Interview Tips For the First-Time Job Seeker

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With the current state of unemployment in the United States, and the continued influx of new graduates into the workforce, you need an edge that will make you stand out to any potential employer.

Obviously, having impressive credentials such as a college (or advanced) degree and resume is the first step, but what happens when there are several candidates that are all very similar in educational and experience background?

The first impression you get to make is with your resume, but what may put you over the top is the way in which you interview.

I asked around, collecting some insight from people who have been on both sides of the interview process, and received the following collection of tips (in no particular order of importance):

Pre-Interview Prep

  • Do your research on the company so you can go in there not only with knowledge of its history, but to show that you are serious about becoming part of the future as well.
  • Make sure your appearance matches the job. If it is a professional atmosphere, go in clean shaven (or very neatly groomed), without earrings (for men) or excessive jewelry, in a nicely pressed suit with matching tie and shoes for men or an equally pressed shirt suit for women
  • Have multiple copies of your resume, letters of recommendation, or other supporting documents in a briefcase or folder to show preparedness in case there is more than one interviewer
  • Get plenty of rest and eat before going into the interview so you can be at your peak performance

Interview Etiquette

  • Shake all participants’ hands and maintain eye contact during the entire process to show your self-confidence
  • Never talk poorly about previous employers. If you bad-mouth one, the potential employer will most likely see you as a complainer.
  • Arrive early to demonstrate your dependability and interest in the position
  • Do not go in smelling of smoke, or as if you bathed in cologne/perfume and use the restroom beforehand
  • Speak clearly and properly with an even tone without the use of “big words” which you may not know the true use of. Nothing makes you sound less intelligent than misusing words, poor grammar, or the use of slang in an interview.
  • Sit up straight with your feet planted firmly on the floor to show your interest, but not so stiff that you look nervous
  • Speaking of appearing nervous, keep from fidgeting ie: twirling pens, rolling up papers, playing with your clothes or hair, tapping feet
  • Do not lie or exaggerate anything; honesty is always the best policy even if it means admitting a shortcoming. Chances are you will be found out to be a fraud, and word can get around: you do not know who they may know at other companies.
  • React to their words by nodding and /or smiling. Do not just sit there like a robot, and do not interrupt the interviewer
  • Always ask questions if you are not clear. It is always better to ask for a clarification rather sit there with a blank look on your face–they can tell
  • Avoid talking about compensation during the first interview. Simply state that you are more interested in learning about the position and the company.
  • At the conclusion of the interview, stand and shake everyone’s hand once again
  • Thank all participants for their time and consideration
  • If you are not interested in the position after the interview, simply say so. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind, and they will appreciate your honestly in not wasting their time going forward.

Post-Interview Actions

  • Do not start getting undressed the moment you step out of the office. Wait until you reach your car
  • Send a thank you card or e-mail thanking the interviewer(s) once again for their time in meeting with you
  • Do not fret if you do not hear from anyone right away. There are likely many candidates that are interested in the same position and it takes times time to make the right choice.
  • If you were told that a decision would be made within a certain time frame, do not feel afraid to make contact if that time has passed. Just be pleasant and non-demanding.

Now, I’m not saying that by following these tips you will be guaranteed to be offered the first position you apply for.

What this will do is give you an edge over those competitors who are lazy, or unprepared.

Everyone has intangible qualities which may be more important to a potential employer.

Perhaps someone else is simply a better fit, but you will have at least left a good impression and you never know, there may be someone that the interviewer knows who can use an employee like you and forward your information to them.

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  1. By the time you get that first interview, particularly with larger firms, they already know that you have the skills necessary for the job.  What they want to know is will you fit in with the organization?  During my first interview for a Fortune 100 Company, the hiring manager and I talked about tennis for 10 minutes and my first interview with EDS was for cocktails at a bar.  I didn’t fully understand it at the time but in hind site they were looking at how I handled myself in social situations.  By the way I did get the job at the Fortune 100 Company!

    1. Not all places will really know what skills are possessed until you actually get there and they start testing you. This is particularly true with some CPA firms, considering much of the software is specialized. I’ve been asked to walk the interviewer through a few processes on the spot to prove my proficiency. One of the best stories I ever heard was on one interview I was handed a piece of paper and a pencil and asked to label a t-account. I found out later that many applicants, although they possessed accounting degrees, only knew “left side/right side rather than the proper debit/credit assignments.

      Socaily, all depends on what the job is and the type of company. Some places couldn’t care less if you even had a life, as long as you will do what they ask. Others are like what you described, and personally ones that I would want to work for. At my previous employer, I would talk football with one of the partners and music with one of the others. Even though it was a very professional office, it was also important to have a personality as well. The place I’m at now doesn’t have any sports talk or happy-hour events (they don’t drink at all).

  2. Great tips eric – it amazes me how often people are unprepared for interviews.  My biggest thing is to watch out for the behavioral questions – make sure to know how to answer those effectively and quickly!

    1. Thanks Jeff! I didn’t think of it before, but reading your response made me think of a great quote: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. It completely encompasses the entire thing.

  3. All good advice. I might add that it’s important to take notes, and to ask intelligent questions about the company, or the workplace. Anything that shows the candidate has done their homework.

    1. Absolutely.  Showing that kind of attention and initiative can definitely separate potential candidates very easily.  Plus it shows what kind of effort someone puts into the things they do.