…or, “how to succeed at BSing but still staying honest”. Interviews are hard work. Not only do you have to look the part– professional, responsible, adult— but you also have to do it in a way to convince the person staring at you from the other side of the intimidatingly large and usually cluttered desk that you are the one person that they desperately need to hire. And to do this successfully you have to be able to talk up your skills, which requires a good bit of BSing skills and thinking on the spot, but also keep from embellishing past the point of honesty. Here is what I’ve found both through my experience and the experience of others that will help you to get that professional look and keep your head during the daunting, nerve-wracking interview process.
(Rule #1) LOOK THE PART. You need to look professional and like you’re a part of the company already. That means wearing a position-appropriate outfit, having a professional looking folder or resume book to keep your extra resumes and notes in, and the adaptability to be able to fit in with the interviewers or the other interviewees.
Part I: Dress well. The first part, wearing an appropriate outfit, can seem daunting especially if you’re younger. Maybe you’ve never done and interview and don’t know quite what ‘business formal’ or ‘business casual’ mean. Maybe, like me, you have no idea where to get appropriate clothing. Or maybe you’ve seen suits and blouses and whatever else you need, but are blown away by the high prices that the more popular stores advertise. Don’t let yourself be discouraged: you can easily look good without paying a fortune if you’re creative and willing to do some research for your shopping.
I absolutely hate shopping. At 4′ 7″, it’s hard for me to find anything sophisticated enough to wear to an interview that actually fits my body (no, unfortunately nowhere sells girls size skirt suits). It seemed like I shopped forever, and was always disappointed with the selection of petite suits. I was even willing to pay department store prices to get something nice I could wear. Finally, I checked out H&M, which runs very small compared to normal department stores. They actually make business-appropriate attire, and I was able to find something that fit better than anything else I’d found for significantly cheaper than anywhere else (read: suit jacket and skirt combo for less than $100). You can also get some pieces at decent prices at discount department stores like Khols (and they even have kids dress pants!), but good luck finding girls sized dress shirts (if anyone knows where to find those, let me know).
A step up in quality are places like K&G and J&R Clothing, but they are also a bit pricier. If you want something nice that’ll last, those places are where to go. However, their women’s selection is a bit sad, and their sizes run too big for anyone as small as me.
Finally, regular department stores and mall stores like Express have good quality clothes as well. But again, they are pricey and they seem to have a very limited selection of sizes, which favor those who are bigger. I can’t find anything to fit me, so I don’t bother going there.
As far as what to wear, make sure you do your research. If the company interviewing you doesn’t say what type of dress, look it up on Glassdoor or Linkedin, Google search the industry, company, or job title. Worst case, assume you need dress pants/skirt, a nice button up shirt or blouse, and a suit jacket or nice blazer.
In addition to your clothes, you need your hair, make-up, and accessories to scream professional and put-together. It’s pretty easy for men– keep your hair as neat as you can and don’t stink is pretty much it. For women it’s a bit more complicated. Rules about hair styles and jewelry change depending on the job industry and company; for instance a more artsy industry might approve of creative jewelry or a loose hair-do, while a managerial position might want you to keep the jewelry at a minimum and the hair tied back. The safe choice if you’re unsure is usually to have a conservative hair style (in a bun, a low ponytail, or a half-pony) out of your face, and limited jewelry (no large necklaces, no loopy or large hanging earrings). I have a nose-ring, so I have always wondered about whether that is acceptable or not. I’ve never had any mention of it, because it’s small and fairly unnoticeable, so I don’t worry too much about it. However, if you have anything big and shiny, consider removing it temporarily and asking about its appropriateness after you get your offer.
Part II: Accessorize to impress. Accessories are also important. For the longest time, I carried my extra resumes and note paper in a bright red folder because I had nothing else. Finally, however, I broke down and bought a resume book. These come in leather or faux leather in black, grey, and brown, and have a pocket for resumes and notes, a pocket for business cards, and a notepad. I bought this Black Padfolio from Amazon and it worked nicely. I now have a different one with the Georgia Tech logo on it, but this one held up for as long as I had it and has now been passed on to my sister. It looks good, and making a good impression is the first step to a good interview.
Part III: Adapt to your environment. Did you overdress? Maybe take off your jacket and hold it to look a bit more casual. Let your hair down. Keep yourself looking put-together, but try to give off a more casual vibe. Did you underdress? This problem is a bit more difficult, which is why it’s better to overdress (you can’t pull a suit out of your purse or anything). remove any inappropriate jewelry, tie your hair into a bun or low ponytail, maybe tuck your shirt in. Mostly, you just have to make sure you carry yourself with extra professionalism to compensate. However, don’t apologize– if they don’t bring attention to it, they may not notice. If they do mention it, explain that you were not clear about the dress code, and that it has been a learning experience for you.
(Rule#2) ACT HOW YOU WANT TO BE VIEWED. Or, maybe not exactly how you are. I’m naturally introverted, but at interviews I make every effort to keep conversation going, be friendly and show my personality. I don’t typically like to embellish my successes, but in an interview I love talking about all the great things I’ve done and how I can apply them perfectly to the position.
One thing I’ve learned is especially in technical jobs, a lot of the interviewers are pretty new at this too. Interviewers are people too, and if you are personable and make them comfortable with you, you might have a better chance of landing the job. If you’re nervous, it’s sometimes even helpful to tell them. Don’t let the nerves get to you, but letting them know will tell them that you’re serious about the interview and consider it important. However, make sure it also comes across that you did your research and, while you might be nervous, you can answer the questions they ask and keep up a conversation. Especially for jobs that you’ll be dealing with group projects or working with new people often, they want to be sure you can contribute under pressure.
Another great pointer I got from my boyfriend via his parents is to make sure to send thank you’s. The best way to do this is to ask for your interviewers names and mention them specifically in a thank you email you send the day of the interview. If possible, get the business cards of everyone and use them to send personalized thank you’s to everyone you talked to. It looks great to be proactive, and makes you look even more professional if you can at least mention, if not thank individually, each person you talked with. If you can, even make notes of specific things you talked about with each person so you can modify each email and show them that you were paying attention to each of them. For some help on writing a basic interview thank you, check out About.com’s guide.
(Rule #3) ALWAYS BE OVER-PREPARED. Like I mentioned earlier, have multiple copies of your resume. You may have several interviewers, and it’s not guaranteed that they’ve all seen your resume or that they remember what’s on it. In addition, depending on the job you are interviewing for, have a list of professional and personal references available and a writing sample. If you’re unsure of what you’ll need do a quick Google search. For me, I’ve never needed to give anyone a writing sample, but anyone interviewing for a writing-specific position might. I’ve only needed a list of references once, but it’s nice to have it on hand just in case. This is why it’s important to have the resume book– it’s difficult and looks disorganized to carry all the papers in your hand, and basic folders look sloppy. A briefcase is very nice, but is also expensive and I think it’s a bit of overkill for entry-level positions. Other things you might want to consider keeping in your resume book are any certifications you might have, notes you’ve made about the company or position, test scores (SAT, GRE, etc), and a copy of an unofficial transcript. They’re not necessary and I don’t use them, but use your best judgement based on the position and your research.
And like I keep emphasizing, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Maybe because I graduated with a research-heavy major and minor, but I love to research. And by love, I really mean I am addicted to it. I don’t feel comfortable driving to a new restaurant without Googling them and looking up the menu, the prices, and the location. So suffice it to say, I am a research junkie. I love Google searching the heck out of anything new, and am always over-prepared with knowledge about what I’m doing. For example, I recently went to a new doctor. I had to look up the office and see who the doctors were, where the office was, and look at reviews of the practice. Total overkill. For one of my more recent job interviews I spend hours pouring over the website looking at all the projects that they did, memorizing the mission statement of the company, and making notes about the job details and how my experiences would apply to the position. Being over-prepared helps limit the stress of the interview, makes you look like you know what you’re doing, gives you a confidence boost. It’s never a bad thing.
(Rule #4) BE HONEST. This is a big one. You never want to be caught lying about your skills or qualifications. EVER. Recently I heard from a friend that someone told them that they have listed fake job experiences on their resume. I was completely baffled that anyone would purposefully lie on their resume, and even more that they would admit to it! Especially when you’re just starting out and going into entry-level positions, your qualifications will be scrutinized. The interviewer will ask about seemingly random things on the resume, and if it’s something that is fake or embellished past strict honesty, you’re stuck. You either lie to a potential employer or admit that you lied on the resume, and neither look good. Yes you want to make yourself look as competent and qualified as possible, but whether you get caught or hired into a job you’re not qualified for, flat-out lying is inevitably going to bite you in the butt.
If you’re asked a tough question and the truth might hurt your chances of getting the job, chances are you weren’t cut out for the position anyway (I had one ask me about my software experience, and I had to tell them that I had one course my freshman year on code writing. I can learn fast, but I didn’t have the background that they apparently expected). Sometimes an honest answer can be tough and seem like the worst possible thing, but remember: the interviewers are people too. Did you make a mistake at a past employment and get fired for it? Admit it, but emphasize what you learned from it and how you’ve improved as a person. The best thing you can do is show that you’re able to learn and grow, and show that mistakes won’t get in your way of accomplishing your goals and being successful.
I hope that this advice helps you to make yourself professional, prepared, and confident for your next interview. The impression you make there can give you a leg up on your competition and maybe even get you a job offer!