First and foremost – Be Yourself! – In this day and age, when it seems every candidate has straight A’s, perfect test scores and has saved millions of lives in remote lands (all exaggerations!) the pressure to be someone you are not is great. You will not be able to pull it off – I promise you that. Authenticity and sincerity in this day and age go a lot further than you might realize. Be true to yourself. This does not mean to ignore areas where you can grow, mature and prepare. It means to stay to true to your character, values and who you are. Do not apologize for who you are not – be proud of who you are!
Days and weeks before
1) Practice interview questions and answers – Since first grade you have heard that practice makes perfect. That might not be true. What is true is that practice does make you better. LeBron practices. Peyton Manning practices. Beyoncé practices. Maria Sharapova practices. President Obama practices. So before your big day, why wouldn’t you practice?
2) Brand You. What are key highlights and information you want to make sure you mention? This comes with practice. Answering questions is something we all do on a daily basis. Reflecting back on an earlier conversation and thinking “I wish I remembered to say….” is also commonplace. The way to prevent that is to practice answering, and really thinking about what the most important things someone can know about “you” are!
3) Do your research and become very familiar with the company – again, common sense, but often ignored. This is a great company with great values. My father, mother, sister, brother, grandparent shop here/own stock here/etc. This is a great company to start my career. What do these answers all have in common? They are among the most common answers, and are applicable to almost anywhere! Differentiate yourself – learn about the company to which you are applying, their programs, what they are known for, prominent executives, anything written by key executives, etc. Research is available at your fingertips now – you no longer have to read old articles via microfiche at a public library!
Day of the interview
4) Dress as you wish to be perceived. This will all sound like common sense: shower, style your hair, clean your fingernails, trim your fingernails, shine your shoes. Next – make sure those shoes do not have holes (same goes for socks). Clothing matches (if you aren’t the most fashionable person, ask someone who is!) You do not need to be a model, you do need to be clean, have matching clothes, and have appropriate attire.
5) Arrive early. Ending up in the interview room drenched in sweat due to running late is never a good idea. Unless you live, literally, around the corner from the interview, try to arrive at least 1/2 hour early, to avoid surprises and allow yourself to focus on the task at hand.
6) Remember, as soon as you appear at the location of the interview, your interview has begun. You do not know everyone you encounter. The person in the bathroom, passing you in the hallway while you gab to your friend on the phone, that you do not hold the door open for, or that hears you saying something derogatory might be the person interviewing you, or the person interning for the person interviewing you. Remember that – it happens more often than you think.
7) Turn off your smartphone. Everything sends a message. Your phone ringing, alerting you to a text or tweet, etc., sends a message – and not a positive one. If the person interviewing you does reach for his or her phone, or is texting or emailing, that is not an indication that you can as well.
8) Eye contact. When you meet your interviewer, look that person in the eye. When he or she is speaking to you, look at that person. If a group interviews you, look at the person speaking to you, and try to make eye contact to each person in the room as you respond (as long as you do not “Ping-Pong” back and forth!)
9) Smile. This one seems easy, but often isn’t. When you meet someone and introduce yourself, smile. Ask them how they are. Wait for a response.
10) Stand up straight. Watch your posture when you sit. – Shoulders back, straight spine when you enter the room. Wait for your host to sit. Once you sit, make sure your back stays straight (do not slump). Practicing with a friend before the interview will help identify how you sit under pressure. To keep your energy up, try leaning forward about 5-10 degrees.
11) Root into your heel(s.) – Rocking back and forth, or up and down, is distracting. Depending on how you sit, put weight into one, or both, of your heels.
12) Listen before formulating your response. Most of us begin to formulate a response prior to a person asking the entire question. This a) does not allow us to hear and process the entire question and b) usually has us answering immediately, often before the questioner concludes speaking!
13) Remember L-P-A. Listen – Pause – Answer. The easiest way to root out dis-fluency (umm, ahh, like, you know), hedges and fillers? Pausing for a second or two before answering. Really listen to the question. One M-I-SS-I-SS-I-PP-I. Answer the Question.
14) Ask a question (or ask questions.) There comes a time in every interview when you have an opportunity to ask a question. The interviewer may or may not ask you to. You should, regardless. This is where your research beforehand puts you in an optimal position. Ask educated, focused, company-specific questions – it will help you stand out.
At all times
15) Remember your manners (please, thank you.) Do not chew gum before, during or after the interview. Say please and thank you. Send a follow up thank you email – a handwritten note is even better.