As a long-time information technology contractor, I have been on more job interviews in the past 15 years than the average worker does in a lifetime. In that time span, a lot has changed in terms of how a job seeker needs to present him or herself to potential employers. Today’s job seeker must customize their resume and cover letter for each firm they submit to. More significantly, they must do a substantial amount research prior to the interview itself to learn as much about the organization as possible, and be able to prove that they are familiar the company’s line of work and show how they will be able contribute to its success from day one. Most articles on how to go about looking for a new job focus on the tangible things, such as what to include in a resume and how to dress for the interview, but much of what goes into a successful interview is intangible, and that is where most articles leave off, leaving the job seeker to figure that part out on their own. There are, however, some very real and concrete things you can do to get into the proper mindset to do highlight those intangibles during the interview, vastly improving your chances of landing that job.
Remember, you don’t need this job – even if you do. So this is the first interview you’ve had in months. The emergency fund is running low and you really, REALLY need to land a job soon. Truth is, no matter how you try to cover it, potential employers can sense desperation and it can really hurt your prospects. The key is to go in with the attitude that you DON’T need the job. That’s easy to say, you think, but how do you actually do that? Deep down that sense of desperation is a result of low self-esteem and the ever increasing feeling of lack of control over your own destiny, I know because I’ve been there. Exercising techniques to validate your own self worth are often helpful in overcoming this attitude. The main thing to realize is that your current state of unemployment is not a reflection on your own value. Virutally no one – at least no one in the job pool today – has lived through an economic downturn like the one we are currently experiencing. Millions are out of work, and many of those have been for some time. In most cases, there are safety nets. Maybe you have a skill like blogging or taking on some freelance work, no matter how low paying, that can supplement your unemploymen; maybe you will have to downsize, maybe move back in with the parents, maybe cut back on some luxuries; but those things are all survivable. Acceptance of those realities often make all the difference. Going in with a clear mind will show up in how you conduct yourself.
The interviewer is just another guy – or gal. True, he or she may hold your immediate job hunting fate in his or her hands, but he does not determine how you will live the rest of your life. It’s natural to be nervous, but remember, he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else and when he’s not interviewing you, he’s thinking about what he’s going to do with his family this weekend, or where he’s going to have dinner tonight, or whether he left the iron on when he left the house this morning. He may even be worried about holding on to his job. It’s important to keep the tone of the interview formal but friendly. If you come off as too mechanical or rehearsed it will hurt your chances because you won’t be perceived as genuine. There has been a marked trend in recent years to look not just at a candidate’s technical skills, but to figure out whether or not they will fit in with the culture of the team. The hiring manager will find it difficult to make that decision if you are wearing your “interview facade”.
This brings up another item to keep in the back of your mind. Always ask about what the culture of the team is. It shows the hiring manager that you are thinking ahead as to how you might fit in to the team dynamic. Does the team you will be joining operate somewhat autonomously, or do they respond better to clear directives? Are they tightly knit, or do they associate more loosely? What kind of personalities are there on the team? Do they tend to be more open and welcoming, or are a bit more aloof and analytical? These are important factors to consider, not only for the manager, but for you as well.
A lot of job interview tips will mention the ever-important handshake. They tell you to keep it firm and confident. The problem is that if firm and confident isn’t your usual handshake, this is potentially bad advice. The handshake is never a make-it or break-it part of the interview process. If you feel that the handshake you’ve been told to practice feels unnatural and is not “you”, then don’t use it. You begin to fret over whether it’s too long, or too short, or too firm, or not firm enough. If you’ve ever met someone who you have shaken hands with, you can tell if that person is nervous or unsure, you can feel it in their handshake. The best handshake is the one that feels most natural to you.
Finally, you don’t want to forget the thank you note. This isn’t an intangible, but it certainly deserves mention. You always want to send a thank you note to anyone whom you’ve had an interview with – even if it’s just a phone interview. It’s preferable to send an email thank you over a written one, for two reasons. First, it gets there quicker. Always try to follow up the same day as the interview, that way you are fresh in the hiring manager’s mind. In many cases the hiring manager is interviewing several individuals for a position and it’s not always easy to remember a name. Secondly, handwritten notes tend to end up getting lost or misplaced. I used to send handwritten thank you notes, but it seemed like over half of them never made it to the intended recipient. In addition, it’s usually just simpler for manager to just come across your note as they are skimming through his email in a spare moment.