IPad or Portfolio? Black or Navy? White or Striped? Pumps or flats?
While most candidates spend a great deal of time worrying about their wardrobe for an upcoming interview, truth be told it’s one of the easiest parts of interview prep. Sure it’s important that you present a clean and professional appearance but I can honestly say that in over 20 years I’ve never hired a candidate simply because I liked their appearance better than my #2 pick.
So, instead of obsessing for hours (and days in some cases!) about what to wear, it’s much more important to prepare yourself mentally for the opportunity. And just like your CSV should be tailored to each job you pursue, interview prep should be different. Changing up your strategy is especially important when preparing for a first-round vs. a second round interview.
It’s commonly said that the first interview is about “skills” and the second about “fit.” While I agree with the premise, those terms simply aren’t as black and white as many candidates would like. In fact, it’s one of the most common questions I receive. So in an effort to help you maximize the opportunity, give these specifics below a read and see if they help you:
First Interview Expectations
Build Rapport-You know the drill here and it’s not about fake smiles. The best candidates always find a way to engage the interviewer. Find some common ground or share a heart-warming story about why you want to work for the company. Bottom line: This is one case where the specifics matter far less than general impressions. Your goal isn’t to make them “fall in love” with you, but rather to see you as a sincere, intelligent and genuine person that they would like to spend more waking time with than their family!
Learn about the Job. Sure you might have read the job description in an on-line post or perhaps a recruiter even sent it to you. But before you can evaluate your ability to successfully do the job (and hello provide value!), you need to know more. By the time the first interview is over, you should have a pretty good feel of what a “day in the life” looks like and whether it gets you super excited or makes your eyes glaze over. Hint: If you’re glazing over, decline the second interview if offered!
Gauge Your Fit. In every interview I’ve conducted I always tell the candidate that this is an opportunity for them to “check us out” as much as it is our opportunity to learn about them. And I truly believe that! One of your primary goals for the first interview should be to determine if you can see yourself there. Now admittedly most job seekers are…wait for it….looking for a job! So it’s easy to quickly reply that of course you think it’s a great fit. But I would encourage you to dig a little deeper. What you really want to know is if you can THRIVE in the environment. In other words, will you be motivated (and encouraged!) to accomplish great things. If not, much as you might want to claim “fit,” you’re better off moving on.
Can I call You Boss? Let’s face it, we are all different people with differing styles and agendas. With that said, it’s simply illogical to think that every employee/boss relationship is a winning combination. If you are lucky enough to have your first interview with your potential boss, be on high alert. Watch for cues that show you either can (or can’t!) work well with this person. And for cases where you meet with someone from HR for the first round interview, all isn’t lost. Remember, face time with any employee gives you greater insight into the company and helps you gauge your fit.
Why are you Hiring? Never leave an interview until you know why the job is open. Asking for this information can help you learn that the company actively promotes from within, is expanding or worst case has recurring trouble filling this spot for any length of time. I once took a job that literally no one else would take because the boss had a reputation of being “somewhat” difficult. Even knowing that information, I accepted the job. Thinking that every boss I had ever encountered loved me. Guess what, they weren’t all wrong and accepting that job was a horrible career move. As they say, knowledge is power! Ask the question and use the information you gain intelligently.
Check the Box. By the end of first rounds, hiring managers typically have narrowed their candidates to those they believe can do the job. So your top priority during first interviews should be to demonstrate your experiences, skills and professionalism. Too often candidates make the mistake of “making friends” during this phase, only to find out that they aren’t invited back because they didn’t “have the goods.” You’ve simply got to check this box if you want to remain in contention for the position.
Who’s Ideal? One of the smartest questions you can ask is what the ideal candidate looks like. And for obvious reasons! This question quickly paints a picture for you of what they can (and can’t) live without. Then it’s up to you in either this interview or the second to demonstrate with relevant examples that you are their “best” candidate. Words to the wise however; if you ask a hiring manager this question and receive the dreaded “deer in the headlight” look, take a step back. Working for a manager that lacks vision on something this basic can be a career nightmare…not to mention frustrating!
What’s Next? While you may not realize it, one of the most critical things you can do in the first interview is to ask about next steps in the process. While some hiring managers willingly offer these, I always wait for the candidate to prompt the conversation. And while there are some rare exceptions, typically if you don’t ask me the question you’re out. You see, realistically if you aren’t motivated enough, (not to mention action oriented!) to ask for next steps, then I can probably find a better candidate.
Say Thank You. While I sincerely doubt this will be your morsel from this post, for goodness sake don’t forget to send a handwritten thank you card after the interview. Some things should be obvious, but admittedly we all get busy. Take it from someone who has conducted interviews for over two decades and don’t skip this step!
Oh and remember...unless you're applying for a job in the fashion industry, employers care far more about your brain, professionalism and drive than your wardrobe! So dress for the part but focus the majority of your interview prep on proving yourself to be the best (not best dressed!) candidate.
Ok, so that covers Round One opportunities. If you’re ready to consider how to play those second round opportunities differently, you can find some tips here.
I’d love to hear from you-what is the most bizarre question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?