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I Have an Interview Today. Yikes!

Here it is – the big day! The day of your actual interview.

This is a nerve-wracking day for most people, but it won’t be for you. Yes, you’re a little apprehensive, that’s natural.

For this post, I’m assuming you’ve done proper research and practice in your advance preparation. This time I’m going to review some other important items that apply to the day you go in for your interview.

Oh, you might be thrown an unexpected question that you hadn’t anticipated, but you’ll be

able to handle it comfortably and confidently using all the information, research, and practice from your advance preparation.

But it’s not all about just research and how well you answer questions. Several other things contribute to the overall impression you make.

In this section we’ll cover the following areas and how to crush them in your interview:

•          Things to Bring (and what NOT to bring)

•          The Proper Time to Arrive

•          The Right Behavior to Demonstrate

•          The Absolute Best Way to End Your Interview

Let’s go!

Things to Bring to Your Interview

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen applicants show up for their interview bringing nothing but themselves. Nothing to write with, nothing to write on…basically nothing. This is a dead giveaway that you are not organized and not prepared.

Don’t let this happen to you.

For every interview, here are the minimum things you need to bring.

Two Writing Pens

Why two? In case one breaks or runs out of ink. There’s also another good reason to bring two pens, as illustrated by another interview I gave.

Several years ago, I was on an interview panel where a bright young woman was interviewing for a Business Analyst position. As she was taking notes, her pen ran out of ink. Without even bothering to shake it, she calmly put it aside, pulled out another one and continued taking notes without missing a beat.

One of the other managers on the panel remarked, “Wow, you came prepared, didn’t you?” That one simple move created a strong impression that this applicant was well organized and prepared. I know it sounds a bit silly, but this was the first thing the interview panel talked about after the interview.

So here’s a “grey hat” sort of trick you might want to consider in your next interview.

Bring two pens – one that is already skipping or ready to run out of ink, and a new one. When you start to take notes and it becomes obvious you pen isn’t working, put it down, smoothly whip out your new pen, and continue writing as if nothing happened.

You’ve just made a statement that you’re well prepared and plan for contingencies – all without saying a word. Trust me, the Hiring Manager will love it.

A notebook or some sort of portfolio

It should have a new tablet of paper in it and can also be used to store your pens (remember – two of them!). This is a necessary item because you need to take some notes during your interview, especially after you’ve asked a question of your own and are given an answer.

Taking notes sends a subtle message that you’re a professional and serious about the job. It also shows you’re interested enough to write down what you’re being told. However, don’t take this to an extreme and try to write down everything being said.

Several Copies of Your Resume

It can occasionally happen that your interview goes so well that you’re invited to stay and meet other people and departments. If this happens, you want to have extra copies of your resume to hand out. This is also another chance to show you’re well prepared.

Several Copies of Your References (same reason as for your resume)

An Empty Place Where Your Normally Carry Your Cell Phone

Yep, that’s right. Leave your cell phone in your car. This eliminates any possibility that your phone will ring during your interview because you forgot to silence it.

Believe me when I say that if your cell phone inadvertently rings during your interview, it can be the kiss of death. It’s indicates you’re either careless or inconsiderate, traits that few Hiring Managers want to see.

And – for the love of all that is holy – never, ever say “excuse me” and answer your cell phone if it does ring during your interview. You will almost for certain be disqualified then and there.

The Proper Time to Arrive At Your Interview

Proper time to arrive at your interview

It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: you must show up on time for your interview.

My number one hot button is applicants that arrive late for their interview. Except for a major and unexpected event, it’s inexcusable.

Unless that unexpected event was a car wreck and you are unconscious, you better have called before your interview is scheduled to start to tell me you’ll be late.

Please note that getting lost on your way to the interview is not considered to be an unexpected event.

Always make it a point to get driving directions from the company and do a trial run in advance. You may think you’re familiar with where the interview is to be held, but you can’t be certain you’ll find it the first time unless you’ve made that trial run.

Avoid the temptation to use a map application or your GPS as a substitute for a trial run. Maps can be out of date and no GPS unit is 100% accurate, so don’t bet your interview on either technology. Make the time to do a trial run, using directions from the company website (if they have one).

Once you’ve made your trial run and have a good idea of how long it will take you to get there, pace yourself to arrive 45 minutes early. You read that right: 45 minutes! This gives you a cushion in case an unexpected event happens.

With your early arrival, you’ll be able to sit in your car and review your notes, practice some answers, go over your marketing message, or simply sit and think some calming thoughts. You’ll be relaxed (well, at least as relaxed as an interview can be) and unstressed about whether or not you’ll be on time.

About ten minutes before your scheduled interview time, walk into the company. You don’t want to be much earlier than that because they’ll have to find a place to park you. And you don’t want to be any later, as that’s cutting it a bit close and might raise some eyebrows.

Ten minutes ahead of time is just right.

Here’s another example of exactly why this is so important. I had an interview myself once for a management position to which I had applied. It was in a downtown area quite a ways from where I lived and I was unfamiliar with that part of town. I didn’t make a trial run in advance, stupidly disregarding my own advice because it was so far away.

While driving to the interview, of course, that unexpected event happened. I made one wrong turn and drove several miles the wrong way before I realized what I’d done. By the time I figured out where I was and backtracked to the interview, I had wasted almost 30 minutes.

BUT…I also left early enough to arrive 45 minutes before my interview, so I still had 15 minutes left. This was enough time to relax and at least get my thoughts together. When I walked in a few minutes before the interview, I was relatively calm and ready.

This is precisely why I advise you to always plan to arrive 45 minutes early.

The average interview lasts between 45 and 90 minutes, with 60 minutes being the norm, but you should be prepared to stay longer. If your interview goes extremely well, you may be asked to meet or even interview someone else. This is a very good sign, so don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t stay because you have another appointment – it may cost you the job.

The Right Behavior to Demonstrate

Let’s start with some general tips, those little extra things that can make the difference when the final selection is down to just you and someone else.

  • Smile when you first introduce yourself, periodically during the interview, and smile at the end when you shake hands with everyone. First and last impressions tend to be the strongest, so you want yours to be good ones.
  • Be thorough but brief in your answers to questions. I’ve seen many cases where very qualified candidates took themselves out of consideration because they didn’t know when to stop answering the questions.
  • Shake hands with everyone when you arrive and when you depart. Use a medium-firm grip, so you don’t appear either aggressive or overly hesitant.
  • Answer questions in a clear voice, neither mumbling nor shouting and look the person who asked the question in the eye. I’ve had many applicants mumble their answers and/or stare off into space when talking, both of which are signs of weakness or a lack of self-confidence.
  •  At the very end of the interview, I will most of the time ask you if there is anything else you’d like to tell us. The majority of applicants stumble with this one and as a result, end their interview a bit awkwardly. An acceptable way to end any interview is to shake hands with each person, thank them for their time, and say that you look forward to hearing from them. But if you really want to end the interview in a memorable and positive way, try this.

Ask for business cards from everyone. It will have their email address on it and you should send each one a thank you email that same day. This shows professionalism. For those that don’t have business cards with them, be sure to write down the correct spelling for their name and ask for their email address. This is perfectly acceptable.

Behaviors You Should Avoid

Behaviors to avoid in an interview

•   Talking too much. This is high on the list of turn-offs for many Hiring Managers. As a general rule, each answer should be no more than two or three minutes at the most, unless it’s a complicated and multiple-part question.  

Ask for some clarification of the question if you’re unsure as to what it exactly means. This will help you avoid soaring off into details irrelevant to that question. Clarification can also encourage the person who asked the question to talk more, which can give you valuable clues about how to answer.

Another true story: I was once part of a team interviewing an applicant for an IT technical support job. This candidate simply would not stop talking. For every question, he went on for several minutes, soaring off into meaningless detail and side issues.

The interview was scheduled to last 45 minutes but took over an hour and a half. After a while of this, we were all silently groaning and rolling our eyes at each other because we could not get him to shut up. We eventually stopped the interview, even though we hadn’t made it through all the questions, because we ran out of time. Plus, he had simply worn us out. I can tell you that person received no further consideration, so please don’t let this be you.

•   Saying anything negative about a past employer. If you talk negatively about companies or managers you used to work for, then I’ll automatically assume you’ll trash talk about any employer. This likely means that I won’t want to become your employer.

•   Displaying “attitude”.  I see a surprising amount of arrogance or negativity in interviews. I suspect this may be a result of the applicant trying too hard to come across as knowledgeable and competent.

Body language is important and one tip is to avoid crossing your arms during the interview. This is commonly seen as being arrogant or defensive.

It’s human nature to be attracted to people who come across as likable. In a hiring situation, this means that I’ll most often hire the best qualified and most likable applicant.  Arrogance is the exact opposite of likable, so be sure it’s a trait you don’t display.

•   Asking questions about things such as benefits, salary, vacation, etc. These types of questions, which have nothing to do with wanting to know about that specific job, should only be asked when and if you’re offered the position. Asking them during an initial interview shows bad taste and indicates you’re more interested in what the company can do for you than what you can do for the company. Until you’re offered the job, confine your questions to ones specific to the position or the company’s strategies and goals.

One piece of advice you may see from so-called “interview experts” is to ask the interviewer to tell you of some problem they currently have and then explain how you’d solve it. The thought behind this is that it will enable you to somehow “take control” of the interview”.  

Most Hiring Managers will reject this tactic as being gimmicky and manipulative. If they haven’t already planned on asking you how you’d solve a particular problem, they will resent being placed on the spot.

Plus, what if they pose a problem you can’t solve? Or they don’t like your solution? You’ve now blown the interview. This is a high-risk strategy that I would only advise using if you’re a high-risk taker.

Another bad piece of advice you may see, particularly from recruiters, suggests that you demonstrate how you’d do the job by doing things such as giving them a business plan for their organization, preparing a Powerpoint presentation, etc.

This may be appropriate for a small number of employers, assuming they specifically ask you to create these things. However, most companies use traditional methods, look for standard resumes, and conduct traditional interviews. This is particularly true for non-professional positions.

Headhunters and their advice are best suited for senior executive positions, if at all.

Don’t Come Across As a Jerk

The one question I’d really like to ask straight up is: “Are you a jerk?” It would have enabled me to quickly end many interviews over the years with applicants that had serious attitude problems.

I would also have avoided the occasional hires I’ve made over the years of people who were eminently qualified on paper but who turned out later to be, well…jerks. 

While Hiring Managers try hard to avoid jerks, we can sometimes be fooled. Some jerks are exceedingly good at appearing sincere and likable during the interview, even though in reality they are the exact opposite.

Even if the “jerk factor” comes out in their interview, it can be very tempting for me to overlook a problem personality when they are highly skilled and experienced. I’ve hired a few of these types, even knowing this upfront. 

And it’s always been a bad decision.

The reason it’s a bad decision is that jerks, once this comes out after they’ve been hired, will almost without exception create morale problems for a team. They can quickly destroy the good reputation that a manager has carefully built up over the years, especially with customers. 

It takes only one jerk to make a team full of superstars look bad.

You’ve probably met someone like this yourself. They were personable and friendly until you got to know them.

Here’s the thing. Good Hiring Managers can fairly easily determine if you have the right technical experience and skills for their jobs. Whether it’s a clerical position or a high-level technology position we know the right questions to ask. 

Soft skills, however, are a different story and often hard to assess in a single interview. 

You pretty much have to go with your gut instinct and observing how the candidate comes across in the interview. This is often called the “likability factor”. You might say this is the polar opposite of the “jerk factor”. 

Here are the attributes of the likeability factor:

  • A good overall attitude
  • A positive outlook on things
  • No trash talking about prior employers or managers
  • A friendly demeanor
  • The ability to get along with people
  • Projects an image of dependability
  • Gives an appearance of being trustworthy 

All Hiring Managers want to see these soft skills in an applicant. 

Managers who’ve been burned by bringing jerks on board will be especially focused on assessing soft skills. They know that technical skills can always be taught, but people for the most part either have soft skills or they don’t.

By and large, you can’t train someone to have a good attitude and get along with people. In other words, you can’t train a jerk to not be one. The fact is, experienced Hiring Managers would rather occasionally pass on a good candidate than hire a bad one.

So, if you’re not a jerk, how do you show that in an interview? 

It’s fairly simple: avoid demonstrating any of these three personality traits:

  • Being arrogant
  • Being condescending
  • Being patronizing 

Showing any or all of these traits will cause serious damage in your interview. Even if you think you know more or perceive yourself as being better than the Hiring Manager, you can’t in any way let that attitude show. 

If you do, it will be automatically assumed that if you act this way in the interview, when a job is at stake, you’ll act even more so to your customers and co-workers once you’re on the job.

 In other words, you’ll be a jerk.

The takeaway here is you need to strive to come across as positive, likable, and friendly.

And I hope you are!

The Absolute Best Way to End Your Interview

Almost every interview will end with you being asked if you have any questions. Many candidates will simply say no or ask a general (and irrelevant to the job) question.

Too bad because they just blew a golden opportunity. Here’s the reason why. 

A very experienced and wise manager once shared with me what he considered to be the best question to ask at the end of an interview. This is it: “I’m convinced this is the job I want. What do I need to do to convince you I’m the right person for the job?”

What a great question this is! It not only shows you want the job but is also a compliment to the selling skills of the Hiring Manager (yes, if you’re a great candidate I’ll want to sell you on the job, just as you want to sell me on being the best person).

It also provides one more opportunity to sell yourself and address any specific concerns I may have as to whether not you’re the best candidate.

Use this question if you feel the interview went well. I asked this very question myself once while I was being interviewed and was pleasantly surprised when the Hiring Manager replied, “Well, I’m pretty much already convinced.” I was offered the job two days later.

Wrapping It Up

After the interview, if you can find them, swing by the person who checked you in when you first arrived and/or the person who escorted you to the interview room and thank them.

Very few applicants perform this simple courtesy. You never know; one of these people might be the administrative assistant to the Hiring Manager and it’s always best to leave a good impression.

They may drop a positive remark about you and that could be just the thing that tips the scale in your favor if you’re in a close race with one other applicant.

Your interview is over now, but your work isn’t. Go on to my post to learn what you should do right after the interview, as well as what to do if you don’t hear back in a reasonable time (hint: most applicants get this wrong!).

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