Since 1978, I’ve interviewed all day, most every day. That’s because we’re all always interviewing. Peers, bosses, friends and acquaintances, competitors, neighbors, and everyone around us is watching, evaluating, and judging us. Always.
Erik Qualman wrote a book called “What Happens In Vegas Stays on YouTube.” There’s no privacy. Realizing this, we’ll edit our social media postings differently.
So a formal job interview is no big deal, as long as you’re prepared. Paul Bear Bryant, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama said, “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
As a consultant, I’ve sold our services to more than 357 brand-name U.S. corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions; and I’ve debriefed 2,500 executives returning from job interviews. Out of that, I’ve distilled the following philosophy:
(Please note: this article was first written for in-person meetings, but most of it applies to virtual calls as well.)
Where appearance is concerned, go with the style of the day. A good rule of thumb is to “look like they do,” whatever that is. If you can visit a prospective employer’s property in person or online, that’s helpful.
I usually dress a half-step up for interviews. Meaning, if the interviewers dress casually, I wear a sport coat. If they’re in sports clothes, I wear a suit. If they’re in jeans, I might try business casual slacks. I lay out my clothes the night before.
He’s where my age gives me away: shoe polish is a big thing. How you look affects your success. Executives have told me they make a hiring decision within five minutes of meeting a candidate—sometimes less.
In the past, a few highly-qualified job candidates have visited our office looking shaggy—not quite finished around the edges. I cautioned them to replace their 15-year-old eyeglasses and shoes with something more fashionable.
I suggest replacing dog-eared or suitcase-sized briefcases with a stylish 9×12″ leather portfolio to carry a legal pad or your ultra-thin tablet. That’s enough—and it looks sharp.
Once ready to interview, shower with deodorant soap. (Oh, yes, some professionals still need to hear this.) Dress in freshly dry-cleaned clothes. Guys, don’t iron your own shirts—send them to the laundry and ask for medium to heavy starch. (Unless you’re interviewing at a blue collar or more hip-and-happenin’ place.)
I like to be in the neighborhood an hour early for important meetings. That allows time for traffic jams, finding the building, parking problems, rain or snow showers, parades, and other Murphy’s Law events. To beat morning rush hour traffic, I leave home at 6:00 a.m., find the meeting location, then have breakfast in a nearby restaurant. That way, I arrive relaxed and refreshed, as opposed to flustered by stop-and-go.
I’ve heard of harried interviewees flipping someone off in traffic, only to see that person on the hiring team. To be on the safe side, I consider the interview to have started the minute I leave home.
I find a bathroom to freshen up, and never skip this step. You’d be amazed at what the mirror reveals, just in the nick of time. I use a restroom on a different floor from my appointment, because I don’t want to meet my interviewer there first.
Here’s a hint: if unsure about restroom availability, use a nearby hotel or restaurant. Study yourself carefully in the mirror. Comb your hair. Check your look. Use a breath mint, even if you don’t think you need one. Is your tablet or legal pad easy to access, or will you have to dig through your suitcase to find it? Do you have tissues and a pen? Are your business cards close at hand?
Next, proceed to the elevator. Punch your floor, and enjoy the ride.
I never enter an interviewer’s suite more than 10 minutes in advance. I’m friendly with the receptionist and with everyone nearby. Some of them will be involved in the hiring decision.
I wait standing in the lobby—it implies energy. While waiting, I read awards, posters, and company information, searching for topics of conversation. As the interviewer arrives, I lift my laptop in my left hand and walk toward her. She introduces herself and we smile and shake hands. I say, “I’m Bill Frank, and I see your team just won the American Red Cross Cycling Classic!”
She says, “Yes, we did . . . and I’m so very glad to meet you!”