anything at least ask them what is their time-frame for hiring for the position  and what are the next steps.

9. Practice your pitch (tell me about yourself) and some basic interview questions.  What are your major strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  A weakness is something that you have trouble with but are working to improve. “I have difficulty waking up on time for work” is not a good weakness (Yes, someone actually said this to me).   I like to “interview” in front of the mirror so that I can see what I’m doing with my hands and  faces when i’m describing something.

10. Get some rest!  You’re nervous and excited but try to get some rest.  You’ll do much better fully rested than if you’re up all night trying to prepare.

To suit or not to suit

Some people have asked me if it’s necessary to wear a suit to an interview.  My personal opinion is that every adult should own at least 1 full suit and said suit should be worn for interviews.  It’s true that various sectors are more laid-back than others and might have a more relaxed office dress-code but you can take advantage of that once you’ve been offered the job.

You never know who you will encounter during your interview and what their personal preference will be.  People make snap judgments when they first meet you, especially when you’re going in for an interview.  What if you interview with the one guy in the office that although there is a business casual dress-code still believes in business professional attire everyday?  That person will probably think to himself, “I would have worn a suit to an interview,” and now you’ve started off on the wrong foot.

Aside from that, there are various degrees of business casual all subject to your employer’s personal opinion.  At one job I was told that business casual meant having a blazer everyday.  I kept a black blazer on the back of my chair.  At another job I was told that I just had to look “neat and professional,”  (slacks, skirts, collared shirts, etc.).  The point here is that what was considered business casual at one place wouldn’t have been at another.  Do you want to take that chance at your interview?

Answering the Salary Question

Sometimes they’ll ask you to send your salary requirements within your cover letter.  Other times it’ll be a question on your application or they’ll ask you during the interview. Regardless of how they ask, they will ask.  

The discussion of salary is a dance between employer and potential employee. As the employer, I want to know how much you’re willing to take first.  That way I’ll know if I can get you for less or if you expect too much all together.  As the potential employee you want them to give you a number first for the same reason. You don’t want to give them a number that’s low and risk losing a higher salary and you also don’t want you to price yourself out of a position.

As a jobseeker, the standard rule is to say open. This allows you to see what they’re offering first so that you can determine how to negotiate.  Most employers will press you for a number after you say open so be prepared to offer a relevant range.  Your salary range isn’t an arbitrary amount that you think you should be paid.  This range should be based on research for different positions in your industry/sector related to your level of experience and education. 

Recently during a telephone interview I asked the candidate about her required salary.  The number that she gave me was about 20K more than we were willing to offer for the position.  It was also about 20K more than her current salary  More importantly, her experience and background didn’t warrant a salary that high even if we did have the higher amount in our budget.  She effectively priced herself out of that position.

As a job seeker you should know how much people are being paid for the kind of work that you want to do and you should be able to justify why you should receive that amount.  You should also be able to  realistically figure out where you would be within the range that you provide.  Let’s say the salary range for your position of interest is $40K – $55K.  If you have limited experience (entry-level to less than 3 years) without a Masters degree (if it’s preferred), expect to be on the lower end.  Concurrently if you have more than 5 years of experience plus supervisory experience and an applicable Masters degree, expect to be on the higher end.

Several factors go into salary offers: your current salary and salary history, program/organization budget, the outgoing person’s starting salary, possible room for an increase down the line (if your status might be changing in a few months with a new certificate or degree, there’s a chance they’ll offer you more at that time so they can start you off lower to make room for that increase), industry salary standards for that position, etc. Ultimately the employer wants to remain competitive but at the cheapest price possible. 

 In order to make sure that you’re still in the running, do your research and come to the table prepared.  If your range is on target for your field and you can provide concrete evidence that  XYZ pay rate is justified (i.e. skills/qualifications, educational background, increased level of responsibility, etc.), you’ll be able to settle on an offer that makes both you and the employer happy.

Websites to Research Salaries

http://www.payscale.com (Nice site.  You can evaluate your current salary to see where you fall within your field, evaluate offers, and research)

http://www.salary.com/(You can research specific positions to see national averages and generate salary reports. They also break things down by level of experience).

http://www.glassdoor.com/ (Most people are familiar with this site.  Besides salary information it’s also good to read reviews)

“I’m Interested in Any Position That’s Open…”

This might very well be the truth but the employer doesn’t need to know that.  With each application that you send you’re trying to convince the employer that you’re the best candidate for that position.  Out of the hundreds of resumes that they’ve received, they should contact you because you will do the best job in that particular role.  How can you convince them that your specific mix of skills and qualifications make you a good fit for that position if you tell them that you’re interested in any position that they have open?

Whenever I see this blurb in an intro email or even worse an actual cover letter, I hit delete.  In some rare instances, I will actually reach out to the candidate and ask them to review the positions listed then get back to me with an updated cover letter for the position of interest.  I usually tell them that positions vary so much and listing “any” doesn’t give me a good sense of their skill set or interest.

As a jobseeker many years ago I made the same mistake.  Either there were multiple positions that I was interested in from that particular organization or I wanted them to know that I was flexible in case the position I was applying for was already filled.  What I didn’t realize was that internally, good candidates get passed around regardless of what position they’ve indicated on their application.

You do want your employer to know that you’re flexible but you always want them to know that you have purpose and drive.  Sending a generic cover letter and resume with an intro email that basically says that you’re interested in any position that’s open will convey to them that you’re lazy.  Take the extra time to review positions, assess your skill set, and apply to the one that best fits you.

When Aggressive Networking Goes Wrong.

A job candidate sent his resume and cover letter on Monday morning.  On Tuesday, I received another copy of his resume and cover letter.  I also received a LinkedIn invitation on my personal account, in addition to his resume sent as a message to my LinkedIn account, an invitation to my supervisor’s LinkedIn account and the same message.  This was all by Tuesday afternoon.

I know that it’s good to cover your bases, but all of that activity in such a short amount of time was suffocating.  

He did not receive a call back.

5 Steps to Revamp Your Job Search

1. Review your template resume and cover letter.

Does it accurately describe your skill set?  Would you interview someone with that resume?  Have a few people critique it for you.  After looking at your resume over and over again you might not catch any mistakes.  Most likely you also won’t be able to tell if something is worded awkwardly or doesn’t make sense since you know exactly what you meant to say.

2. Make a list of jobs that you’re qualified for and interested in.

We’ve all done this before.  You start looking for jobs and you say, “Admin Assistant 1 – I can definitely do that job.  I’m not really interested in the position but I’m overqualified so that means they have to at least interview me right?” Or, “Program Developer Northwest Region – Hmm I don’t have the 15+ years of experience and Masters degree that they require but I do have a few of the other requirements, they must at least speak to me.”  Before you start your search, evaluate your skill set, qualifications, and your interests and generate a list of positions that you would actually accept if offered.  This will help when you start plugging in search terms.

3. Make a schedule for your job search.

Looking for a job is a job itself.  Sending out a resume or two every couple of weeks won’t be as effective as dedicating time each day/week for your job search or setting up a goal number of positions to apply to each week.  Depending on your status (unemployed and searching, employed passively searching, employed actively searching, etc.), think about what is doable with your schedule.  If you’re unemployed and searching you might want to dedicate 30 hours per week to maximize results.  If you’re passively searching, maybe 5 applications per week is good enough for you.  If you’re employed and actively searching, you might want to set aside 2 hours each day.  Whatever works for you, put together a schedule so that it becomes part of your routine.

4. Familiarize yourself with search engines.  

There are search engines for every sector.  There are also these aggregate sites that compile results from all search engines including private websites (Simply Hired, Indeed). Figure out which ones you’d like to use and start your search.

5. Customize your resume and cover letter for each position that you apply for.

Earlier I mentioned a template resume and cover letter.  Once you have your template, customize it depending on the posting.  Depending on your interests, you might not have to make too many changes (i.e. if you’re interested in being a coordinator for children and youth programs the skill set will most likely be the same).  Make sure that keywords and specific qualifications mentioned in the posting are present in your resume (if you possess them of course).  The meat of your cover letter should be specific to the position that you’re applying for as well.  It may seem tedious but employers want to know why you’re a good fit for them.  Of course they understand that people are applying to many positions but they don’t want evidence of that.