Nailing Your job Interview

Phil Abraham

Tips for a successful job Interview

I t’s a great feeling when you finally get that call or e-mail asking for an interview with your favorite company. Perhaps you’ve been trying to get noticed by this company for some time. Or, maybe you lucked out on your first application or resume. However which way you finagled it, you are finally on this company’s radar screen. With possibly a week or so to go before the interview process itself, these are some things you can do, as well as some things you can avoid, to ensure that the post-interview response from the company of your choice will be a resounding “Yes!”

Research, research, research.

No matter how the request was stated, and even if the interviewer is going to meet you at a tropical cabana with a drink in each hand, research the company before you go off for your interview. Know the company’s main products, its history, and any other interesting folklore or anecdotes about its people or research. If the company has recently been in the news, be sure to know why and bring this recent publicity up during the interview (the exception being if the fame is of the Enron genre). Remember that the interviewer has probably spent a few years with the company, and would like to feel that the outside public (meaning you) places some value on the company, beyond it being simply a means of monetary support.

Research into the company can also serve other uses: it can become a great conversation starter in the event that you run out of things to say about yourself, it can help dissuade the interviewer from asking sticky questions, like, “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and it can indicate if you’ll be a good fit for the company itself.

Dress appropriately.

Remember that tropical cabana statement earlier? Regardless of where the interview will be situated, or whether you know that it’s casual Friday for the employees at XYZ Corporation, or that the CEO is an aging hippie who shows up to work in flip-flops, never, I repeat never, show up to an interview underdressed. Always remember: the interviewer, the employees, and the CEO already work for that company. You do not. Therefore, their more lax dress code does not apply to you (besides, does anyone really look good in flip-flops?). Unless specifically requested to dress otherwise (and I’ve never seen this happen), show up in a suit, or at the least some nice (non-jean) pants and a crisply ironed shirt. Dresses and skirts for the women may be alright too, if they’re not too frilly, and if they’re paired up with a jacket or some other more businesslike attire.  

Bring your pencil.

Remember way back in the second grade, when you’d forget your pencil and/or homework at home? Remember your teacher telling you: “Well, maybe you should’ve left yourself at home?” The same thing applies here. Bring your pencil to the interview, along with your pen, your resumes (at least five), and even a laptop if possible. You just never know where the interview will progress, nor what may be required of you. If the interviewer sees that you are well-prepared, with almost a psychic ability to predict the needs encountered during a dynamic situation such as an interview, he or she will be more likely to see you as a good fit for the company itself (which of course encounters unforeseen situations and emergencies).

Another benefit to being well-equipped for the interview is that it portrays you as an adaptable person. For example, if your interviewer originally requested a slide presentation of your work, but then you show up and the company’s projector is broken, wouldn’t it be great to just happen to have printouts of all those slides to pass out to everyone?

Beware of the gatekeeper.

The Virgin Atlantic founder, Sir Richard Branson, used a ruse on his reality show a few years back, disguising himself as an arthritic old driver and then picking up show contestants in his vehicle. The two contestants who were rude to him were rejected immediately. More and more individuals, as well as companies, are screening for rude behavior on the part of their potential employees, but it’s not during the interview process itself where you might be grilled. Rather, it will more than likely come back to your performance when you stepped through the lobby doors and greeted (or maybe not) the secretary or administrative assistant(s) at the counter, or the receptionist who took your application. Nowadays, many interviewers will base their hiring decision not only on themselves and their inner group of employees, but even on the opinions of the secretary or student temporary employee. Bottom line: don’t be rude to or ignore anybody. But that should be part of your general character anyway, as a human being living among other fellow human beings.

Do not portray a negative attitude.

Even if you are only looking for a job because your current boss is driving you crazy, or you just got fired, do not bring up any negative points about your old/other job during the interview. And do not badmouth your current or any past bosses. While your interviewer may have had the same experiences, he or she will not look favorably upon this gossip (which is really what this is), and will instead wonder just how much backstabbing and gossiping you will do once hired at the new company.

You may state why you are looking for a new job, however, as long as you stick to the facts. For example, if your current company just lost funding, that is a valid and objective reason to go look for other employment. If your current boss is about to retire, and you’re worried about a nasty co-worker taking over the soon-to-be-vacant management spot, you can state that the company is changing management and you’re uncertain about its future. Alternatively, you could simply say that you’re looking for new challenges in your life. That excuse has never raised any eyebrows, and instantly puts you in the position of being a go-getter.

Be prepared to answer tough questions.

Once the pleasantries are done away with, and the technicalities of the job are discussed, the interviewer will want to know some specifics about your overall work ethic and personal character. Some people really tank at these types of questions. For example, how do you answer “What is your biggest weakness? (hint: don’t answer donuts!)” Or, how do you answer that other dreaded question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Before stepping foot inside the company, set aside some time to philosophize on your own life. Think about your past, your future, and everything in between. Figure out who you are, and what you would like to be. Companies do the same thing when they put out mission statements. You need to do likewise, and figure out your career objective. Then, during the interview, take these points about yourself and put a positive spin on them. For example, if your biggest weakness is that you get bored easily, then you might state that you need challenges to keep you happy. Most managers are itching to hear that line. Just be ready to back up your statements with the appropriate action once you’re hired.

Be prepared to ask tough questions.

When the following question comes up “Do you have any questions for me/us?” this question is not a yes or no option. Rather, it is a clear demand, and you better have something to ask of either the interviewer or the employees. Lack of any final questions will definitely reflect a lack of genuine interest in the company and/or job. Thus, even if you were asking questions all along the interview, save at least one more for the final showdown. If all else fails, at least ask the employees/interviewer how long he or she has worked for the company, and what job was held before. You could also inquire about how long or rigorous the training period will be, since you want to be adequately prepared for your new job (that should win you some points).

If there are any lingering doubts in your mind, this is the time to bring them out- after all, an interview implies that both parties are checking each other out for compatibility. Perhaps the company has had a series of layoffs. In such a case, it is perfectly appropriate to inquire about job security. Or, perhaps the company is very young, and does not yet carry a product line. I recommend asking about the company’s future profitability here. 

Get personal.

You may not be lucky enough to know that the interviewer’s favorite beer is a bitter pale ale, which you just happen to make at home (along with growing your own hops). But, if you can gather any personal information on any of the employees or managers with which you will be chatting, this may determine your entire interview (assuming you do alright everywhere else). Therefore, it never hurts to always be networking with people from that company, or even outside of it. You never know who you might meet, who will just happen to know that the interviewer of that company likes his bitter pale ale above any other ale or lager combined.

If all else fails, let the interviewer or employees know something about your own personal hobbies and activities. This will help flesh you out in their eyes, and make you more memorable when the time comes for your evaluation.

Don’t forget the thank-you note.

If you’re bad at remembering names, you better keep a pen and pad handy, because everyone you meet, from the errand boy to the CEO, should be mentioned and thanked in (at the very least) a general thank-you note following the interview. If there was anyone you spoke to directly, and especially if the conversation lasted longer than 10 minutes, then you may consider even sending a separate thank-you note to that person. It never hurts to be courteous, and no one has gotten upset over receiving a thank-you note. Alternatively, you might opt to send an e-mail, and this is also appropriate.

The thank-you note should stick strictly to the “I’m so grateful for the interview” line, with maybe a small note about the interviewer’s private hobbies, personal interests, etc. Do not mention when you expect to be called back, or what chance you have at being hired. This is not about job-hunting or networking- it’s simply about being gracious.

Keeping these points in mind will definitely help you navigate through your interview, ensuring your success. Good luck! 



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