Be prepared for the big and little things at an interview

The other day a job seeker named Bill came to my workshop carrying a newspaper article from the Boston Herald titled: “Be prepared for [the] unexpected at [the] job interview.” It’s not often someone brings in a newspaper article for me to read, nor do I often see a newspaper. So I was a bit stunned.

I was grateful for the article Bill brought me because much of what was written confirmed what I tell job seekers about the interview process. Not what questions to predict; not how to successfully structure their answer to a behavioral question; and not how to negotiate salary. The article talked about the simpler acts interviewees sometimes take for granted.

Two of the do’s some job seekers take for granted, according to this article, are maintaining eye contact and arriving on time. Weren’t we told many years ago that these faux pas are unforgivable? Reading that these interview mistakes still occur is almost incomprehensible. In the worst economy of our time, I can’t see any room for even these minor mishaps. Sweaty palms, a bit of hesitation, some “umms” here and there, are borderline acceptable.

So what goes wrong after job seekers zip off a great résumé and cover letter, pass the phone interview, and head for the all important face-to-face? Some of it can be attributed to nerves and downright fear, and some of it can be because the interviewee doesn’t have the common sense of a Labrador Receiver.

Marvin Walberg, the author of this article, writes that a survey was conducted by Accountemps to see what the kinds of silly mistakes are made at interviews. The mistakes go beyond not maintaining eye contact and being late; we’re talking about other more serious mistakes, definite interview killers.

Of more than a thousand hiring managers, six blunders stood out more than others. The percentages indicate which mistakes came to the managers’ mind first.

1. Little or no knowledge of the company: 38 percent
2. Unprepared to discuss skills and experience: 20 percent
3. Unprepared to discuss career plans, goals: 14 percent
4. Lack of eye contact: 10 percent
5. Late arrival: 9 percent
6. Limited enthusiasm: 9 percent

The first three failures point directly to unpreparedness. What more can job search professionals tell jobseekers? Prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s that simple. If you’re not prepared for the interview, your raw intelligence, good looks, and charm will probably not land you the job.

Questions about the job: Expect questions regarding the company and the job. Interviewers want to know why you want to work for them, what you know about their plans and goals, what understanding you have of their products and services. And they also want you to sell their company to them.

Knowing the company’s competitors will be an added bonus. Going to the interview loaded with all this knowledge can solve the employers’ last most common mistake, failing to show enthusiasm.

Be able to discuss your skills and experience: “Know thyself” is such a well known cliché, but it’s true. You have to know what duties you’ve performed, how well you’ve performed them; and it all has to relate to the position you’re seeking. As we’ve read hundreds of times, quantified accomplishments sell.

People with good recall usually have no problems recounting their experience, so those whose memory isn’t that great need to study their résumé before going to the interview.

Know your goal plans: Where do you plan to be in five years? Who the hell knows? At least show your ambition by telling employers that you reach for the stars and won’t be a clock puncher—in at 9:00 out at 5:00 on the dot.

If you want to be an individual contributor and are tired of the management route, demonstrate your desire to accomplish great things in your new role. Let them know you want to help the company’s bottom line. This is providing the role doesn’t have management responsibilities in the future.

The last three, my friend, are simply common sense. If you avoid peoples’ eyes, are constantly late, and show no enthusiasm, it’s time to do an about face and change your ways. I’m glad some people still read the newspaper and are thoughtful enough to bring in the cut-outs.

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