I was working with a young client this week on his interview skills. This young man has never had a job, struggles with social cues and was going on his second-ever interview. He was worried that this interview would make or break his chances. What is true is that he has wonderful qualities to offer an employer and just needed a little help highlighting them. And some confidence that he could do that. As we talked about what he needed to remember during the interview, I realized that even the most experienced interviewees sometimes forget the basics.
One of the worst mistakes I made in an interview was years ago when I was applying for a school counselor position. I had driven in from out of town and was staying with a friend. In my haste to get out the door on time, I sprayed on too much perfume. I nearly made myself sick being cooped up in the car on the drive over. When I arrived, I made a beeline for the bathroom and scrubbed myself down as best I could. But I’m not sure it made a difference. Whether it was the perfume or not, I did not get that job.
Whether you are interviewing for a job, graduate school, Junior League, a volunteer position or even meeting a potential romantic partner, here are three things to remember as you give it your better-than-best shot!
1. Make a great first impression! The adage is true, You never have a second chance to make a great first impression. Simple but profound. Here are some things to pay special attention to:
- Be well-dressed, paying equal attention to your shoes that they are clean and polished. Your shoes will be the second thing the interviewer notices, according to research. Your attention to them will communicate that you pay attention to details.
- Be overdressed rather than under-dressed. But be sure your attire is in keeping with the organization for which you are applying. If they are a casual group, be smart casual. A more formal organization needs a suit or comparable dress. And basic navy isn’t necessarily the way to go anymore. Throw in a tasteful splash of color or accessory that shows you have personality.
- Be comfortable in your attire. Walking in like a new fawn on wobbly high heels won’t make the impression you are looking for. Choose something that allows you to convey confidence and looks like it belongs on you.
- Offer a firm handshake. Whether you are a man or a woman, you need to have mastered the art of the confident handshake. This requires full palm-to-palm contact, a firm grip, and direct eye contact. This will be one of the first things your interviewer notices. A wimpy or bone-crushing shake will not communicate the confidence you are hoping to exude.
- Smile, say “hello” and make eye contact. Although your heart may be in your throat, smiling, greeting them and making direct eye-contact will score you major points on a subconscious level. Meaning, if you fail to do those things you will certainly be marked down. Communicate that you are a friendly, personable applicant.
- Avoid good smell-ums. Many people are allergic or just don’t like the smell. AND that way you will avoid the accidental overdose, as in my case!
2. Speak clearly and communicate well. When we get nervous our natural tendencies are magnified. It’s important to be aware of how our delivery can affect our overall presentation. If you tend to mumble, speak softly, speak fast, or use lots of garbage words (i.e. uhh, umm, like, etc.) you will do that more when you are nervous. Practice speaking clearly all the time. And remind yourself to slow down and pause periodically during the interview. Here are some more points to remember:
- Speak clearly, slowly and make sure you are loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room.
- When you get nervous, take deep breaths and slow down.
- Ask for clarification if you don’t really understand the question.
- Ask for a minute to think about the question if you need it (i.e. “That’s a great question. Let me think about that for a minute.”)
- Give thoughtful answers to each question – don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.
- Use words that genuinely reflect your thoughts and feelings. Some great ones to include are: valuable addition (aka value add), goals, efficient and effective, resonates, excited, enthusiastic, systems, procedures, culture and climate, initiative, complement, congruent, etc.
3. Sell yourself. Everyone is selling something. Be sure to show the interviewers that you really do have what it takes to improve their organization. Remember that choosing to work for or be a part of something means you believe in their mission and goals. Keep the following in mind to stay on track with communicating just that.
- Be confident that you are a valuable addition to the team. Even if you aren’t sure this is the right fit for you, be confident that you have what it takes to add value to the organization.
- Be clear about how you are going to work to help them achieve their goals. This is crucial! That’s why they are hiring you, after all. Address your specific skills that will meet that end.
- Make frequent eye contact and smile. Let them know you would be a pleasant and friendly person to work with.
- Show some personality. Let them have a little glimpse of what a great person you are. Be personable and real.
- Let them know if you are feeling nervous and know it’s affecting your interview. Being honest and helping them to understand how your nerves might be overshadowing the real you could swing the vote back to your favor. Try saying something like, “I’m really excited about working with your organization. But I’m also really nervous. When I get nervous I sometimes talk faster, sweat, shake, etc.” Then smile, take a deep breath and move on. Unless you are on The Apprentice. You have to have nerves of steel there – never let THEM see you sweat!
What tips do you remember when you interview? What is one of your worst interview stories?
For three more tips on nailing the interview, check out my next blog on the subject!