The BEST Ways to Make a GREAT First Impression…Getting Ready for the Interview-the BIG DAY!

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How exciting it is to receive THE call you’ve been waiting for after applying for THE  JOB…you have an interview!  Now what’s the BEST way to make a GREAT FIRST impression in person at the interview?  Sharing tips from my experiences as a hiring manager will help you prepare effectively so that you can STAND OUT from the crowd of interviewees and get the job!

Of course, YOU have to put the effort and energy into being the best you can be.  I think the Army drilled this thought into me and Mr. D with their “Be All You Can Be” slogan, but it’s good advice.  Even if you don’t land this job, you will gain valuable skills and experience to polish up for the next interview session…being the BEST you can be!  Remember, it’s not where you start, but where you finish that’s important! So let’s get started with some practical tips to put your BEST foot forward!

Let’s review a few things from your application process that will help with the interview process.  If you missed my first blog in my “Job Hunting” series, here’s the link for it

  • Print or write out the job description for the job you’ve applied for…the skills and attributes needed for this particular job.  Sometimes it can be vague, such as “good organizational skills” or “team player”, but seeing it in front of you on paper will be helpful and you’ll make notes on this paper to organize your thoughts.
  •  Take some time to list the skills and attributes YOU have for this particular job.  Can you start a project, stay organized, and see it through to the finish? Do you have a-willingness-to-learn new things?  Are you self-disciplined and can make the best use of your time to finish tasks?   Are you punctual, really?  Be honest with yourself here, I’ve hired many students, and have always appreciated them telling me (gracefully, for sure!) if they had schedule conflicts that I could work around.  Flexible employees are always valued, but if you have a true commitment (I don’t mean Happy Hour!), honesty is still the best policy!

My fictional “model job” will be a part-time job at a local coffee shop, and my tips will apply to the “interview” for this position to give you an idea of the process that can be used for ANY job interview!

  • Make a few notes about the company you’ll be working for that shows you know something about them:  What’s their name?  How long have they been… in business? In your city?  How many people do they employ…big or small company?  What is their “mission statement”?  The “mission statement” is usually what the company wants to be known for… in our coffee shop model, the “mission statement” is “The BEST Coffee Shop in Town!”  Judging by the name, this coffee shop probably values excellent customer service along with tasty coffee and food.  If you worked here, how would you be an asset?  Which of your skills will be helpful?  Can you make coffee and use basic baking/cooking/grilling skills?  Have you ever provided customer service before?  Being prepared to answer all questions at the interview will help you STAND OUT.
  • Gather 2 business professional references, and 2 personal character references, complete with Title, Name, telephone number, email address, and “best time to call” information.  I especially love to see the “best time to call” information for a couple of reasons…having that info helps me to connect with YOUR reference EASILY and QUICKLY, showing me that you also value MY time, and it SHOWS ME that you are organized and prepared.  Points for you!  List these references on a separate sheet of paper that is NOT attached to your resume, and make 3 copies of both.  When the hiring manager ASKS for your references, you’ll be professionally ready…not swiping through your phone contacts to find your references.
  • PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE contact your references and get their approval to be your reference BEFORE you list them as your references!  This is not only courteous, but you want your references to be prepared to the fact that you are actively job seeking and will need to share their information at your interview.  It could go poorly for you just because they’re caught off guard and don’t know what to say if put on the spot.  You can help them be prepared by sharing with them a bit about the job and the skills/attributes that you have that would be helpful for this new job.  Our coffee shop model applicant is asking his references to be a job reference for him:  Professional reference from his neighbor:  “Mrs. Jones, I’ve got an interview with the “Best Coffee Shop in Town” this week, and I’d like to ask you to provide a professional reference for me, if you can.  I know I was able to provide you with pet-sitting for Skippy over the summer on 3 occasions, and I’d like you to share how happy you were with my services, including punctuality, keeping a good schedule of my duties for Skippy, and keeping my work area well maintained.  These are skills the “Coffee Shop” values, and skills I know I can continue to provide.  Do you have a “BEST time to call” to answer a few questions after my interview?  With a few word changes, this script works well with any reference, just customize it for you.  If you’re new to the work force, reach out to teachers, guidance counselors, neighbors whom you’ve provided services to (paid or volunteer!), and other adults you know.  Your personal reference SHOULD NOT be a casual friend, but someone who has known you several years, or has worked with you on the job, not as your supervisor or boss (these can and should be professional references!).  I encourage you to make it a habit to request a written job reference from any employer before you change jobs.  Having a short, written job reference means you can copy it and share with prospective new employers as your professional reference.  

I can’t stress enough the importance of these simple details…remember, YOU want to STAND OUT from the pack! I can’t tell you how many experienced and novice interviewees have sat in my office for THE interview and didn’t know the NAME of the company or what the JOB description was!  I know that it can be easy to lose track of details when you apply for many jobs,  but once you are notified of an interview appointment, polish up on the details for THIS interview.  WRITE IT DOWN.  ALWAYS.  It STICKS in our brain BEST.  BE PREPARED, make the effort, take the time.  IT WILL SHOW!!

My kids will tell you that I am a FAN of pocket folders for organization, especially for the job hunt.  They make you look SO put together when you show up for the interview with all your paper neatly organized, everything at your fingertips.  The folder doesn’t have to be fancy, but new (no bent-up, old folders here!), just plain without decoration,  no photos, stickers, etc. keeping it “business-like”.  Put your 3 copies of resume in one pocket of folder and 3 copies of references in the other pocket of folder.  Clip an ink pen (check to make sure it writes!) and a small paper tablet/few note sheets of paper in the pocket with the references.  By now you have memorized your “skills/attributes” for this job, but if you need extra confidence, write down a few things on your note pad to keep your thoughts in line about your skills.  If  you have any questions for the hiring manager, it’s good to jot them down on your notes as well so you’ll remember to ask.  Questions such as “where  do employees park their cars?”  “Are there opportunities for growth in this company?”  “Can you tell me about the employee benefits, please?” are good places to start.  Many times, your questions are answered in the interview, but having a few thoughts jotted down helps you remember anything important you need to know.  Don’t be afraid to bring out your note pad to jot down things during the interview, just don’t get caught “doodling” on your pad!

Ok!  The interview date is set, your folder with references and resume is ready to go….let’s make a “trial run” to the interview location just as you will the day of the interview, and at the SAME time…you don’t want any surprises such as detours or construction delays.  PLEASE plan to arrive 30 minutes before your appointment time…this should allow time for parking and a few unforeseen circumstances (such as…elevator out of order, and you are walking 4 flights of stairs…), and for a quick dart into the restroom to make sure you look your BEST.  While we may prefer to dress a certain way, or the job is always casual clothes dressing, showing up for the interview dressed business-like is ALWAYS noticed.  Ladies, invest in a comfortable, non clingy pair of black dress slacks (no jeans!) or black skirt at or below the knee slightly, and a non clingy, modest, dressy shirt.  I like to bring a weather appropriate sweater or jacket…you never know if you get caught needing a bit more cover-up or protection from the weather!  Neatness and cleanliness speaks VOLUMES, so lighten-up on ALL the jewelry, make-up, and hair styles…you want to be remembered for your skills and attributes, not for the color of your hair! Guys, much of this applies to you too… neat, neutral clothing, no sneakers or t-shirts and look in the mirror! Check yourself out from head to toes…neat, clean, professional!  You only have ONE chance to make a great FIRST impression, so make it count!

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before and eat a light breakfast.
  • Leave for interview before you think you need to, don’t be late!
  • Read over your notes, resume, and contacts to refresh your memory.
  • Arrive early and check-in so the hiring manager knows you’re there.
  • Put your cell phone on “airplane” mode until after interview.
  • Walk tall, confidently, smile…you’re PREPARED to do your BEST!
  • Shake hands at the introduction and again after the interview with a “thank-you”.
  • If you give your references, ask hiring manager “what’s the next step?”  Make sure you share your “BEST time to call” information so they can follow-up!

I have shared these tips and coached MANY to successful interviews and jobs, so I am confident that the time taken to PREPARE for your BEST can really pay off in your STANDING OUT from the crowd of interviewees.  Give it a try!