by Michael R. Fuljenz –
To succeed and get the job you want, you need to set yourself apart – and ahead of – other job applicants. With a high percentage of young college graduates joining you in the same job search, you need to seek that extra edge that makes you indispensable. A major step in this direction is to make a good impression at the job interview. My business partners and I have hired hundreds of employees over the years, but this subject hit home to me recently, when my two children graduated from college. What follows is the same advice I gave to my son and daughter as they graduated from college during these tough economic times.
What to do Long before Your First Interview
Your whole life – at home, in school and in your community – is your first step toward winning a good job. Employers like to see young people who are positively involved in their community. Community or volunteer work is an added plus in job interviews. Also, while attending college, focus on a course schedule that balances your personal interests with courses important to your future career. Enjoy your passion for literature or the arts, but balance those courses with business-centered courses for your career.
Here are a few overall points to consider while still in school, or while preparing for your job search.
- Limit your debts and credit card usage. Keep your credit score high. Employers may check your credit score. (A credit score under 600 is often a problem, while scores above 700 are good.)
- Keep your grades high, but they do not have to be perfect. Good grades in the field in which you want to work are especially important. You don’t need all A’s, but a “B” average (or better) is vital.
- Avoid illegal drugs or excessive alcohol – a DUI conviction could become a “deal killer.”
- Monitor your social media interactions (like Facebook, Twitter, texts and emails). Before posting anything under your name, consider its future implications. Many managers will “Google” your history and even monitor your Facebook presence. For starters, change your Facebook privacy settings so that those not on your “friend” list can only see your picture and profile. Then, make your Facebook photo and profile professional looking—no frat party photo, drink in hand!
- Men, invest $500 in two suits – one gray, the other navy blue – at one of these “two for one” suit stores. It will be a great investment for future job interviews as well as on-the-job attire. Women, prepare at least two modest professional business outfits for multiple interviews at the same company.
- Limit the number of piercings and visible tattoos (i.e., above the neck line). Cover any other tattoos with clothing, and avoid any facial piercing during any business job interview. (If you are interviewing to be a rock band roadie or tattoo parlor artist, feel free to ignore this advice.)
- Do volunteer work or internships in your field of interest. For example, athletes can umpire or referee, art majors can volunteer at a museum and medical majors can volunteer at a hospital.
Preparing For Your First (or Next) Interview
When seeking job interviews, use your network of friends and business associates. According to many industry surveys, more than half of all hires come from a business or professional reference. (One book that is helpful in planning your target company is Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute?”)
If your prospective company asks you to come early to fill out a job application, bring your own pencil and pen. If they ask you to pick up an application a day or two before the interview, be sure to pick up the application yourself. When you pick it up (or return it), look professional and presentable. Don’t send a friend on this all-important errand. You don’t know how your friend will come across, and you want the company to remember your face and demeanor, not someone else’s.
If you are filling out an application at home, make a clean copy of the blank form first. Fill in the forms in a first draft, correcting any mistakes so that you can make a clean, neat and readable final copy. Before filling out the final, check all of your spelling and then have someone you respect review the application for appropriate language – providing sufficient information, but not too much extraneous information.
Never leave the “references” section blank. Contact your most impressive professional friends and associates, including some local business owners, if possible. Put in their complete references and their contact information. Then, be sure to tell this reference that a job interviewer may call for a review.
If the form asks for “other interests,” add your extra hobbies or activities, even if it’s something simple, like walking or cycling. This is a proven way to engage the same interest in the person who may interview you. Include some of your volunteer service references, preferably that relate to the jobs you are seeking.
Get to know your prospective company and the person interviewing you, before you walk in the door for the first time. You can start by Googling the company name, researching its history and current business opportunities. This will show your interviewer that you have more interest in the firm than some others who also are interviewing for the job but don’t even know the basic facts about what the company does.
Here are some other key points in preparing for your interview.
- Practice your job interview skills with some adult you respect.
- Get a good night’s sleep before any job interview.
- Dress appropriately for the interview – including good grooming, a smile and freshly-shined shoes.
- Bring pen, paper and anything else you were asked to bring to the interview, such as an appropriately prepared portfolio of your work if it’s required or beneficial to the interview.
- Be 10 minutes early for your appointment, in case there are some other forms to fill out.
During the interview:
- Learn the name, title and phone number of the person interviewing you. At the end of your time together, ask for their business card.
- Pay attention to pictures or items in the office of the person interviewing you. Look for potential common ground for discussion during the interview.
- Immediately answer any question you are asked before adding any other comments. Keep your responses to the interviewer’s questions to less than 30 seconds.
- Never lie about negatives. One misdemeanor for pot, etc. is usually not a job killer if addressed honestly.
- Never exaggerate your accomplishments or brag about your grades or victories in any competition.
- Be prepared to answer some typical “open-ended” interview questions like: “Tell me about yourself.” “What are your strengths?” “What are your weaknesses?” “Why should we hire you?” “What motivates you to do a good job?” “Where else are you interviewing and why?” “What do you think has been your best achievement to date?” “What extracurricular activities did you participate in during college?” (Employers want to know what you did – productively – with your free time outside of the classroom.)
- If they don’t ask about your strengths, have a short prepared statement (memorized, but sounding candid) about your strengths. Include the fact that you are an enthusiastic, hard worker, AND that you work well with others. (In most businesses, team skills matter as much as, or more than, individual skills).
After the interview, your work is not done. Follow-up can make all the difference.
- Set up your telephone voice mail to sound professional – no jokes, no favorite music on hold and no long message. Just give those who want to see you again an easy path to….see you again.
- Contact your interviewee by phone or voice mail within 24 hours, expressing your thanks for their time and for your specific hopes for further contact with other key members of the team.
- Don’t assume that your unsolicited text or email to the interviewer will receive an instant answer – or even be received. It’s better to call the person and make direct contact or leave a brief, concise voice mail message. The exception would be an executive who prefers to receive texts or emails over phone calls.
Pitfalls Before, During and After a Job Interview
If you followed all of these job interview guidelines, you will be successful, in time. Maybe the first or second job interview won’t end with an offer, but you are gaining valuable experience in each interview.
The following cautions may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many first-time interviewers make these rookie mistakes. Here are some “deal killers” to avoid.
- Don’t show up late for the interview.
- Don’t overdo any perfume or cologne, and don’t reek of tobacco smoke (i.e., don’t be too “smelly.”)
- Don’t use a provocative, suggestive or offensive personal email address. You may think it’s cute, but a prospective employer may not.
- Unless you’re applying for a job with a heavy metal band, don’t wear extraordinary piercings (tongue, nose, face, etc.).
- Don’t show your body tattoos (cover them, if possible).
- Don’t show cleavage or wear a super-short skirt.
- Don’t chew gum, tobacco (or anything else) during the interview.
- Don’t ask about vacation time. You can iron out your “time off” needs once a job offer is made.
- Don’t submit a resume longer than two pages. One page is typically best for recent college graduates.
- Also avoid any blemishes, like ink stains or even food stains, on your resume. Catsup belongs on French fries, not on job applications.
- Don’t randomly give out your Social Security number. To prevent potential future problems of identity theft, only give your Social Security number to companies you have checked out and have confidence in.
- Don’t do drugs or get drunk, resulting in DUI arrests on your record.
- Do not complain about past employers or other people or past events in your life. Stay positive.
A final “Don’t” would be: Don’t obsess over this list once you’re in the interview. Project confidence, not fear. No matter how the interview proceeds, don’t give up hope or persistence as you search for a job.
Finally, here’s a homework assignment: Rent and watch the 2006 movie, “Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith. This movie is based on the actual experiences of a person who overcomes great challenges, including being homeless, to achieve great success in job interviews, in the business world and in life.
Happy Job Hunting