Monday, May 02, 2011

Interviews-Are You Getting Good Advice?

Having read many articles, participated on LinkedIn discussions and visited interview advice websites lately my question this week is: Are you getting good advice? 

Much of the advice comes from people who by their profiles would appear to really *know* what they are talking about, however much of the advice is generic or outdated and the diversity of opinions in the discussion forums make it clear that this type of advice simply is not going to work for everyone.

These are my thoughts on the topic, based on interviewing many people over many years:

 What to do before the interview

(1) If you know someone that works at the organization you have an interview with ask them what the dress code is and what type of clothing people are expected to wear at an interview; if you do not know anyone then call the person who first contacted you to arrange the interview, or the receptionist or the HR department and ask them what appropriate interview wear is for their company. I read an article this morning that advised all interviewees to wear suits (and women to wear 'skirted' suits) for interviews. Yet a friend who recently interviewed with a technology company was told specifically to wear jeans; one workplace I worked in asked interviewees to wear business casual, another workplace asked for clean, neat one step up from jeans casual and another requested suits. It makes sense to ask the question of the organization you are interviewing with specifically what is appropriate for their workplace.

(2) Ask how long you should expect to be at the location for the interview so that you can plan any dependent care, transportation needs and other scheduling needs around this. Add at least one hour to the expected time frame as often these things can run late. If not you get an hour back-enjoy it.

(3) Research the organization thoroughly, read everything on their website, check their stock performance if applicable, read every news release or industry article you can find, ask people who work for the company (or have worked for the company) about the internal culture. It is not enough to spend 5 minutes on the web page, it can become pretty clear in a well conducted interview that you haven't done your homework if that is all you do. Search social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter streams and if applicable Facebook for further information. Prepare your own questions to ask, questions that show you have done your homework and are interested in the future of the organization are best. If it is a first interview asking about vacations and other benefits may not be your best choice, it often turns hiring managers off. You may be asked about salary, be ready to answer this question and try not to make it a waffle answer-if you are willing to take a drop in pay for a coveted position say so in a way that lets the interviewer know you have thought it through.

(4) Once you have established appropriate dress for the interview ensure well ahead of time that you have that attire clean, neat, ready to wear (and if you haven't worn it for awhile try it on :)). Do not wait until the day of the interview to do this.

(5) Ensure that you know exactly how you will get to the interview location, yes go so far as to try out your transit/drive route ahead of time (preferably at the same time of day that you will be going on the day of the interview); then add at least 30 minutes to your travel time on the interview day. This will allow for any traffic problems or other problems that may arise on that day-being early can be managed by going for a walk or having a cup of coffee nearby; being late is hard to overcome. If you need to make daycare arrangements for that day ensure you have a back up plan in case your arrangement falls through.

(6) Jot down notes about your accomplishments, your specific contributions to projects, dealing with difficult customers/co-workers and who inspired you and why.There is a good chance that you will be asked the weakness/strengths question so decide what the answer to those are ahead of time, and do not follow the not good advice to turn a weakness into a strength-few people fall for that. Be honest, for example if you have difficulty with meeting deadlines say so and say what you are doing to learn to overcome this. Why make notes about this ahead of time? Because all too often candidates draw a blank during the interview, preparing ahead helps avoid this. Also, ask previous co-workers or teachers to tell you what strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and contributions they observed about you-you may well be surprised at how much you have forgotten.

(7) Prepare a list of at least three references ahead of time, contact each one and make sure to get their agreement to act as a reference. Include several forms of contact information for each reference listed if available, phone numbers, email address and snail mail address.

(8) Bring a copy of your resume with you even if the interviewer already has one, sometimes they have one that may not be current if they retrieved it from a job board and as sometimes happens, the interviewer may show up unprepared-but that doesn't mean you should.

(9) Before leaving at the end of the interview ask for contact information such as email so you can send a thank-you note to the interviewer(s) later. Some people like to send these by regular mail or to drop it off later but these days many people find email an appropriate method.

Preparing carefully ahead of time will not only impress the interviewer(s) but will help you be more relaxed and therefore able to respond to questions effectively and feel more confident.

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