When candidates first walk into the room for their interview, one of the first things I look for is the items they bring with them. By items, I’m not talking about things such as purses or wallets. What I want to see are the business-related items they bring with them.
I know it sounds odd, but I’ve seen applicants who were qualified and otherwise well prepared come into their interview bringing with them nothing but themselves. No writing instrument, no notebook, no copies of their resume, zilch. I’ve even had ones who asked for a pen and paper to write on!
When I see this, I assume one of two things. First, that you’re arrogant and don’t feel the need to write anything down, and/or you’re not taking the interview seriously. Or, second, you’re forgetful and/or not well prepared.
Neither of these assumptions bode well for your interview and the first impression you make.
Regardless of the level or type of position for which you’re interviewing, here are at a minimum the basic items you should bring.
Two Ballpoint pens
Be sure to bring two ballpoint pens. You need to be prepared in case one of them runs out of ink in the middle of your interview. It can be quite embarrassing to have to ask to borrow a pen.
But there is also an ulterior motive for bringing two ballpoint pens. It will let you perform what I call a little ‘gray hat’ interview trick. Here’s what I mean.
A Little Trick With the Pens
Make sure one of the pens is starting to skip because it’s low on ink. You can even bring one that is already out of ink but it’s not quite as effective. The second pen needs to be a brand new one that you’ve tested and worked perfectly. What you want to do is be sure to use the faulty pen first. Then, the first time you start to write something down and it’s obvious that your pen isn’t writing well, smoothly pull out your second pen and continue writing as if nothing happened.
Without saying a word, you’ve just made a strong impression as someone who is organized and prepared. This may seem like a small thing, but the Hiring Manager and everyone else on the interview panel will love it!
Yes, it’s a bit deceitful but harmless and you haven’t lied about anything. You simply put on a bit of an act and let everyone form their own conclusion.
Bring a portfolio of some sort, not just a paper tablet. Preferably, make it a leather portfolio. Inside it there should be a new tablet of paper and your two ballpoint pens (be sure to have two, remember!)
As soon as you sit down, open it up. This shows that you’ll be taking notes, which always makes a good impression. It’s important to take notes, especially after you’ve asked a question. This sends the message that you are serious about the interview, you are well prepared, and you are a professional. It also shows respect and interest in what the Hiring Manager and anyone else in the interview has to say.
The portfolio will also give you someplace to store the business cards you should collect from everyone at the end of your interview. Be sure to do this.
Don’t attempt to write down everything, as that can slow down the interview. Make your notes brief and return your attention to the speaker.
Extra Copies of Your Resume
At least five extra copies of your resume. Another advantage of a portfolio – you can put them in an inside pocket. You’ll need these in case your interview goes so well that you’re asked to stay after and meet some other people. You want to be prepared to hand out some additional copies of your resume. This is one more opportunity for you to show how well prepared you are.
Extra Copies of Your References
Five copies of your references. Same reason as for your resumes.
A wristwatch. Yes, I know you can just as easily tell the time by looking at your cell phone, but that’s not the reason why you should bring a wristwatch.
What you want to do is take off the wristwatch as soon as you sit down in your interview place it in front of you where you can easily see it. As you do this, quickly explain that you want to make sure you don’t go over the time allotted for your interview (you’ll also need to ask how much time is scheduled).
I have only seen a few candidates do this over the years and it impresses me every time. It shows that you’re organized and respect my time. This is also usually the first thing mentioned after the interview when I ask the other panel members what they thought of that candidate. It always leaves a lasting – and positive – impression.
Empty Space Where Your Cell Phone Used to Be
Lastly, bring an empty pocket in your pants, or an empty place in your purse where you would normally carry your cell phone.
Yep, leave your cell phone in your car. This will totally eliminate any chance that your cell phone rings or vibrates in the interview because you didn’t turn it off.
Trust me on this. If your cell phone rings in the middle of your interview, it pretty much means you’ve just jumped off a cliff and that sound at the bottom is of your interview crashing. It shows that you’re either careless or inconsiderate. The best thing to do is apologize profusely and turn your phone off.
And it should go without saying that if you do bring your phone and it rings during your interview, do not answer it no matter who it is. I had a candidate do that in an interview once and actually start talking to the person who called! Needless to say, that person was immediately dismissed as a viable candidate in the minds of everyone conducting the interview. This is simply inexcusable.
The Bottom Line to All This
People I’ve interviewed will almost always bring a pen and paper to the interview and usually not much else. This can be okay if you hit a grand slam home run with your performance, but why not take these extra steps that just might tilt things in your favor if you’re competing with strong other candidates.