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The 10 great job interview tips no one ever tells you

January 7, 2009

by keito

If you’re one of those people wallowing on the wrong end of either graduation or employment, you probably know firsthand how hard it can be to get a job interview. There’s so much job competition these days that there’s hardly any need to call back a twenty-something with only a few years of experience, what with all the older, highly qualified job-seekers with a longer work history flooding the market.

When you finally do get an interview, the rarity of the opportunity can really put the pressure on to make not just the typical “good impression” but the best impression anyone’s ever made in the history of job interviews. So do your research, take a very deep breath, and start preparing yourself!

The list you’re about to read contains all the tips I wish someone had told me years ago (and that I’ve had to learn the hard way instead). I’ve found them to be just as important as bringing extra copies of your resume or finding good references. So from one twenty-something who’s been around the job market to you, here are the 10 other tips you need to know for a smooth, successful interview.

1. Eat something! I know what some of you are thinking. “But I don’t eat breakfast!” Well on interview day, you do. Nothing is more embarrassing than a grumbling tummy in the middle of your interview. Try to pick something that will stick with you — eggs, oatmeal, a protein bar — the more protein the better. Even if you are so nervous you think you won’t keep anything down, have a little something. A nervous, queasy stomach is always 10x worse when it’s empty.

2. Remember your physiology and pack appropriately. Ever get so nervous you stop producing saliva? Or, for that matter, ever lost your voice in the middle of an interview? Especially if you are interviewing in the winter, it can be beneficial to suck on a throat lozenge on your way there. Just make sure it’s gone before you walk through the door.

As an added bonus, a lozenge can help calm your nerves. A lot of people eat under stress, so fake out your body and put something in your mouth. Your brain and your stomach will hardly know the difference. Gum can also work, but the juices may signal your stomach that it’s about to get food, which would bring us back to the growling stomach issue in number 1.

Be sure to bring any other medicines that could be necessary, even if you think there’s only a remote chance you’ll need to use it. Remember Murphy’s Law and come prepared.

3. Look like a grownup — ask your mom. Ladies, how many times has your Mom said “I like it when you wear your hair up/down, it makes you look so much older!” If you have at least a semi-involved mother available, or perhaps an opinionated friend or significant other, ask her/him/them what stylistic choices make you look older.

It’s an ugly side of our society, but there’s a general assumption that anybody who looks like they’re under, oh, say 30 years old, is irresponsible (and the assumption of inexperience may go hand in hand with that). So don’t let your actual age or youthful good looks work against you:

If you’re a lady, ask around as to which hair styles make you look older. If you have longer hair and the answer is “definitely put your hair up,” make sure you have a relatively plain hair tie or clip that will keep your hair up for the duration of the interview. Whether your hair is short or long, always use any hair product sparingly, especially if it’s scented (you don’t want hair as crispy as the Colonel’s secret recipe, or to find that your interviewer is allergic to Herbal Essences). Oh, and the scrunchi is dead. Period.

For you gentleman, a clean-shaven face might not always be the best way to go if it makes you look young or younger. Neatness of appearance doesn’t always mean shaving, so as long as your facial hair doesn’t make you look like you’ve just come off a bender, consider some kind of sculpted stubble. And never, ever, slick back your hair. Too much hair product is a bad idea, and slicking back your hair should be reserved only for young boys trying to make themselves look older. And please, please, go easy on the aftershave or cologne.

4. Look older, but don’t dress that way. Nothing looks less professional than a 24-year-old dressed like Barbara Bush in her First Lady days. Dress age appropriate, not like a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

You should probably do a dry run with your interview outfit the night before. Always make sure you look like a hip young professional, not like a kid playing dress-up as one. And the rule that only neutral colors or black look professional is no longer true (ladies, just look at the press Hillary Clinton got for her endlessly pink, yet professional-looking shirts). As long as it matches your suit, wear one of your favorite, most flattering colors for a dress shirt — you’ll feel more confident, and look better, too.

5. Beware of the loudness of your interview shoes. Don’t let them hear you coming. This one goes especially for our female readers. An office is most likely carpeted, but the entryway probably won’t be. You’ll feel embarrassed if your heels ring out across the whole building, then you’ll start tiptoeing and end up looking like an injured gazelle limping into your interview. And guys, watch out for squeaky shoes. If it’s a rainy or snowy day, wipe those feet real well before you come within eyesight and earshot of your potential future employer.

5. Not all doors will open. When walking into the place where you have your interview, pay close attention to which door you open, or quietly ascertain whether both doors are unlocked. You would think that on a set of double doors both of them would be unlocked, you really would. But you would be really, embarrassingly wrong. You’ll look like a big loser trying to sashay out of the room and tugging on a locked door. And the locked door won’t just refuse to open, it will make a noise. A big noise.

6. Personality matters almost as much as skill. One place I used to work was looking for a new accountant. My boss came back after the interview absolutely gushing about this woman. She was so nice, so friendly, so funny, and, she thought, a perfect match for the team. She also mentioned that the woman didn’t use a calculator for the skills test they’d given her. My boss was very impressed, till she checked the answers and realized they were all wrong.

My boss had liked the interviewee so much she was practically devastated by those test results. The woman would have had that job, no question about it, if only she’d remembered a calculator. There’s something to be said for preparation, and a lot to be said for showing a good personality and being personable.

Remember that most businesses aren’t looking for a walking skill set but for a “great fit for the team” and workplace environment. So let your personality and attitude give you the upper hand, and go out of your way to be friendly and outgoing. It can be what sets you apart from that other good candidate with roughly the same credentials.

7. Competence can’t be faked, but confidence definitely can. I’ve used this trick a million times when having to do presentations. Think of yourself as an actor performing a role: if you pretend you’re a strong, confident individual, your body language won’t show how nervous you really are. You’ve already spent a lot of time and energy crafting the perfect eye-catching resume, and your credentials are already on it, so act like the person who knows he or she’s got them.

8. But don’t let yourself come off as too cocky. Someone in my family almost missed a job opportunity because they did. Even though he was a shy person at heart, he came off as so overconfident and like such a know-it-all that the interviewer thought he wasn’t actually interested in the position. So unless you have a lot of other sure-fire prospects, show a little humility and exhibit enthusiasm for the position, whether it’s the job you really want or not — at the end of the day you’re still going to need to pay your bills, and any job can be given a positive experience-spin on a resume (even working register at Burger King is team experience and customer service, you know).

9. Dodge those pitfall questions. Your interviewer will probably ask some pretty awkward questions, such as “What is your dream job?” and “What do you consider to be your weakest point?” You’re going to want to have some stock answers in mind if you don’t want to blurt out something really unattractive. Answering with “I’m late all the time,” or “My girlfriend says I’m a poor communicator,” will most likely be frowned upon.

Depending on the atmosphere of the place in which you are interviewing, you may be able to deflect the question with humor and score bonus points for personality at the same time. A friend of mine was once asked what her dream job was. Her reply? Rock star. That got her interviewers laughing.

If your target workplace is a little more somber in nature, stick with stock generalizations (“I want to work someplace where I can use my skills independently but also have opportunities to work with a good team,” or “I like being useful. My dream job is one where my hard work and skills will really make a difference,” for example). If you can tailor it to your job, or add just a dash of personality or humor, all the better

As for the “weakest point” question, pick something that you can spin positively. I’m naturally a very shy person, so my stock answer to this question is that “I can be shy and take a while to warm up to people, but that’s also helped me become a good listener. I find that it really helps me get to know people a lot better in the end.” An answer like that helps explain not only nerves in your interview but suggests that you’re an optimist who can use his or her weaknesses to an advantage.

10. Do NOT forget your coat. In addition to that unfortunately locked door, nothing will wreck your cool like having to run back in squeaking “Oh I forgot I left my coat here!” You’ll have a lot on your mind on the day of your interview, and a lot of mental checklists to run down, but if you’ve deposited any article of clothing in your interview place make a silent note to grab it on your way out. You’ll feel like a doofus if your exit isn’t as strong as your introduction — and you’ll have been this close to the perfect interview!

Remember that you’ll spend hours prepping for the interview but only minutes executing it. If you get out the door on time and are well-polished and prepared, consider yourself to have already completed the better half your mission. Then take a deep breath, and go kick some job market ass.

Got any good, less conventional wisdom for job interviews? Leave a comment and share!

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3 Comments
  1. Julienne permalink
    January 8, 2009 10:18 am

    Great tips, Keito. I second that the scrunchi is dead. 🙂

  2. January 12, 2009 5:27 pm

    One other tip that I am surprised people forget – take along notes. It is not an exam. Interviewers won’t mind that you are preapred and that you brought along prompts to remind you of key issues.

  3. Julienne permalink
    August 11, 2009 12:47 pm

    Sorry I’m so late in commenting, but you make an interesting point, Andre. This is a tip I’ve never heard of. I’m wondering if anyone else has used this tactic?

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