These days, you have to work hard to get a serious job interview. After running just one want ad, recruiters will see thousands of resumes. So getting picked for an interview is a reason to celebrate.
But after celebrating The Call, plan for success. You’ll have limited time to impress an interviewer. Even if you decide you don’t want the job, I recommend using the opportunity to practice. An offer will build your confidence for the job you really want. And who knows? You may get invited to interview for a really desirable option.
1. Do your homework: Investigate the company’s culture, finances and markets.
Publications and media reports will help — but you’ll usually get a biased picture. Get on the phone and call anyone who might be able to give you information. See if you can find somebody who knows somebody who had first-hand contact with the organization.
But once you’re in the meeting, resist the temptation to show off what you’ve researched unless you have a question directly related to your career. Interviewers can tell when you’re going through the motions.
2. Look like you belong:
Learn the company’s dress code and err on the side of conservatism. Some companies will expect you to show up in a classic suit even when all the incumbents are wearing shorts.
When you’re seeking a senior position based on industry experience, you’ll be expected to know the rules without being told.
3. Take charge of the interview!
The most successful interviews feel like friendly conversations. When your interviewer has an agenda (such as the infamous “stress interview”) stay relaxed. Think of playing a game.
When your interviewer refuses to be deflected from a series of prepared questions, raise a red flag. You may be dealing with an HR person who will disappear as soon as you’re hired. That’s okay.
But if your boss seems to be reading from a canned program, she may be inexperienced, naive, rigid, overworked or lazy. Wait for the second interview before making a decision.
4. Assume everyone you meet will provide feedback to the decision-maker:
Some companies hand out comment forms to receptionists, security guards and potential peers who take you to lunch. You can bet your future boss will listen to the secretary who marches into his office to say, “If he gets hired, I quit.”
5. Communicate interest and enthusiasm, even if you’re not sure you’re ready to commit:
You’ll rarely have all the facts until you’re looking at an offer. When you make a good impression, you may get redirected to a different job. Your interviewer may move to a new position and remember you. And it’s always an ego-booster to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”
6. Bring extra copies of your correspondence as well as your resume, references, writing samples, portfolio and current business cards:
Interviewers lose documents and conversations move in unexpected directions. A neatly organized folder will help you stand out from the pack.
7. Create a relaxed, positive attitude by devising a realistic game plan:
We encourage our own clients to have a “next step” ready to implement after the interview, before you hear the decision. When your career isn’t riding on a single interview, you’ll have fun and make a confident, relaxed impression.
8. Write a thank you letter within forty-eight hours:
Create a low-key sales letter, emphasizing how your qualifications match the company’s needs. Present yourself as a resource, not a supplicant.
If you find yourself resisting this step, raise a red flag. Maybe on some level you don’t want the job. That’s okay: you can write a 2-line thank you note – even an email – just in case they’ve got another job waiting in the wings.
9. After sending the follow-up, forget about the interview:
Email or phone only if you’ve received a competing offer with a deadline. Silence does not necessarily mean rejection. One manager received an interview a full year after she applied for a job. By coincidence, she was just ready to make a move and her story had a happy ending.
Occasionally you may make points with follow-up mailings. A sports team public relations applicant sent puzzles, games and press releases — and she got the job. Use your intuition.
10. Keep notes of what you learned from the process. What worked? What would you do differently?
Use your notes as you move through the process. Consider spending a single hour with a friend or unbiased career consultant to discuss the process.
Be careful of unsolicited feedback. Clients always surprise me with career legends they’ve picked up from neighbors, in-laws, siblings and even total strangers they meet on a plane.
Finally: Don’t stop until you have a written offer with a start date, salary and terms, signed by a company officer or HR department. No written offers? Keep looking until you show up the first day and find a desk with your name on it.
And as soon as you begin your new job, make a brand-new career plan. Create your next safety net before you need one.
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