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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Post-Application Follow Up

As a jobseeker, follow-up seems necessary.  You’ve sent in your application and days or even weeks have passed and you haven’t received a reply. Is your resume stuck on an admin’s desk?  Did someone accidentally delete it? There must be some explanation as to why you haven’t received a phone call.

As an employer, the honest explanation is that we’re not interested.  If i’m screening resumes and I see a gem amongst the rubble of poorly constructed cover letters and resumes, I contact that person.  If I want to interview you, believe me you will absolutely know.

I know that it’s difficult to just relax and move on the next possible position especially if you haven’t received any confirmation of receipt but it’s probably in your best interest and will benefit you in the long run.  

Don’t resend your resume and cover letter because they will know that you resent it.  They’ll figure either you’re just applying to so many jobs that you’ve lost track of where you’ve already applied, or that you’re trying to follow up without really following up.  

Don’t send your resume and cover letter via multiple means.  Most application instructions will say email, maybe fax, possibly (but not likely) mail.  Choose one and stick to that one.  If I haven’t called you when you emailed me your resume, I’m not calling you when you fax it in and mail a hard copy.  I’m definitely not speaking with you if you physically bring your materials to my office and ask to speak with me to discuss the position.  (This has happened more than once).

Don’t call inquiring about the status of your application.  If someone is interested they’ll call you.  No need to have that awkward phone conversation where you say your name and they have no idea who you are and you remind them that you applied and they try to let you down easy by saying it’s either filled or they’re still screening.  I hate those convos.

Definitely do not email asking, “when will I be interviewed?” Interviewing isn’t a courtesy extended to all applicants so don’t assume that it will be extended to you.  If they want to speak with you, believe me they will.

Don’t follow-up a few days after you’ve sent in your application.  Things do happen. Resumes can get lost or deleted.  Someone might be on vacation and hasn’t gotten to your beautiful masterpiece.  I’ve had several people email their resume on a Friday and contact me on Monday asking about their status.  Let some time pass. Ideally if you absolutely must follow-up, a polite check-in reiterating why you’re a good fit and conveying your interest can be ok after a few weeks.   

Regarding follow-up after an interview, I’m all for that but again make sure you’re polite, clear, and concise. Use your follow up to address any concerns that might have come up during the interview and to convey interest and enthusiasm in the position.   A crafty way that someone followed up for a position we were recently trying to fill was by sending in an article that addressed a job function and discussion topic that came up during the interview.  I thought this was really smart because it showed that she was thinking about the position and what she could do in that role and it showed us that she was still interested without being abrasive or pushy.

To some extent, you shouldn’t think about applying for a job differently than dating.  The same crazy red flags apply.  If you give a guy/girl you just met your number on Thursday and by Saturday you have multiple missed calls, facebook, twitter, and google plus invitations, and a handwritten letter at your door, would you go out with that person?  Most likely not.  A potential employer feels the same way.

Length Does Not Equal Substance

When I look back at my resume after my second job I wince.  The content was good but the resume was entirely too long.  As a college graduate with one previous full time job, internships, and campus jobs, there was absolutely no reason for my resume to be more than one page.  

Remember in college and high school when you had to write a paper of a certain length and you were stumped?  You started adding all of these extra words, definitions, reiterations, and what not to achieve whatever the goal number of pages was.  Some teachers/professors might have commented that you had too much fluff.  Others might have let it go.  Either way, your resume is not the same thing.  There shouldn’t be any fluff present. You don’t get extra points for fluff.  You don’t get an interview because of fluff.  No one cares that you attended XYZ conference in 2001.  Did you actually facilitate a workshop at this conference? No, you were a participant in the conference.  Leave it out unless you received some type of certificate that the employer is interested in.

As a screener, I’ve seen many job candidates fall into the same trap; you want to make sure to include every bit of relevant information (or what you deem relevant) so that the employer knows all about you and will be convinced that you are a good fit.  What actually ends up happening is laundry list that alienates the reader.  I’ve seen resumes from candidates with bachelors and masters degrees that are well over 2 pages long.  The actual part of the resume that details their past work history usually doesn’t start until page 2 or 3 and no duties or skills are listed just titles. By the time I’ve reached the page with information that i’m interested in, I honestly don’t want to read anymore.

Most employers spend about 30 seconds skimming your resume.  They look for keywords, titles, specific qualifications or training, education, etc., and start making piles of people to call back, throw away, or people to revisit at a later time.  Yes these employers are skimming but at some point they actually go back and read your resume.  If you can make it through the first cut, someone will actually read what you’ve written to get a better idea of you.

Page length will vary depending on your level of experience and type of job sought.  If you’re applying for a senior level VP position, and have more than 20 years experience, you can fill 2 pages with quality information that will provide a good summary of your skills and background.  It will also depend on specific instructions given by the employer.  They might ask you to include workshops, papers you’ve authored, grant proposals you’ve written, etc.  In this case include the information they’re asking for but make sure all other information is relevant to the position that you’re applying for (i.e. no fluff).

For most people just starting out or even mid-career, 1 page should be enough.

Please add the year you graduated

You’re not fooling anyone.

There are two reasons people omit the year they graduated: it happened a long time ago, or they didn’t graduate.

To address the first point: You really aren’t fooling anyone when you leave that year off of your resume.  The first thing an employer says is, “this person must be older,”  which kind of goes against what you were trying to avoid in the first place.  Embrace your graduation date and wear it proudly.  I can’t speak for every employer but in my experience the top reason why an employer hesitated hiring a more seasoned candidate was because they were too qualified for that position.  Hiring someone is an investment; you don’t want to invest in them then have them leave because they realize it isn’t a good fit.  Along with over-qualification is salary.  Seasoned candidates usually demand a much higher salary based on their experience and qualifications.  A good tip is to review the position and determine if it is truly something you would feel comfortable doing and not something that you think you can get based on being overqualified.  Once you’ve determined that it’s a good fit, address their potential areas of concern in your cover letter.  Eg: “I understand that my 20+ years of administrative experience may suggest to you that I am overqualified for a position marketed to  recent graduate but I assure you my years of experience truly make me the best candidate for this position.  Within my role I took the opportunity to learn new tasks and continue to do so as evidenced by…”

The second point is a little bit more sinister because it’s misrepresentation.  The hope here is that the employer will assume the date has just been left off (probably for the first reason listed above).  It really doesn’t matter if you’ve completed 118 of 120 credits needed to graduate, do not list that you have a degree unless you’ve truly earned it.  At the very least add a disclaimer below that reads: 118/120 units of coursework completed towards Bachelor’s degree.  Most employers are asking for proof that you graduated regardless of how long ago it was (diploma/transcript).  Don’t get caught having to explain something later on when you’re close to being hired.

Employers receive many resumes and will use the most rudimentary points to disqualify someone from a position.