Interviews are hard. There is no escaping it.
We are told to be ourselves, but also to change all our bad interview habits! Showing up as our best selves under pressure is very challenging, but the great news is that practice and planning make it easier every time.
As we work out the best way to present our skills, background, and character, we spend a lot of time preparing for some very important pieces of the interview, such as memorizing our “Tell Me About Yourself” answer, dressing just right for the position, keeping our hands from waving around too much when we talk, or crafting the right stories to demonstrate the skills we can bring to the team.
All the above common interview preparation items are essential, but there are a few other important things you need to bring to an interview that are easy to forget and often looked over.
1. Drama-Free Interview Kit
As an interviewer, one of the most common negative first impressions I get from a candidate is “scattered”. Candidates will often bring more than one bag, or they will dig around in their backpack for their resumes, references, and a pen. They will struggle with where to put their coat, scarf, hat, or umbrella.
In those circumstances I cannot help thinking to myself, if that candidate had focused on simplicity, they would be much more relaxed, and they could have spent those first 30 seconds making eye contact, smiling and starting some small talk to ease into the interview.
These tips will help you plan what to bring and what to wear to your interview—your distraction and drama-free interview kit:
- In the warmer months, try to wear only what you want to wear when you sit down to the interview. In poor weather, bring just the essentials. The more items of clothing you have, the more time you will have to spend organizing them when you get into the interview.
- We cannot avoid winter—leaving all your warm winter clothes at home will mean you’re an icicle by the time you get to the interview. Instead, when you have extra clothing to take care of, often the receptionist (or whoever greets you) will have the best idea of what to do with it. Try to work this out while you wait to be called in. If you have to carry it all in with you, try to visualize what you will do with it (draping it over the back of the chair, scoping out a coat tree…just not on the floor!).
- Have your documents and pen in your hand before you are called in. While you wait, organize all your materials to ensure the least amount of fuss when you start the interview.
2. Waiting Room Etiquette
Hiring managers are often not satisfied with using just the resume and the interview to help us make the final decision. Skill assessments, trial periods, or internships are used to gauge a candidate’s real-life reactions to real-life situations.
One of the easiest ways for a hiring manager to assess behaviour, however, is to check in with the receptionist after the interview.
While sitting in a waiting room, it is easy to think that you still have a few minutes left before you need to start “performing”. A candidate might use that time to browse their phone, keep their headphones on, slouch in their chair, or allow their nervous habits free reign.
You can bet that the receptionist is taking careful note of all those behaviours, while pretending to be busy on their computer.
Your interview starts the moment you step into the building, or even the same block as the building, as you may run into an interviewer stepping out for a quick coffee break.
Remember a few key rules to make a good impression wherever you are. These habits will help you stay focused, and will also prime your mind and body to feel confident and outgoing in the interview:
- Keep good posture (back straight, shoulders back and down)
- Make friendly eye contact
- Keep your phone in your pocket/bag/purse, completely turned off or in “airplane mode” (even vibrating phones will be a distraction)
- Some friendly small talk with the receptionist is great, but keep it short—they still have work to do!
After each interview for prospective new staff at OFE, the panel of interviewers takes turns sharing their notes. One of the most common questions that comes up in these conversations is, “Did the candidate add energy to the room throughout their interview, or suck energy out of the room?”
The best-case scenario is that your interviewers feel a little more energy and more enthusiasm just by interacting with you.
Here are a few tips for showing your enthusiasm in an interview:
- Keep things positive. Share stories with happy endings, and avoid stories full of criticism or blame. When talking about challenges, make sure they end with either a positive outcome that you were a part of, or a learning that you have carried with you.
- Know what you love. Be prepared to share what you are excited about in your desired role. What makes this role a great fit specifically for you? What aspects of this role will fire you up? What projects are you eager to learn more about?
- Smile liberally. Even if your target job is working in a basement by yourself without another soul to interact with for weeks at a time, your interviewer will still want to get a picture of the impact you have on others. When you smile genuinely, it makes others feel good. When you frown, or even keep a stoic expression, it won’t leave that positive impression. Interviewers may forget what you said, but as Maya Angelou wrote, they “will never forget how you made them feel”.
It’s time to plan it out! If you have an interview coming up, or you’re anticipating a call, I encourage you to dedicate some time this week to writing out some personal intentions to guide you to the interview, focusing on simplicity, waiting room etiquette, and energy. With some practice and planning, you’ll make a great impression!
Author: Kenton Eidse, Program Manager at OFE