By Chase Williams, founder and managing partner at Market My Market, helping businesses grow by implementing the right marketing systems and strategies.
We all think we are prepared for a job interview, but in reality, we never are. There have been too many times where I’ve interviewed a candidate and they look great on paper but come to the interview largely unprepared.
We’ve all been there and felt the nerves kick in. One of my first big interviews out of college was at a large marketing agency in New York City. At the time, I lived about a 30-minute walk away, so I figured I’d take a cab to make sure that during my mid-summer walk, I didn’t end up drenched in sweat. I left 30 minutes before my scheduled time. With a taxi ride of less than 10 minutes, I figured I’d have 20 minutes before my interview to arrive early and gather my thoughts. Ah, youthful optimism.
I got into the cab, and we were cruising along, but then, as luck would have it, we hit standstill traffic. I was panicking. After about five minutes of motionless agony, I made a choice. I was not going to be late for an interview and blow my chances with one of the largest marketing firms in NYC.
So I decided to channel my inner New Yorker and do whatever it took to get there on time. I got out of the cab and began speed-walking. Remember, NYC in the summer can be likened to a sauna, and there I was, giving it my all, and my grey suit bore the brunt of it.
Upon arrival, I could tell the interviewer thought he was meeting with a man who’d just competed in an impromptu marathon. I had prepared specific questions and thoroughly researched the company’s history, but the sweat-soaked presentation was likely all he’d remember. I explained my predicament, and while he empathized, empathy doesn’t translate to employment.
So what should I have done differently?
Even if you believe you’ve allotted ample time for potential delays, go ahead and add some extra time. Had I anticipated delays like construction, parades or the general unpredictability of city life, I could have avoided that last-minute dash. There is no reason I shouldn’t have gone to a nearby coffee shop and relaxed an hour before the interview.
After my slightly dampened experience (pun absolutely intended), I realized that arriving early was just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you’re a new graduate or an experienced worker looking for a new role, here are some additional ways you can truly shine during an interview (and I don’t mean from sweat):
1. Research, research, research.
You not only be knowledgeable about the company’s history but also up-to-date with its current events. Did the company recently launch a new product or make an acquisition? Familiarize yourself with its latest press releases and industry trends. This shows your prospective employer that you’re not just living in the past; you are focused on the future.
2. Hold a mock interview.
Rope in a friend or family member to simulate the interview process. Go over potential questions and answers. It’s very easy to look up a few sample interview questions for the position you’re interviewing for.
3. Dress the part.
Different industries have different standards. A tech startup might be more lenient with jeans and a blazer, while a law firm might expect a suit and tie. Know your audience. One of the best ways to gauge a company’s dress code is by checking its social media channels and website. This gives a visual sense of how employees dress and the company’s overall vibe. For instance, if you see a lot of photos from company events and everyone is in business-casual wear, this is a good indicator of the company’s dress culture.
If you can’t gauge a sense from your research, you can always just ask the person with whom you’ve been in contact. This will also show them you are serious about making a great impression. Remember, even if you are interviewing for an internship, you have to dress the part. Dress as if you were interviewing for the CEO role.
4. Bring your résumé.
Even if your potential employer has your résumé, bring a few printed copies to your interview. It’s always good to have them on hand for anyone you might meet.
5. Prepare thoughtful questions.
An interview isn’t just about answering questions; it’s about asking them, too. Remember, you are interviewing the company as well. Consider questions that demonstrate your interest in the team, role and company growth. For example:
• “How do you define success for this role?”
• “What are some immediate challenges or projects for this role?”
6. Act confidently and professionally.
It’s important to portray a sense of confidence heading into your interview, even if you’re nervous. Stand up tall, offer a firm handshake, maintain good eye contact and remember to smile. These nonverbal cues can sometimes speak louder than words.
If your interview is virtual, or if you’re interviewing for a remote job, make sure your background conveys an office setting. Blur out your background or use a virtual backdrop. Making sure you have a stable internet connection, your audio is clear and you are framed well in the camera (focused on your head and upper shoulders) will convey a professional setting.
Whether in-person or remote, always be prepared to back up your claims with real-world examples. If you mention a skill or quality you possess, having a story or scenario where you’ve demonstrated it can be impactful and show that you’d be confident in the role for which you’re interviewing.
7. Follow up.
A little gratitude goes a long way. Personalize a thank-you note or email to send to the interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. In my experience, handwritten notes go a long way.
Interviews are not just about showcasing your qualifications. They are an opportunity for you to present the best version of yourself.