Career building 101: The job interview

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You’ve crafted the perfect resume and cover letter, and finally the hiring manager has gotten back to you. He or she asks you for your availability and it is time to check your calendar, pull out your nicest clothes and start preparing for the interview.

Checking your calendar might be a little bit more complicated than you may have anticipated. Forbes Magazine cites a study conducted by Glassdoor, a website of company reviews, which reveals that the best time to interview is 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. Why? According to Forbes, “On Mondays and Fridays, employees gear up for the week or wind own. By the same token, avoid the first or last slots of any workday.” Employers are busy and may have other things on their mind should you choose to interview at these times. You want to maximize the chance that the employer will have their sole attention on you.

Additionally, Forbes advises avoiding lunchtime. “Immediately before noon, your interviewer may be too hungry to concentrate; immediately after, they may be in a food coma.” Again, you don’t want your employer to be distracted, and lunch time may be about the most distracting time of the day. Catch your hiring manager at a time when they are ready to hear what you have to say.

However, in cases that are time sensitive, such as a company is looking to fill a spot as soon as possible, capitalize on the desperation by taking the earliest time slot possible. If you have the right qualifications and mesh well with the company, then you don’t want someone else to have a chance before you do.

Once you have an interview time scheduled, it’s important to dress for success. I find it valuable to keep the phrase “dress for the job you want to have, not the job you have” in mind when choosing an outfit. This is not to suggest that looking overly stuffy is a good idea, but to alert your attention to the fact that while the company has a first impression of you on paper, they don’t have a first impression of you that’s in person.

Dressing professionally no matter where you are interviewing can also give you a sense of confidence that can help you perform better when answering questions. If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you perform good.

While some may think the word “professional” is a subjective term, there are a few guidelines that should be followed. Make sure that clothes are wrinkle and stain-free. Try not to wear loose or baggy clothing because this can look sloppy. On the other end of the spectrum, avoid clothing that is too tight or short and can be distracting. While some job experts suggest wearing neutral colors to a job interview, I think that the right amount of color can be memorable in some situations.

Beyond dress codes, here are five tips to prepare for your interview

Tip #1: Research beforehand

Failing to research basic information about the company you are interviewing with can end up in making an embarrassing mistake. If you’ve never been on an interview before, employers will generally ask you questions about the company, from, “why would you like to work here,” to “what can you tell me about our mission statement?” Be prepared to talk a lot about not only yourself, but also the company. If you want to really stand out during an interview, go beyond surface research and search for company facts that you can’t find by simply perusing their website. Set up Google Alerts before your interview and track the company in any news headlines or social media mentions. While this might not apply for every company, it is a useful tool for staying current on what the company is doing.

Tip #2: Practice common questions

Not every company asks questions like Google who is notorious for asking extremely creative interview questions such as “why are manhole covers round?” So you will be able to guess a few key questions. Most interviews open up with a seemingly simple, “tell us a little bit about yourself.” However, this question is so broad that it does have the ability to stump people. Honing in on what you want the company to know about you before the interview can be useful in this situation. U.S. News made a list of the 10 most common interview questions which are as follows:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What interests you about this job?
  3. Why did you leave your last job?
  4. Why would you excel at this job?
  5. What do you know about our company so far?
  6. Tell me about a time when…?
  7. What would you do in your first 90 days in this position?
  8. What’s most important to you in a new position?
  9. What kind of salary range are you looking for?
  10. Do you have any questions for me?

Being as prepared as possible for these questions can help you organize your thoughts ahead of time. Take time to answer each question and have a general idea of how you would respond. Even if you don’t get asked any of these questions, preparing for them can help you understand how you can relate your personal experiences to the company.

[box]Read: Writing a resume[/box]

Tip #3: The interview starts in the lobby

So you’ve walked into the building and have introduced yourself to the receptionist by stating your name and that you are here to speak with so and so. Now what? Odds are you’ll be waiting for a few awkward minutes before you are interviewed. Don’t think this leaves you off the professional hook. Taking a phone call or texting can make you seem impatient and unprofessional.

Instead, try talking to the receptionist about their experience working for the company. This could potentially help you in your job interview as well. Collegegrad.com advises interviewees to “walk around the lobby, looking first at the walls for plaques and awards … Next look for employee newsletters or other internal documents which may be displayed by the waiting room.” This can be to your benefit by giving you a quick introduction to the company’s culture. Typically, lobbies are specifically designed to present certain key messages about the company. If there’s a history of the company on a lobby wall, that means they value their milestones. If there are magazines on the table, look at the titles and try to piece together what sort of message this brings across to you. Incorporating these subtle observations into your interview can set you apart from other candidates.

Tip #4: Make a connection

I think a sign that an interview is going well is the moment that it goes off script. This genuine conversation isn’t guided by the push and pull patterns of question and answer, but is guided by a connection. Typically, this can be started by finding a commonality between you and the person that is interviewing you. Do you have a mutual friend? Did you go to the same school? Did you both just see the same movie last weekend? It’s easy to be intimated by the person that is interviewing you, however striking a balance between intimidation and respect can make you feel more relaxed. Looking at your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile before the day of the interview might help in finding out some basic commonalities.

[box]Read: Crafting a cover letter[/box]

Tip #5: Always ask final questions

Not only does asking questions make you seem interested in the position, but why wouldn’t you ask a question? You have someone who is in your desired field who works at a company you’d like to work for – this is something that doesn’t happen every day. While people tend to ask what the next steps are in the process or when they will hear back from the company, stand out by asking the employer what their favorite part of the work day is. Why do they like working at the company? If they could change one thing about their job, what would it be? Turn the tables of the interview, but don’t go overboard. Asking the employer too many questions could cause them to become annoyed. I find the most valuable question to ask someone who is interviewing you to be, “do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?” It gives you the chance to clear anything up that the employer may be confused about and also allows the employer to ask any follow up questions that they may have but forgot to ask.

Debunking the daunting components of the job application process has hopefully helped you become more confident in your ability to become employed. Being confident and being prepared are the two most important things during the process. Simply doing your research and understanding what the employer wants is surprisingly not something that everyone does when looking for a job. This three part series acts as a guide for you on how to stand out amongst a tough pool of applicants.

Good luck to all those who are looking to land their dream job and big break.