What should I wear? How do I introduce myself? What if they don’t like me? Why am I so nervous?!
These questions might bring up memories of a first date or first day of school, but I’m referring to something a little more nerve-wracking: job interviews. Many of us have gone through them already or are preparing for interviews in the future. But no matter how experienced you are, interviews can be scary.
Lucky for us, Bonnie Klein, executive director of the Career Initiative, knows a thing or two about rocking an interview. We asked her to share her advice on preparing for an interview so that you can go in confident, relaxed, and ready to wow.
Should you rehearse questions beforehand?
When it comes to interview success, preparation makes perfect. The interviewee should spend time researching the company (nothing says you don’t care about getting the job like not knowing about a company’s history, industry, product or service lines, and mission).
Part of preparation is also being ready to answer common interview questions. There is no danger in fully preparing for interview questions as long as you don’t respond to questions sounding as if every word is being read from a script. Also, you don’t want to get thrown if an interviewer asks questions you did not prepare for. A few things students should be armed with are stories about conflicts with co-workers, how they handled missing intended goals, examples of taking on leadership roles, and why they are interested in this specific company.
For more about how to respond to these and other common questions, speak with your Career Center program manager and plan to attend an interview workshop. Upcoming sessions are at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 6 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15.
What should you bring to an interview?
Go to interviews equipped with a pen and legal pad or professional notebook (no pink sparkles or sports logos and do not take notes on your phone). If you have a padfolio, that is best. A tablet is fine. Taking notes in an interview is great and shows that you are thorough and engaged, but you should ask if the interviewer minds if you take notes.
Take at least two copies of your resume on nice paper, and also have a digital copy you can easily send from your phone or tablet if anyone in the room prefers to get the resume that way. You may take a reference list, though I prefer to ask for a card and then say I will send it to them immediately after the interview (and then follow through). This provides a smooth and simple way to send a useful thank-you note.
It is completely appropriate to come with appropriate questions jotted down in your notebook or on your tablet. Again, please don’t have these on your phone. Unless you need to send a resume from your phone, it should stay stowed and silent.
How should you dress for an interview?
Dress professionally. For most job interviews, that means a dark suit (gray, black or navy) paired with a white shirt and tie (NOT a bowtie) for men and a conservative blouse or shell for women. You never lose being better dressed than the people who interview you. If you are explicitly told to dress casually (not uncommon for tech companies), that means business casual. Men should wear casual pants and a collared shirt. Add a blazer for a sharper appearance. Women can do the same, or wear a skirt near knee length and a modest shirt or sweater or a dress with a casual blazer or cardigan. Do not wear anything brightly colored or noticeably tight or baggy. Wear little or no jewelry other than small unobtrusive earrings and a watch.
Please don’t assume because you are interviewing with a tech or creative company that casual clothing will work. Engineers, coders and graphic artists might think an array of hoodies is a work wardrobe, but there are many people in every organization that wear suits, too. If you are really unsure, try to get an informational interview with someone in the company and ask them for fashion advice based on their specific culture. Many articles say to look at the website, but that is not a good guide. Those pictures only show certain parts of the company. If you looked at a car company, website you would see a lot of people in steel-toed boots, but in the offices that is not what people wear.
Whatever you are wearing, make sure your face, hair and hands are immaculately groomed and that your shoes are clean and polished. It should go without saying that you should never wear athletic shoes to an interview. Ever. Also, make sure your clothes fit you well and are free of wrinkles, rips and odors. I don’t know a hiring professional who has not rejected more than one candidate because they were unclean. And speaking of smells, leave the perfume and cologne at home. Many people are sensitive or allergic; if someone can’t breathe, they are paying attention to that fact rather than paying attention to you.
If you are really nervous before an interview, what are some things you can do to relax?
Some things are universal and some are personal.
Starting with the universal, get a good night’s sleep and have a little protein before you go in.
A day or so before the interview, run through a mock interview so you know your answers sound good when they come out of your mouth and not just in your head.
Always arrive at interviews early. Sit in your car or in a hallway. Being late is often fatal and you won’t be able to relax if you are running up to the door at the last moment. Go into the interview venue 10 minutes before the scheduled time.
Be pleasant and charming to everyone you talk to. Most people I know will not hire even a highly qualified candidate if they are rude to a receptionist, and many of us will ask receptionists to describe their experience with each candidate.
I talked earlier about the importance of preparing for interviews, and most people find being well prepared makes them calmer in the interview. As for the personal, most people know what soothes them. For me, I often get in my car and blast music on my way to important meetings. When I have just sung a duet of “Monster” with Kanye, “London Calling” with the Clash or “Party in the USA“ with Miley (there are many other songs I could add), I am relaxed and cool as a cucumber. Some people do breathing exercises, pray, work out, meditate, visualize a successful interview, or give themselves pep talks. Just know what works for you.
What can the Career Center do to help students prepare for an interview?
Whatever you need to help you prepare for interviews, we in the Career Center are here to help. We will help you research the company you are interviewing with and teach you how to articulate how your Concordia education and your specific skills and experience connect you to the position. We can conduct mock interviews, connect you to professionals for informational interviews, and help you turn your experiences into STARR stories so you can have stellar responses to behavioral interview questions. (Don’t know what a STARR story is? Come see us!) Often we know things about specific employers that can help students present particularly well. Spending a little time preparing with us is the best way to walk into your interview relaxed and ready to wow.
Bailey Tillman '18 studies multimedia journalism, Spanish and film studies at Concordia.