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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Why did you leave your last position?

It’s safe to say that a good chunk of folks looking for work are doing so because their current work conditions are less than stellar.  If you’re lucky enough to interview, you will most likely be asked why you’re leaving your current position (or why you left your most recent position).  As comfortable as you may be in that interview chair and as nice as the employer might seem, maintain composure and provide a response that won’t have them thinking: will this candidate say this about my org when they leave?

Sometimes your interview is going really well.  You and the interviewer are talking about favorite pastimes and sports teams.  You may feel tempted to answer the question honestly especially if they insinuate a “difficult” or “colorful” work environment at your previous place of employment.  Don’t do it.  At some point down the line you will have an opportunity to divulge every dirty secret of the sweat shop that you called work but that point is not during your interview.  Below are some reasons decoded for use during the interview.

“I was sick of being someone’s personal bitch” – “I’m looking for a position that includes more supervisory/managerial duties ” or “There was very little upward mobility”  (It’s good to follow up with different examples of how you tried to advance).

“They had me working crazy hours all of the time” –  “I didn’t feel like there was an emphasis on work-life balance” (Be careful with this one.  You don’t want to come off as lazy but you do want to let them know that you value this balance because it enables you to do your worker smarter and better).

“I just didn’t want to work there anymore” –  “I exhausted my opportunities for personal and professional growth” (Cite examples).

“I didn’t like my supervisor.” –  “I’m interested in pursuing different positions that allow for more creativity and/or responsibility and/or whatever aspect of the new job that interests you.

You get the point.

Refrain from citing a laundry list of everything that you hated about your past or previous job.  When you think of what you’ll say when asked this questions think about whether or not your answer would be viewed negatively.  Are you talking about a specific person that made your job difficult or a specific aspect of your job that you just didn’t like?  If so, then STOP!  In answering this question you want to give them a glimpse of what interests you and what you’re looking for a in a position/work environment.

Staying Motivated During Your Job Search

Staying motivated during your job search is probably one of the most difficult things to do.  Sending out countless resumes without any response (or very little response) can really take a toll on you and make you start to doubt yourself and your abilities.

1. Daily affirmation – It may sound a little corny but I used to start my day off with a reminder of an accomplishment I achieved or an area where I excelled.  Sometimes I needed that reminder so as not to fall in the slump of self-doubt.  Sometimes you may need a quote to get you going.  Either look for your own inspirational saying or go to a site like this that does it for you http://www.louisehay.com/affirmations/.

2. Keep a work schedule.  Initially when you’re out of work you can easily fall into the slump of staying up late and sleeping in.  At first it kind of feels like a vacation but after a few weeks the days start to blend together and you just start feeling down. Don’t fall into this trap.  Keep a work schedule.  Wake up before 9am and go to bed at a decent hour.

3. Pick up a hobby (an inexpensive one) and a library card.  Remember when you were slaving away working 60 hours a week and didn’t have time to knit or where too tired to read that book?  Do it now!  If you don’t have a library card, get one (it’s free).

4. Work your networks.  If you graduated from college or grad school there are probably free listserves and alumni groups in your area.  Talk to your friends!  Do not be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for.  You never know who they might now or what positions may be available.

5. Check out free (or low cost)  webinars, workshops, and events in your field of interest.  These events are a great opportunity to remain aware of new developments in your field and can also serve as gap fillers if it’s been a while since you’ve been employed.  Employers understand that sometimes it takes a while to find something but they want to know what you’ve done during that off time that relates to what you’re interested in.

6. Volunteer!  Preferably in your field of interest but if that’s not possible try and find something that can create the opportunity to acquire transferable skills.  Is there a church or community group looking for better organization? Help them create an online filing structure or database.  Something that won’t take up a lot of your time but can still add value to resume.  You never know, you might be able to spin your work into a paid short-term position.

7. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from employers. Many positions that are posted are already filled by internal candidates so the posting you see is basically just protocol. It sucks but it doesn’t mean that you should stop applying.   Increase your minimum number of applications per week to make up for the duds.

8. Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t let your job search define you.  If you’re taking the time to research tips and job search strategies, you’re definitely doing something right.  Things will turn around eventually.  Stay positive and keep up the great work!

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?

Your cover letter is important

I’ve heard people time and time again doubt the importance of the cover letter.  Why do most positions require a resume and a cover letter?  Won’t a short introductory email suffice?

Most companies require the cover letter to see how well you write.  Writing for a resume is different than everyday correspondence.  These companies want to see if you can string together a cohesive thought that actually makes sense and isn’t just an array of important sounding words.  Bullet points are easy, paragraphs are hard.

Other companies want specific examples of why you’re a great fit.  The job posting says candidates must have excellent project management and entrepreneurial skills; your cover letter should give at least one concrete example of your project management and entrepreneurial skills while on the job. Anyone can state that they have an entrepreneurial mindset but only those that have exhibited this mindset throughout their professional career can back it up.  

Lastly the company wants to know that you can follow directions.  It may seem silly but many employers are turned off when candidates blatantly disregard a specific request on a job posting.  If you can’t follow simple directions requesting a tailored cover letter, how will follow directions while on the job.  Will you dismiss anything that you deem not important?

Always submit a customized cover letter for each position.