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Art of the interview

BY JUSTIN SUGG | DECEMBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

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I don’t envy you graduating seniors. You unfortunate group of people will enter the worst job market since the post-World War II era. This means you’ll compete with people who have years of experience over you and know how to interview for a job.

Interviewing is an art and, luckily for you, I’m an artist. I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table for Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits. I know what piques their interests and what turns them off.

Research: Today’s weak economy has people flocking to the nearest open position like lemmings. Before you follow the rest of the herd, however, research the companies you want to work for. Even in desperate times, jumping into a job without doing your homework is a bad idea. You may hate working there. Worse, you may not even get the job. Companies want people who are interested in the long term. A good interest indicator is how much you know about the company. Employers can see this by looking at your cover letter and résumé.

Cover Letter and Résumé: You should tailor your cover letters and résumés to each company your applying for. The last thing you want to do is spam a bunch of companies with the same cover letter and résumé. Employers can tell because there’ll be nothing specific about them in it. You can specify your résumé by focusing on relevant skills over experience, which you have little or none at this point. Your résumé should be one page. Employers will not read beyond the first page anyway.

Appearance: While a résumé and cover letter will showcase your qualifications, your attire will showcase you as a person. The interview is going to show how you handle situations on the job. For men, wear a suit — a tailored one. It doesn’t have to be Armani, but you’re well pass the days when wearing a shirt and tie cut it for junior-high basketball.

When I interviewed with the Peace Corps, the interviewer complimented me on my suit — how refreshing it was to see someone who took care of his appearance. An interviewer complimenting you is a very good sign. Women should wear either a blazer with a blouse and skirt (one extending below your knees) or a tasteful dress. A low-cut garb will distract whoever’s hiring you. Men should shave; beards are a bad idea. I only recommend beards if you wear one for religious/cultural purposes, and even those should be neatly trimmed.

Polish your shoes. If they don’t need polish, buy ones that do. Employers will look at them. Don’t overdo cologne or perfume. Mist lightly in the air. Many jobs even have rules against strong fragrances.

The Interview: Interviewing is Kabuki. Moves and mannerisms must be precise for it to go well. Bring a leather or imitation leather portfolio with copies of your résumé and a pen. More than one person will likely attend your interview and may not have a copy. Give firm handshakes, and look people in the eye. But don’t stare. It’s OK to enter the interview room first, but be the last to sit down. Sit up straight, relax, and look attentive. Don’t fidget; it can cost you the interview.

I sat in on an interview with a woman who had good qualifications, was very attentive, and dressed appropriately. But she kept twisting a ring on her finger. We did not offer her the job. Keep your hands folded either on the desk or just below. Make sure your legs are still as well. Ask questions about the position at the end. Those questions should focus on the long-term and give the employers a chance to brag about their department.

You should also clean your car. Pick up all the trash, and vacuum. Sometimes employers may ask to continue the interview over lunch (a good sign) and may want to ride with you. This is their opportunity to see the candidate beyond the suit and interview.

These tips may seem trivial, but these are what employers look at. To them, it shows how committed you are by paying attention to the smallest details.


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