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How Not To Suck At Interviewing For A Job, Part I

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Congratulations, you’ve made it past the first hurdle.

You’ve gotten past the gatekeepers, resume screeners, candidate tracking systems, and have gotten a call or email that someone would actually like to talk to you about hiring you for a job that they have open.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves – even though you’ve made it past the whirling blades of death at the entrance to the secret cave containing the buried treasure…there are still a lot of obstacles to be handled before you can start deciding what you need to pack in your cardbox box for your first day at the office to make it feel like “you”.

Let’s at least make it through the interview first…

Now, to start…it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be hopping on a phone call, a skype chat, or heading out of your house for an in-person interview.  There are some basic preparation steps that you need to be making for any or all of these, so let’s start with what you should be doing no later than the night before the interview:

Do your homework.  Find out as much as you can about the company that you’ll be interviewing with, as well as the specific position that you’ll be interviewing for.  Do a little looking around about the industry, especially if it’s one that you haven’t been a part of in the past.

Create questions.  Come up with at least three to five questions that you’ll want to ask, about the job you’re interviewing for, about the company in general, and about their industry as a whole.  What specific challenge is the company facing right now that has them looking to hire someone?  What would be the first thing you would be expected to dive into when you start? (and yes, it’s a “tone and tense” thing, but be positive and project confidence – it’s not “if” you start, or “if” you get the job, but “when“.)  What are the projected growth areas for the company, and how will your role be a part of that evolution?  Let everyone else that comes in focus on “when’s the start date?” and “how much are you gonna pay me?”…show you’re focused on the future, and planning on being there a while.

Make a dry run of the route.  Nothing sucks worse than finding out on your way to the interview that the road you planned to take has been closed for two weeks.  Or that Mapquest and Google navigation don’t yet know that the overpass bridge has been taken out of commission for repair.  So if you’re doing an in-person interview, hop in the car and drive there…preferably during the same time frame that you would be driving there for the interview itself if at all possible.  Take note of traffic patterns, overly long lights…you’re trying to make a good first impression, and having to frantically try and call someone to tell them you’ll be 15 minutes late isn’t the way to do that.  Whatever your drive time is during your dry-run, be safe and add 50% to it – better to be early and have to kill a little time playing Angry Birds in the parking lot than to hit a little traffic and have to make that frantic phone call.

If it’s a phone or skype interview, the same rules apply…just obviously in a slightly different manner.  Make sure your phone works.  Make sure your computer works.  Make sure your internet connection is solid.  Make sure any pending updates are either told to wait, or are completed and you’ve rebooted a few times to confirm a lack of problems or conflicts.  Most importantly for phone and skype interviews – plan your space.  Are you at home…with the kids…who are usually screaming and running around the house like lunatics during the time of the interview?  Better make sure you can lock yourself in the basement or a bedroom away from the chaos.  For Skype in particular when we’re talking about video, make sure you have an area free of clutter, without anything repulsive or embarrassing behind you that will be in-frame when you’re on cam.  No joke, had a recruiter tell me a great story about someone who completely blew a client interview in the first ten seconds when the client asked if he wouldn’t mind moving a bit so that his stash of DVD porn wasn’t in camera.  Precious.

Handle your paperwork.  Find out how many people you’ll be interviewing with, and print out that many copies of your resume…plus two extras.  One for yourself, and one for whatever last minute addition they throw in the mix.  Yes, they’ve already likely seen your resume…but may not have brought it with them.  Or maybe they haven’t.  Or…and this has happened to me in the past…maybe an overzealous recruiter “tweaked” your resume without relaying this back to you, and so you’d better have your own version handy and available to make sure everyone’s on the same page.  Remember – nobody knows you better than you do, and you…you alone…are responsible for what appears on your resume.  Be safe – if you’re dealing with a recruiter, ask if they’ve reformatted or edited your resume at all, and request a copy of the version that was given to the client.  If you’re doing the interview via phone/skype, have a “solid” version readily available for emailing out if necessary.

The clothes make the man…or woman.  Figure out what you want to wear, and then make sure it’s clean and ready to go.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard the environment is completely casual – you’re dressing professionally.  So plan accordingly.  Throw it through the washer and dryer if needed.  Bring it to the dry cleaners for a pressing.  Beat the hell out of it with a lint roller to get all the damned cat hair off…don’t wait until you get out of the shower tomorrow and have to leave in 20 minutes to find out there’s a giant stain on the jacket you plan to wear.  Naturally, if you’re already employed and going on an interview, you’re going to have to resort to a little discretion here.  If you walk around the office in khakis and polos all day, showing up the next morning with a suit and tie on is probably going to raise a few eyebrows and get people asking questions that you don’t want to be answering.  Nobody is unrealistic, and if you throw a sportcoat in the car that you can slip on when you get to the interview without anyone at the office catching on, you should be okay for most positions.  If it’s a C or D level job…well, yeah, you might have to figure out how to slip a tie into the equation.  Or perhaps take a half day off to have time to fully change clothes into your interview attire.  If you have any questions…ask.  Ask the recruiter, or the person with whom you’ve been communicating about the job.  Explain your situation, and ask about dress.

Get charged.  Plug in the laptop.  Get your phone charging on the nightstand.  Don’t let a dead battery be a problem in the morning.  While you’re at it, check the gas tank in your car, and go make sure you’re set before tomorrow morning hits.  Don’t add any unnecessary/unwanted/unneeded stops into the mix for tomorrow.  We want to remain calm, cool and collected…and not smelling like ethanol and exhaust fumes when we arrive.

I hope it goes without saying that you should want to get a good night’s sleep.  No “good luck on the interview!” benders with friends that last until 3am.  No all night gaming sessions.  No “just one more episode of Battlestar Galactica that I’m catching up on…”…none of that.

And that, friends and readers…is part one of how not to suck at interviewing for a job.  Tomorrow, we’ll tackle part two, which will cover the day of the interview and the follow up/follow through process.

While you’re waiting on that, feel free to check out our other How Not To Suck entries at http://www.ITinTheD.com/category/hints/ or the rest of our blog over at http://www.ITinTheD.com/blog/

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