How to Ace a Job Interview, Part 2: 3 Mistakes to Avoid
How to ace the job interview: Part two - the In-Person interview. Congratulations: your written resume and your telephone skills have successfully communicated your experience and education to the hiring officials. Your "lottery ticket" of a resume has paid off because now you get the next phone call from the hiring organization and they want you to appear for an in-person interview.
These are the two most common scenarios: 1) they have asked you to appear at the site where you may be ultimately working, or 2) they want you to go to a “local” office or hotel where some one from the organization will conduct the interview. If the hiring organization is willing to pay for your travel for this interview, that is a positive sign that they consider you a top candidate.
Your goal thus far has been to “get your foot in the door” so that you could fully impress the hiring manager (or interview panel) with your personal qualities and skills.
In either of the scenarios mentioned above, you must adequately plan to put your best self-image forward. It is important to know if this is the only interview that will be used to make the hiring decision, or if this will be the first round of several rounds of interviews. In any event, your goal is to leave the interviewer with the impression that you are the best-qualified candidate for the position.
Acing the in-person interview is a continuation of successfully "selling" yourself so that you get invited to join the team. Remember that you are one of possibly several candidates who have so far "screened" positively just based on the review of your resume/written application. Bring a few copies of the resume/written materials in case you need to pass them out to the interviewer/panelists. If you are asked to bring other writing samples or a portfolio, make sure you carry these materials in a brief case or bound portfolio – never use a backpack, purse, or gym bag.
Even though you may be answering the interviewer’s questions, you must get across your two main points: What you are able to bring to this job and what makes you the best candidate for this position. As always, keep your answers short and to the point. Answer just the question that is asked and try not to read into the question. If a question is unclear or even illegal (Are you married? Do you have any children?), give the interviewer a chance to “save face” by asking for clarification: “I’m not sure what information you are asking for related to this job?”
Do not offer personal information or go into long stories - the interview should be an exchange of information on what you offer and what the employer expects from employees. Before you start, you may be told when your time will be up: use whatever time you have to make the most favorable impact. If you are given the opportunity to ask questions, the most appropriate would be to ask, "What are the next steps in the hiring process for the successful candidate?" That question doesn't pressure the interviewer and it allows them to tell you what to expect next, if you are going to get another in-person interview, or if they expect to make a hiring decision after the completion of interviews.
Three ways to completely sink an in-person interview:
1) Be late (or arrive way too early) for the appointment. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. In this case, you already have made some positive impressions through your resume (and possibly over the telephone). You need to do whatever it takes to be early to this appointment – scout out the location, route, traffic, parking, and building access/security requirements before your scheduled date, especially if you are traveling to another city for the interview. Make sure you know where, exactly, you need to be when you talk to the scheduler for the interview. If you need to be escorted into the building, get the name and phone number of the person who you need to meet for the escort. Plan to be 5-10 minutes early so you can check yourself over in the washroom mirror – remember this is the first time any of these people have seen you and that’s the first impression they will form. DO NOT arrive more than 15 minutes early – that just makes it a burden for someone to watch you while you’re sitting idly in the lobby. Also, since most of the other candidates will be scheduled around the same time frames, you’ll be bumping into your competition if you arrive too early. If you are somehow going to be late – call and have a really good explanation for this delay. If you are going to be more than 10 minutes late, be prepared to offer to reschedule, at their convenience, if that is acceptable.
2) Be unprepared for the interview. This includes being poorly dressed/groomed or overdressed for the business environment. Do some intelligence gathering online before you show up at the interview. Being unaware of the job requirements, company profile, and culture of the organization will not impress the interviewer. If you have the chance to learn the name of the interviewer in advance, gather some info to see if you have any commonalities, such as interests or schools. DO NOT gather so much info that you become a borderline stalker of your interviewer: You will make an impression, but not one that will get you a job offer.
3) Finally, you can sink an interview by being insincere, arrogant, overconfident, or “false” to yourself. No one appreciates a phony and if you “lay it on too thick” by trying to ingratiate yourself to the interviewer, that will likely hurt your chances. Likewise, if you are out to impress them with “I’m damn good and you’ll be lucky to have me work here,” that tactic comes across poorly also. Try to strike a balance between humility (I need a job) and confidence (I can do this job).
If you are well-prepared, on time, and balanced, you have a better chance of getting the job offer. What kind of questions can you expect? That will be covered in Part 3 – “How to answer tough interview questions” a future Factoidz article. If you missed Part 1, see it here.