Every Minute Counts:
A Step-by-Step Guide to a Stress-Free Job Interview
BY GEORGE ROLAND | Special to washingtonpost.com
If you're the sort of person who gets stressed out by job interviews, stress no longer. Here, with the help of Kate Wendleton, president of career coaching firm The Five O'Clock Club, we've assembled an easy-to-follow timeline that can help take you from the days before your next interview right through it -- and, ideally, beyond.
Pick the suit you plan to wear. Make sure it's clean. If you do this in advance, you won't have to worry about taking it to the cleaner the night before. "Wearing the right clothes won't get you the job," says Wendleton, "but wearing the wrong ones can really damage your image." It pays to over- rather than under-dress: The interviewer will likely consider you more professional and better prepared than an under-dressed candidate.
Do some research on the company you are applying to. Knowing something about the company's recent developments shows that you are well informed and interested in the company as a whole.
Go over your resume. Then go over it again. Be prepared to explain any and every part of it in great detail. Make sure there are no inaccuracies, errors or typos. If there is a clear gap in your work or education history, be prepared to answer questions about it calmly and without hesitation. "The best way to answer that question is to have your explanation prepared," says Wendleton. "Mention any kind of work you did in that time, such as consulting . . . It isn't really a problem as long as you have a good storyline."
Take a practice drive to the interview location -- around the same time as the interview, if possible. This will give you a good idea of how long the trip takes and how much time you need to prepare yourself. If you aren't planning on driving -- in the Washington, D.C., area that could be an excellent idea -- make sure you know the Metro train and bus schedules and common delays. You may want to take a test run on these as well.
Eat a good solid meal. Stay away from hard-to-digest or smelly foods. Garlic breath can make even the most qualified applicant unappealing, and little makes an awkward pause more awkward than a rumbling stomach.
Remember that trip you took yesterday? Leave a half-hour earlier. You never know what construction or accident may make the commute twice as long, and it is better to arrive early than late.
Once you arrive at the interview location, give yourself a quick look. Is your outfit still clean? Is there something in your teeth? Is your cell phone on silent -- or, better yet, turned off? This is your last chance to improve your first impression, which interviewers rely heavily on.
After making first contact, get a sense of the environment. "First, you should assess the demeanor of the interviewer," Wendleton says. "If he is laid back in his chair with his feet on the desk, try and match his demeanor" while remaining professional. Note the pace, too: "If you're interviewing on Wall Street, you need to keep up with the fast pace and speak on the faster end of your spectrum," adds Wendleton. "If the interviewer is more relaxed, you should try and match his or her pace."
Send a short follow-up note to the interviewer requesting another meeting. "Simple thank-you notes are smarmy and generally just get thrown in the wastebasket," Wendleton warns. "In your follow-up, mention some ideas that you have regarding the work that you discussed. Include a sample idea, if you can. Then request another meeting to discuss the idea."
Ideally, you'll land a second interview. The timing generally depends on where in the interview process the company is. "During your first interview, you should ask three questions," says Wendleton. "'Where are you in the hiring process?' 'How many people are you considering?' 'How do I compare to them?'" Using this information, try to schedule your follow-up meeting as late in the process as possible, taking the opportunity to prepare to further explain your suitability. "People who are interviewed last have a higher chance of being hired than the people interviewed first."