The day of your big job interview is finally here. Are you ready?
This article builds on the principles and strategies discussed in Job Interviewing Tips & Strategies — Part I. It is highly recommended that you start there, if you’ve not yet read the beginning of this series. Then, proceed to Part III when you are done here.
Day of the Job Interview
Understanding and incorporating the following tips and strategies won’t guarantee a job offer, but it will allow you to present yourself in the best light possible.
Before You Leave Home
You are dressed professionally. You’ve skipped the fragrances or colognes so as not to offend someone who might be sensitive. You have all of your documents and materials packed securely in your portfolio. You’ve made a test drive to the interview location, so you know the directions and the time it will take to get there. Your vehicle is clean and properly prepared to prevent poor performance. So, now what?
Now is not the time to start worrying. In fact, you need to do the opposite. Repeating positive affirmations — either out loud or using your inner voice — will help to prepare you emotionally:
I’m going to get this job. I can feel it!
They’re going to love me! What’s not to love?
I’m perfect for the job, and I’m going to prove it!
These types of positive, overly confident affirmations increase your physical and your emotional energy. And, in Part I, you learned the importance of energy!
Negative thoughts, on the other hand, will do the opposite. Consider these typical worries and insecurities we typically experience just prior to a job interview:
What if I’m too old? I hope he is older than he sounds!
Sure, I look great, but I’m going to sound like an idiot; I just know it.
This job is going to be a stretch for me. What if I actually get the job and I’m not as qualified as I think I am?
These and other negative thoughts will sabotage the success of your interview. It takes a focused effort to hold them at bay and replace them with positive, energy-provoking affirmations and confidence builders. So, focus!
Arriving at the Interview Site
You’ve safely arrived, parked, and remembered to take your portfolio with you into the building. You’ve allowed sufficient time to stop in the wash-room for a last minute check of your physical appearance. You’ve spit out your gum or finished that breath-saving mint.
When all of these preliminary small but important issues are completed — and you’re certain that your cell phone is off — take a deep breath and enter the suite where your interview will take place. It is time for all of those “first impressions” that are vital to your success.
You’ll want to consider these tips:
Check-in: When you check in with the receptionist, you want to be polite, professional, and business-friendly. Now is not the time to flirt if you’re single, or to form an opinion or attitude regarding how rude the receptionist may be. But, a smile goes a long way when you introduce yourself and the reason for your presence:
Good afternoon. I’m Ima Winnor. I have a 1:00 appointment with Mr. Smith.
Wait: While waiting, it is not the time to engage in banter with anyone else who might also be waiting. Many people respond to anxiety by talking incessantly. Use your inner voice to continue your positive affirmations in order to calm yourself rather than engaging in verbal volley with a stranger. You certainly don’t want to be rude and ignore someone who initiated a chat, but limit the amount of conversation to business-social small talk. Expressing your opinions on nearly any issue is ill advised; you never know who is listening and/or who might completely disagree with those opinions.
What should you do if your wait-time is significant?
Let’s say that your appointment is at 1:00 p.m. You arrive and check in at 12:50. How long should you wait before asking the receptionist about the delay? Or, should you not make an inquiry under any circumstances?
You will, in part, have to follow your instincts. If the reception room is packed full of interviewees, and through that idle chit-chat you learn that 5 of you were given the exact same appointment time, you may want to simply sit quietly and wait, without making an inquiry. However, if you notice that people are apparently being interviewed out of turn, I would bring it to the attention of the receptionist:
I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I have a question. I noticed that several folks who arrived after me are being interviewed ahead of me. My appointment was for 1:00, and it’s now 1:45. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t somehow overlooked?
In situations where you don’t see any competing interviewees, when you are alone in the reception room but your interviewer is clearly behind schedule, I’d wait 30 minutes before making inquiry. Then, perhaps wait 15 – 20 more minutes before another inquiry:
” …. My appointment was for 1:00, and it’s now 1:30. I just wanted to make sure that Mr. So-n-so is aware that I’m here. I do have another obligation this afternoon. Is there any way to find out how far behind he is running so that I can reschedule my next appointment?”
“… I’m so sorry to disturb you again. Perhaps Mr. So-n-So would prefer if I returned in an hour or so? I’d be happy to go grab some lunch so that he doesn’t feel rushed. Would you please ask him if it would be more convenient for him if I were to return later?”
The reason it is important to not sit and wait for an unreasonable length of time without making inquiry is that you don’t want to appear desperate. You and your time are valuable. And, you will appear to be considerate of your interviewer and his issues, whatever they might be, so long as you phrase your inquiry correctly.
If something came up for your interviewer that is unavoidable, he will appreciate any effort you make to take the pressure off of him. But, avoid canceling the interview altogether, or delaying it by more than a few hours, as this opens the door for someone else to come in and sweep him off his HR thrown, totally impressing him and being offered the job that you wanted.
During the Interview
Whether your interview begins or time or is delayed, it no longer matters the moment you walk into the interview room. The spot light is on you with full beam, and it’s time for you to shine.
You are very likely competing with a large number of people for this vacancy. Your interviewer will meet many candidates. So, how do you stand out from the crowd and make your introduction memorable?
You make yourself memorable primarily by your smile. Being too creative with the language used in an introduction could backfire, so stick to plain and simple — and, smile! Show teeth. And make eye contact. You’re eager to be there, and it should show on your face.
As you smile and make eye contact, you’ll introduce yourself.
Even though your interviewer — let’s call him Mr. Smith — should know your name, you want to state your name in your introduction, if possible:
Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. I’m Truman Goodman. It’s a real pleasure to meet you.
If Mr. Smith starts talking first, the exchange might go something like this:
“Come on in, Mr. Goodman. Take a seat.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to our meeting.”
The Hand Shake
Wait for Mr. Smith to extend his hand for the shake. Since the H1N1 flu virus scare, some people prefer to forgo this tradition, and you won’t know Mr. Smith’s preference until he does or does not extend his hand.
If/ when he does make the gesture, offer a firm, full-hand grasp (no wimpy wrists, even for females). Don’t break his knuckles or require him to towel off. Your eagerness may involuntarily make that hand-shake go on much longer than is comfortable for your interviewer, and that’s not a good way to start! The general rule is: “Shake, shake, shake –then break.”
Until Mr. Smith offers you a seat, remain standing. If he takes his seat and leaves you standing there feeling like an idiot, show some initiative! Either use your eye and body language to motion to a chair with an inquisitive look, or make inquiry:
Shall I sit here (motioning), or would you prefer that I stand?
You may be seated in a chair across from Mr. Smith’s desk, or you may be seated at a table. There are important considerations for each:
Open chair — “Open” means there is nothing to obstruct your interviewer’s view of your entire body. The way that you sit, cross your legs, etc. are all openly visible. Crossing your legs is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is done properly. If you are heavy or over-weight, and if it is difficult for you to easily cross without appearing to make an effort, it’s best to keep both feet on the floor (and ladies, keep your knees together). If you are wearing a skirt, make damn sure you know how to properly sit and cross without exposing more than your knees.
Behind a table — This option can be more comfortable in that you are generally hidden from the waist down, but it can also lead to temptations that need to be avoided. When sitting at a table, people often fold themselves forward slightly. Instead, make sure your back and shoulders are comfortably straight and held high. It makes you appear more capable and confident. And though it is permissible to place your portfolio and pen on the table in front of you, be careful that you don’t fidget with these items. Likewise, remember that elbows on the table is a no-no!
There is very little room in a formal interview for small talk, and it needs to be kept to a minimum, but now is the time for it — just after introductions and being seated.
This is the moment when you want to achieve two goals: Breaking the ice, and connecting personally with your interviewer. This allows your interviewer to feel more comfortable, and it makes a lasting impression. It is in this moment that two people are able to feel the type of energy that exists between them, as discussed in Part I.
To connect personally with Mr. Smith, quickly scan the room and look for an object that could be the catalyst for the connection you’re after, or make a broader statement about the office, in general. Here are some possible examples, depending on the scenario:
- Gorgeous office, Mr. Smith. Is this your personal office? [he replies] It’s very nice. It certainly creates a good first impression of the office environment. I like it!
- Oh! You’re using a Harvard mug for a pen holder. I have the exact same mug on my desk, and I also use it for a pen holder. Did you go to Harvard? [“No”] Me either! [polite chuckle]
- [you spot a book on his desk] I see you have The Big Short by Michael Lewis. Have you had a chance to read it yet? I just bought it, and I’m looking forward to it. I hear it’s pretty good.
Regardless of the various opportunities and choices for the ice-breaker and personal connection, you always want to be honest, genuine, and personable. If you force or fake the moment, it will backfire. During the ice-breaker moment, it’s better to say nothing than to say something badly.
The Importance of Body Language
You want to appear confident and professional, not cocky and egotistical. You want to look comfortable and at ease, not uptight and restricted — but also not overly relaxed, as if you were sitting in front of the television at home.
People who spend a lot of time in front of a camera — actors, news anchors, and models — will tell you how difficult and how important it is to use one’s body language carefully and appropriately. These people practice, practice, practice until they are experts with their body language. Those not in the media industry, on the other hand, may seldom see themselves from the perspective of their audience. They may not realize that they habitually push their hair off of their face, or constantly adjust their eye-glasses — both of which are annoying habits for the person watching.
During your pre-interview preparation, you hopefully took the time to video record your practice interviews and analyze them. That analysis hopefully included a close study of your body language. Now that your under the spot-light, don’t neglect to focus on what you learned about yourself during your analysis. If you noticed that you tend to use hand gestures too aggressively, focus on toning it down. If you had a tendency to look angry when you were actually puzzled, focus on your facial features and the message you are silently conveying.
The best that you can do now that you’re being interviewed is to be aware. Don’t forget that your body speaks — and your interviewer is listening.
The Importance of Personality
In Part I, we talked about the importance of energy and the 3 possible connections that can result between you and your interviewer. Now, let’s discuss the importance of your personality — your social ego.
Our personalities — and therefore our behavior –will differ depending on our environment and our audience. We behave in one way when we are home alone with a spouse. We behave in a different way with our spouse when we have dinner guests. And, we behave in still a different manner altogether when we engage in a night out with the girls (or boys).
Likewise, our personalities will influence our behavior in the office environment, with our job interviewer. These differences, however, are natural. They happen without our giving much thought to it. The bottom line is: Regardless of the environment, be yourself.
For some, this is simple. You possess enough self-confidence that you can’t imagine being anything other than yourself. For so many others, however, situations that create heightened anxiety (such as a job interview) tend to cause a person to behave in a manner inconsistent with his true self.
If you are not an extrovert, for example, don’t pretend to be. While you do need to be careful that you don’t appear as a bump on a log, you will come across as fake if you force yourself to be too outgoing.
Likewise, if you are a Type-A extrovert, you might come across as arrogant if you try to harness your natural behavior too much.
By being your true self — nothing more, nothing less — you are not only going to come across as sincere, you are showing that you have integrity. Trying to be someone you are not is dishonest. You won’t get away with it, so don’t try.
It’s possible that your personality just doesn’t jive with that of your interviewer. And, it’s possible that your personality doesn’t jive with what the employer seeks. You may not get the job. But, the alternative is worse: You fake it, make it, and then you are later terminated when you begin (and you will) to show your true colors.
I’ve read articles from career experts who say, “Don’t make jokes.” They say, “If you laugh, don’t laugh too hard.” And so on. I don’t agree. I say, “Be yourself. Be genuine.” If that means you involuntarily laugh so hard that you cry when Mr. Smith says something funny, then so be it. At least you aren’t being a phony.
To be genuine means that you won’t falsely try to charm Mr. Smith. It means that you won’t offer characteristics that aren’t yours to offer. An interview is about more than getting a job: It’s about finding the right fit for you and also for your employer. Don’t impede that process by trying to put on a front. Just as Cinderella’s step sisters couldn’t force their large feet into the glass slipper, you too will be unable to slide into a position for which you are not the perfect fit.
The Q&A Portion of the Job Interview
After introductions and ice-breakers, you and Mr. Smith will begin the business of determining just how well you fit into the glass slipper. This tends to take the form of questions from the interviewer, and your answers to those questions.
In my experience, the more conversational the interview becomes, the better chance you have of getting an offer for employment. However, you don’t want to converse just for the sake of creating that conversational tone. If you do, it will be at the expense of providing critical answers or allowing time for the questions.
During the Q&A portion of the interview, keep these tips and techniques in mind:
- Be yourself. Still. This means that you will answer questions honestly. Don’t exaggerate your experience, skills, or abilities.
- Focus, listen, and respond. Don’t try to fit canned or memorized answers into a response just for the sake of getting it in. Instead, truly listen to the question you are being asked, give thought to it, and then respond in a natural and honest manner. I cannot over emphasize the importance of being genuine. If a genuine answer is, “I don’t know,” then so be it. You don’t know. A good company with a good interviewer will appreciate and respect your honesty.
- Don’t let fear make you look stupid. In other words, if you are asked a question that you don’t quite understand, but you are afraid to ask for clarification, you can wind up looking like you are less intelligent than you really are. It’s fine to say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” It shows that you are being fully attentive, and that the details are important to you. By asking for clarification, your interviewer will (or should) realize that you are not one to make presumptions or jump to conclusions — and that is a good quality to possess.
- Don’t play Monopoly! In other words, share the interview — don’t monopolize it. If you suddenly realize that you are doing all of the talking, or, worse, that you are rambling on and on and have lost track of the point you intended to make, allow your personality and honesty to clean up the mess you just made:
Mr. Smith, I am so sorry. I can’t believe I was just rambling like that. I promise; it’s not my typical style. I guess I am more nervous than I realized.
A comment such as this shows that you are human, that you make mistakes, but — more importantly — that you catch those mistakes and attempt to correct them. It shows that you are honest, and it shows a certain level of humility. In some rare instances, mistakes can make you look good.
Closing the Interview
How you end an interview is no less important than how it is opened. The final impression needs to be as good as the first impression. So, how and when do you end an interview?
Typically, Mr. Smith will ask you questions which you answer, then he’ll allow you time to ask your own questions. This is followed by “the close.” But an interview isn’t always so clearly outlined, and often times your questions will be interspersed throughout the interview rather than slotted for the last portion of it.
Knowing when to make your exit is a matter of carefully reading Mr. Smith’s body language and properly interpreting when he has all the information from you that he needs at this point.
Oral and visual cues that the interview has come to its end may look and sound something like this:
- [Mr. Smith asks] Do you have any more questions?
- [Mr. Smith asks] Is there anything we haven’t covered that you think I should know?
- You catch Mr. Smith glancing at the clock or his watch.
- Mr. Smith is making very little eye contact with you, though he was making excellent eye contact previously.
- Mr. Smith picks up your resume’ and other documents, and taps them on his desk to align the corners, then sets them to the side.
If you allow the interview to reach a point of uncomfortable pauses, where it loses it’s momentum and energy, you’ve let it go too far. While some interviewers won’t let this happen, taking control of when the meeting ends, others either lack the skill to do this properly, or they intentionally want to see how well you read social cues and close.
When you sense that it’s time to end the interview, be aware of the 3 stages to closing: Pre-close, Close, and Departure.
During this first step to ending the interview, you are essentially announcing that you are aware the interview is ending. It might sound something like one of these examples:
- Mr. Smith, it has been a sincere pleasure to meet you and discuss the [name of position] vacancy. Have I answered all of your questions, or is there something more I might provide?
- It has been a genuine pleasure to meet you and discuss the possibility of my joining your team, Mr. Smith. Nothing would make me happier. Is there anything else you’d like to know at this point?
- Mr. Smith, I have to thank you for making me feel so at ease during this interview. I’ve been on that side of the desk much more than I’ve been on this side, so I really appreciate how prepared and how thorough you’ve been. If there’s nothing else that you need to know right now, I probably need to let you take your next appointment.
After making it clear that you are aware the interview is ending, it’s now time to make a final impression. This is when you want to address the post-interview procedure preferred by your interviewer, and inquire about expectations:
- I do have one last question: Would it be convenient for you if I call you in a week, if you have not yet had a chance to contact me prior to that?
- May I call you on Friday to see where things stand, or to see if you have any new or follow-up questions? I’d like the opportunity to address your concerns, should any arise.
- I don’t know if you are as convinced about me as I am about this company — and I hope you’ll allow me to address any concerns that might arise — but as far as I can tell, this is absolutely a perfect fit for me. I truly am excited about the possibility of joining your team. May I call you on Monday to see where things stand, or would you prefer an email?
- Mr. Smith, I am thrilled about the possibility of joining [name of company]. As much as I enjoyed working for [past employer], I can honestly say that nothing in my professional history excites me as much as the challenges and opportunities I would undertake as the next [name of position]. Not only do I now know this is a perfect fit for me personally, I hope you also can visualize how much of an asset I will be if I’m given the opportunity. Shall we plan to follow up with one another in about a week? I can give you a call if that’s convenient for you.
You and Mr. Smith have made your closing remarks, and it’s now time for you to depart. If you’re not already standing, it’s time to collect your things and make your departure.
If you’re not being interviewed by a germaphobe who did not offer his hand during introductions, you’ll want to close the interview with another handshake. This time, however, don’t wait for him to offer his hand. Go ahead and take the initiative.
When extending your hand for the closing grip, make your final departure statement. Keep it short and simple, and do not allow yourself to start rambling or re-emphasizing points you made earlier:
- Thank you again, Mr. Smith. I’ll talk to you soon. Have a good weekend.
- It was a real pleasure, Mr. Smith. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Otherwise, I’ll call you on Monday. Take care.
- Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Smith. Enjoy your lunch! I’ll talk to you soon.
Misc. Considerations for Irregular Situations
If all interviews were as predictable and smooth as we would like, there would not be a need for this final section. But, life happens — and often we face the unexpected, unusual, or odd situation for which we’ve not prepared. This section attempts to provide guidance in the event you find yourself facing the unexpected:
Food / Beverage Issues
If you accept a drink, you now subject yourself to the risk of spills. Stop by the water fountain on the way in if you have a thirst to be quenched.
The same thing goes for food. Offices are notorious for bowls of candy, boxes of donuts, and various other land mines. A polite, “Thank you, but, no,” is your best answer.
What if you are engaging in a lunch interview?
Once you make it past the first interview, often times a lunch interview is scheduled. There are various reasons for it, including a more casual atmosphere enticing the players to be more open, let their guards down, and get to the heart of the matter. If you do face a lunch/dinner interview, here are a few do’s and don’ts”
- Don’t order an alcoholic drink. If your interviewer orders a cocktail, it is acceptable for you to order a glass of wine. Then, make it last for the entire interview. Best choice: Water.
- Do eat. Your lunch or dinner companion will likely feel uncomfortable if you nervously say, “No, thank you. I’m not hungry.” After all, you knew you were meeting for lunch / dinner. Plan to be hungry, but not famished.
- Fillet mignon may be your favorite, but now is not the time to order the most expensive entree. Opt for a low to mid-price fare.
- Doesn’t it go without saying that messy meals should be avoided? Bar-b-que ribs, crab legs, and peel-n-eat shrimp are better left for a social occasion. And no matter how careful you are, spinach will stick to your teeth. It’s inevitable!
- When your food arrives, remember your manners. And, don’t salt or pepper before tasting. Why? Because it indicates the you make judgments without adequately investigating the facts.
Situations Involving Vehicles
In Part I, I gave you various reasons why it is important to clean your car if you drive to your interview. And, I told you a personal story about someone who once asked for a ride after an interview.
What do you do, then, if Mr. Smith asks, “Do you mind dropping me off at the court house?” If you followed my pre-interview instructions, your auto will be ready to receive him, but now your driving skills are going to be evaluated. Keep these tips in mind:
- Wear your seat belt. If your passenger neglects to buckle up, say, “You’ll need to put on your seat belt or the buzzer won’t stop buzzing.”
- Don’t drive more than 3-5 mph over the speed limit. From the passenger seat, your speedometer can’t properly be read, and your passenger may think you are going faster than you are.
- When there are two lanes of traffic going your direction and you arrive at a stop, DO pick the line that is shortest unless you need to make a left or right turn. Why? Because it shows that you are efficient.
- DON’T turn on the radio unless your passenger requests. If he does want music, it is a chance for you to small-talk about the type of music he likes. Tune the radio accordingly.
As much as our society focuses on politically correct behavior, there will still be those individuals who shun the rules and behave inappropriately. How do you handle it if:
- Q: Mr. Smith blatantly flirts with you? A: Say, “I’m flattered, but I don’t think this is the appropriate time or place.” Then, immediately direct the conversation back to business topics, allowing Mr. Smith to save face. You can deal with possible sexual harassment if you get a job offer and decide to take it.
- Q: Mr. Smith makes a racial slur, or engages in vulgarity? A: Say, “Mr. Smith, I would appreciate it if you’d not use such colorful language with me.” Again, immediately move the conversation back to the interview, allow him to save face, and deal with the issue if/when you receive an offer of employment.
- Q: During the interview, Mr. Smith continually takes phone calls, sends texts, and is generally disinterested in conducting a proper interview? A: Say, “I can see that you are preoccupied today, Mr. Smith. Perhaps it would be best if we rescheduled?“
- Q: You are asked questions that are not allowed by law, such as your age, religion, or sexual preference. A: Say, “Mr. Smith, regardless of my age / religion / sexual preference (whatever the case may be), I am confident that I’ll be an asset to the corporation. As [name of position], I assure you that I’ll not only meet the expectations, but exceed them.“
Your interview is over and you turn your cell phone back on. But your work is not yet done. Now, continue to Part III of this series to learn what to do After the Interview.
~Lynda C. Watts