Friday, March 09, 2007


There was a time I thought I knew it all. I think we’ve all been there. We feel like we have a good handle on what people are looking for, and we’re confident in our ability to deliver. And then one day we end up on the other side of the table and realize that we really had no idea what the hell we were doing.

Funny how one day I’ll look back on this day and think, “You moron – what the hell were you thinking?”

Anyhow, as someone who’s been on a lot of interviews, I always felt I was pretty well versed on what to do and say in an interview. Until I became the interviewer. Then I realized how much of a dumbass I was. And that’s what prompted me to create this handy guide.

10 Tips for a More Successful Job Interview


Here are the juicy details.

This one will save you a lot of time and heartache. In most cases, qualifications are clearly spelled out in print – including required background, education, and years of experience. In reviewing submitted resumes, I’ve discovered that people, by and large, ignore this information. Either that or there are a lot of wishful thinkers out there. It simply amazes me how many people mistake themselves for qualified when every bullet point on their resume trumpets irrelevance. I would estimate that, of the countless resumes I've pulled off the printer, maybe 4 or 5 out of every 100 are solid candidates for interview. Another 5 or so fall into the “maybe” pile based on crossover skills and other considerations. But a good 90% of the resumes lack the very basics that listed as REQUIRED in the ad! So read the ad and ask yourself if you would hire you based on the qualifications alone. Nevermind your winning personality - we're talking experience and background and skill set only here. If it's not a match, don't waste your time. Sometimes we have fun with those resumes: "Yes, is this Mr. Johnson? I'm calling about the resume you submitted for the Senior Art Director position. It was passed on to us at the Loews Cineplex in uptown and we LOVE your credentials. We actually have some excellent weekend shifts available..." CLICK.

Wow. Can’t believe I just had to type that. But yes – I find typos every day. Bad ones. My impulse every time is to submit the resume to the waste bin for final approval. To date, my waste bin has not sent back a single resume for consideration. Seriously, typos are entirely unacceptable and 100% avoidable. Have a friend proofread it closely. And if you’re not sure about the grammar or spelling of something – change it so there’s no question. For an easy leg up, show off your stellar attention to detail and fine communications skills with a resume that's perfect to the letter. Oh yeah - and if you're one of those folks who versions the resume depending upon the job, make sure you fill in all the blanks. We love getting incomplete templates to add to our wall of shame baord. "My ideal job is one that lets me use my (word here) skills to (job here)." Classy and professional.

Hey – what a novel idea! Some of the applicants who impress me the most surprise me by knowing something about me or our agency in advance. For a moment I wonder how they came to know us so well…and then it dawns on me that they simply did their homework. In just ten minutes, you can glean a lot of information off of a website: what the company does, what it values, who it serves, and how it operates. Shows initiative, resourcefulness, and genuine interest. Just be careful not to delve too deeply into the personal histories of individuals or they may brand you a voodoo mindreader and cut your interview early. In other words, there's no need to "Google" the person you'll be meeting to tell them you live near them. That would only freak them out. But by all means come prepared to talk about how you're going to be able to add vallue to their company.

This is a big one people like to debate about. Not me. What you wear MATTERS. I used to think it didn’t really matter, or rather, that it SHOULDN’T matter. Why should it? – I thought. They’d be hiring ME, not my clothes. But the fact is, what you choose to wear says a lot about you. I’ve read advice columns from people who say it’s the person on the inside that counts…and I agree with that. And if the person on the inside doesn’t recognize the importance of that first impression, chances are they’re missing a lot more than that. It's a matter of presentation and showing yourself in the best light possible. I’m not saying a suit and tie are required here – but make an effort. Shave, shine the shoes, comb the hair, press the shirt, and avoid blue jeans. Basic stuff that should go without saying, but you’d be surprised what people will show up to an interview wearing. And as much as I try to make it about the person inside, appearance is important. Shows the interviewer you are serious. A gay co-worker of mine is the fashion bouncer at our agency. He inspects the interviewees as they make their way to the conference room and gives me the thumbs up or down on overall physical presentation. “Did you see her blouse? Were those polka dots? Oh Lord. How can she design a marketing brochure if she can’t even dress herself?”

In business, punctuality is very important. And if a company is interviewing, it usually means they’ve got more work than they can handle - which means they are busy! Respect this by honoring your interview date and time to the best of your ability. I naively used to think, “I’ll get there when I get there and if I am late, they’ll understand. After all – they’re people too.” Well, we are people, too – and we DO understand, especially when people demonstrate little respect for our time by showing up late. So plan to arrive early – it shows you’re eager and ambitious. And if you can’t help but run a few minutes behind, give a shout to let someone know. A little courtesy can make a huge difference.

Here’s a rule I used to break all the time. I always assumed that the folks interviewing me would have a copy of my resume since that was the piece of paper they used to pre-qualify me for the interview! Why would I need to bring another copy? Well, the fact is, after I’m done qualifying someone for an interview, their resume becomes just another sheet of paper on my cluttered desk. As a result, it seldom makes it into the interview with me. So more often than not I find myself asking the applicant for a fresh copy. If they don’t have one, I don’t hold it against them. But if they do – I sure appreciate the preparedness.

This is important. Even if it’s just a couple of questions – being inquisitive demonstrates sincere interest. Sometimes we get to the end of an interview and ask if there are any questions for us and, I have to say, it’s a little disappointing when applicants say, “No – I think you’ve answered all of my questions already.” And I’m thinking, “How could I have? We’ve been talking about YOU this entire time.” You’re asking to enter a long-term relationship that will consume a massive chunk of your life – aren’t you the least bit curious how things are going to work? A good place to start is to think about what’s important to you and be up front about it. Benefits. Growth potential. Transportation. Realistic hours. Working relationships. One of the best reasons to ask is because it helps you to qualify the employer as suitable for YOU instead of the other way around. If you don’t ask any questions, you’re tipping your hand and saying, "I don't care what it's like here, I just need a new job." Such desperation is a red flag, and a candidate without questions is easily filed in this category. Just don't ask, "How much does it pay?" That question is an indication that the applicant nneds to settle a gambling debt and will take the first job they can get. Questions about compensation usually come after the interview - once the two parties have agreed that there is a good fit. That said, having an idea of range is important to know BEFORE the first interview so everyone is on the same page. If the compensation is listed as "commensurate," it means you're going to get an offer based on what you're worth to the hiring company - which will vary from company to company. Hard to get a range out of those folks since they won't know until they meet you...but you can always prequalify your visit by letting them know what YOUR requirements are. We've had a few candidates whose financial expectations were delusional, but we didn't find out until after we'd spent an hour pretending to like one another. Whether it's before the interview, during, or after, asking questions is an important part of the process - and it's expected of you.

We interview a lot of people. Some send follow-up notes after the interview…others don’t. To be honest, I don’t think anything less of the people who don’t follow up with a “thank you.” I just assume they’re not all that interested in the job. And the reason I assume this is because the people who DO send “thank you” notes stand out as MORE interested in the job. And that counts for something. Remember – entering a work relationship is a two-way street, so both sides have to agree there is a good fit after that first date. By sending a follow up “thank you” note, or even an e-mail will suffice sometimes, you’re letting the employer know that you’re still interested in the position. By maintaining radio silence, you could be sending a signal of apathy or indifference. If you still want the job after that interview, let us know. It demonstrates thoughtfulness and solid relationship building skills.

It used to drive me apeshit when I'd go to an interview and then hear nothing back for days...even weeks. For some reason, I assumed I'd receive at least a courtesy call to let me know the position had been filled. But to my surprise, I learned that hiring decisions take a lot of time. And sometimes the reason I wouldn't receive a call was because recruitment was on hold. The fact is, we often interview a lot of people for one position - and only one is going to get the job. We simply don't have the time to follow up with all of the people we met to let them know they didn't make the cut. If they call us, however, we're more than happy to share our status. If they don't call, we presume they'll get the hint: No news is bad news.

Here's a fun Jedi mind trick that really works. For the employer, the hiring process can be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor with little room for error. Think about it. There’s a lot at stake for the employer. They need to know they’re hiring the best person for the job…and want to feel good about it. One way to demonstrate your flexibility and cooperative spirit is to take some of the risk away by offering to work on contract for a few weeks. Don't panic - it’s not as risky as it sounds. First of all, the gesture alone says a lot about your confidence level. Anyone who would offer to work on contract for a couple weeks is saying, “I know you’re going to love me.” (I should note that if you’re not confident you can blow them away with your raw talent, then it may not be in your best interest to go this route.) If you know you can perform, and the goal is to land the job, then removing the risk is a smart move. Plus, it also protects YOU from accepting a position you may not enjoy. After a couple of weeks of relationship building with key personnel, they’ll get a good feel for you, and you’ll have ample time to assess the true nature of the opportunity. It's a true win-win. Or, oftentimes, the gesture alone is enough to win you a second interview. You've made their decision to include you easier by saying, "You're not stuck with me if you don't like me." But, of course, YOU know they're going to love you. Why wouldn't they?

So there you have it - 10 ways to interview more effectively. Feel free to share!

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