Interviewing – Prepare

Researching the company is only part of your preparation.

Get confirmation. The day prior to the interview, call or email to confirm the date, time and location. Confirm you have the appropriate number to call if there is any trouble on interview day. Verify directions if needed, as well as any special instructions you need to be aware of on the day of the interview (where should you park? do you need extra time to check in with security?). If your interview is scheduled to occur within 48 hours of the time you are initially invited, you should ask these questions at the time of the invitation rather than calling in again.

Know yourself. You don’t need to memorize your resume word for word, but you should certainly be able to walk an interviewer through the basic responsibilities and accomplishments from every job or activity listed on your resume. Check out the “During the Interview” section of this guide for more information on how to answer typical or unexpected questions.

Bring some resumes. In most cases, the interviewer will already have a copy of your resume. However, you never know when someone else might join the conversation or you might be asked to engage in multiple conversations throughout the day. Bring five copies of your resume on “resume quality” paper. If they do have a copy, you should avoid providing a new copy of your resume to them unless you made a significant change (had a significant accomplishment, officially earned a degree, etc.) since your original application.

Gather your references. You should also bring one copy of a list of references. Only offer it to the employer if requested. Your reference list should include the information for three professional references (preferably former supervisors, never list family even if they were your supervisor). Include their name, job title, address, phone number, and email address, along with a quick one sentence description of your relationship to them (“Mr. Jones was my supervisor at ABC company”). This is important as time goes by and your references may no longer match with the jobs listed on your resume. You should always ask your references for their general permission to be listed before you begin your search. If you get called in for a second interview, or if an employer indicates they will be contacting references, you should alert your references again and provide them a copy of the job description and your updated resume.

Get a padfolio. A padfolio is a hard-bound folder with a notepad on one side and a pocket on the other. Keep your resumes and reference sheet in the pocket. Write out all your questions for employers on the pad and consult it as needed when they ask if you have any questions for them. This should be the only object you carry in with you to the interview (everything else, including your cell phone, should stay in the car).

Know where you are going and don’t be late. If your interview is taking place somewhere with which you are unfamiliar, take some time to figure out where you are going. We all love our GPS, but print out a hard copy as well in case you have a problem with your phone that day. Leave plenty of extra time in your plans to allow for traffic, mass transit delays, personal delays (like you spill coffee on your shirt on the way out the door). The day before your interview, check out what traffic is like along your route at the time you will be traveling. If you have more than a few days notice for the interview you might even consider a “dry run” to make sure you can find everything and get a feel for the timing. Being late for an interview can be a killer. Plan to arrive to the general area of your interview about 30 minutes before your interview time and plot a destination for a coffee shop or something similar nearby. If you get delayed, you have a buffer. If you don’t, you have time to gather your thoughts, check your attire, and prepare to walk in confidently. Plan to arrive at the office door 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time. If your interview requires you to travel by air, be sure to leave an even bigger buffer than you normally would for non-business air travel.

Dress for success. There is no one-size fits all answer to the question of what to wear to an interview. This is another area where you must do some research in advance. Your choice of attire for an interview is one way of demonstrating you understand the organizational culture and would be a good fit. Showing up in a “business suit” is no longer the default answer for how to dress for a professional interview. Showing up in a conservative dark grey suit and red tie for an interview with a tech firm where everyone else is wearing torn jeans and hoodies is not something that will send the message that you will be an “organizational fit”. Conversely, arriving to an interview with a Wall Street finance firm dressed in torn jeans and a hoodie will probably get you thrown out of the building before you can even sit down for the interview. Research the company and what they are like, how are their employees dressed on the company website, or social media sites? Do supervisors dress differently than staff? Does the department you are interviewing for dress differently than others in the organization? Do you know anyone else that works there who can give you some tips? As a general rule you always want to look “neat” (clothing should be clean, unwrinkled) and “professional” (not too tight or short, no “sayings” or messages written on the clothing). If you can get a sense of how employees dress day to day, try to dress one level “up” from that. Avoid using any perfume or cologne on interview day. Some people find even a little to be too much, and some people are actually allergic. We want the employer focused on you, the person, not distracted by your attire or scent!

Visualize making a good first impression. You have to win the first seven seconds. Studies have shown that it takes seven seconds or less for someone to come to a “first impression” of you, and if that impression is negative it puts you in a hole right from the start. Part of this is certainly your dress and physical appearance. Much of the rest comes from body language and your actions. Do your best to look your interviewer in the eye, give a firm handshake (notice I said firm, not strong—no need for the “bone crusher” here, but don’t offer the “dead fish” either). Wait for the interviewer to give you cues and follow their lead (for example, don’t sit until asked, you may not be staying in that room). Once seated, sit up straight, maintain eye contact with the interviewer and do your best not to “fidget”.

The final steps of preparation come in thinking about the type of interview you will be facing, and the types of questions you should expect.