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.

What’s your weakness?

This question has become a staple at interviews and most people feel they’ve crafted the perfect response to this question.

Your interviewer asks you for your weakness.  You tell him/her, “I’m a perfectionist.  I just  have this INNATE need to make sure my job is done PERFECTLY well.  I can’t leave until that has been achieved.”  You imagine your interviewer is pleased with your dedication to getting the job done and proceed to ask about benefits and vacation time.

Employers ask this question because they want to know if you can evaluate yourself and if you’re able to generate a plan towards improvement.  We’d all like to believe that we are rockstars at what we do but the reality is that there must be an area where we struggle and we should be able to recognize that area and figure out how to improve it.  The days of advising the positive trait disguised as a weakness are done.

Employers want to know that you’re working towards becoming a better employee.  Do you have difficulty delegating tasks?  What are you doing to correct that?  Do you take on too many tasks or are unable to say “no”?  How are you fixing that?  As an interviewer i’m not going to fault you for having a weakness, you’re human, we aren’t perfect.

I can’t speak for all organizations but I know that all of the orgs that I have worked for check references and we ask former supervisors about the candidate’s weakness.  This also lets us know if you are truly aware of your skill and performance.  If I ask you about your weakness and you tell me that you’re a perfectionist but I ask your supervisor and she says that you take on too much and have difficulty meeting deadlines, I’ll be concerned.  If you were to tell me that you take on too much but have learned to re-prioritize and communicate with your supervisor regarding  updating deadlines (citing a recent example), I’d be less concerned because you’re able to identify an area where you need improvement and it’s in line with what other people see when they evaluate you.

It might not seem like an important skill to have but being able to honestly reflect on your performance, recognize your weaknesses, and construct a plan towards improvement is the marker of a knowledgeable worker that will always strive to do better.  This is the person that gets an offer, not the “perfectionist.”

On a sidenote, the weakness conversation is not the time to be super candid about things that make you seem unprofessional, i.e.

“I can’t get to work on time.”  Yes, I actually heard that. Set multiple alarm clocks and get yourself to work on time.  Some places are more lenient than others but you can’t start off the job waltzing in 15 minutes late (or implying that you would).  

“I don’t like taking direction. I prefer to work independently.”  Yup, heard that too.  No one likes to be micro-managed but unless you’re working for yourself, at some point someone will be giving you some type of direction and you need to be able to deal with that.  

Also not a good time to mention weaknesses that are essential parts of the job, “I can’t juggle multiple projects (but i’m applying to a project manager position).”  If you find that essential parts of the job are areas within which you have significant deficiencies, perhaps you should look at a different position.