Getting the job interview is a major goal in any job search, and most of the advice that career counselors offer is focused on how to handle four kinds of questions—open-ended ones like “tell me about yourself”, evaluative ones like “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”, focused ones like “can you tell me about a time when you…” one and lastly, challenging ones like “why should we hire you?”. Anyone who’s been through an interview has encountered at least two or three of these, and the ideal response (hopefully strengthened by practicing beforehand) has always been to focus on the positives and manage the question in as confident a way as possible.
It’s certainly important to answer these questions in the best way you can, but I think they could also be extremely useful if you asked them yourself, or in other words used them to turn the tables on the interviewer and find out more about the job, the organization, or some aspects of the culture you might be joining. For instance, it might be very interesting if you asked an interviewer, “What do you think your organization’s strengths and weaknesses are?” or “Can you tell me how you handled a downturn in business” or even, “Why should I want to work here?” That last question might sound pretty bold at first, but think about it—if it is asked tactfully in the right tone of voice, it might yield all sorts of useful information, like how much effort is put into orienting new employees, what career paths are available, what the organization thinks of its competition and how much time is devoted to employee training and development.
Turning the tables on an interviewer might sound like a risky thing to do, but it could also lead to the most important outcome of any interview—understanding how well the organization fits you as much as how well you fit it.
Are you still actively job searching and interviewing, even though the weather speaks more to sitting on the beach or a streetside café with a tall cold drink? During the summer it is so tempting to dress to be cool and comfortable, especially with July’s exceptional heat. Unfortunately when it comes to interviewing, it is a big mistake to confuse cool with casual, and I am offering you some reminders, or perhaps an introduction to interview attire. The main things to remember are this:
Research the Employer – There are typical expectations across-the-board in interviewing, such as dressing neatly, being clean and well-groomed, however, knowing the culture of the places where you send in applications is extremely important. Company cultures, and interview “dress codes” vary, so make the time to learn the norms from investigating an employer’s website, asking contacts in your network (know anyone who has worked there or for a similar organization?), or even undertaking a reconnaissance mission before your interview. If the latter is feasible, time your visit to the employer’s neighborhood around lunchtime, usually noon-1pm, to watch people come out of the building. In general, it is best to look slightly more formal for your interview than the typical day-to-day attire of an employee. Here is a really comprehensive overview from Career Services at Virginia Tech on how to dress for interviews, for both men and women. Here is a website (from North Dakota State University) with photos of interview clothes by industry/career field.
Generational Differences – Tattoos and multiple piercings, tight clothes, assymetrical haircuts are all par-for-the-course for Gen Y and Millenials, but remember the person who interviews you might be from a different generation and have a different sense of what is acceptable. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t “be yourself” but when in doubt, don’t take risks –tone down or cover up. If you want to enforce the qualities that represent professionalism, be careful that your clothes and accessories don’t distract your interviewer from who you are and your qualifications for the job. Here is more on the topic: Dress The Part: Proper Attire Aids In Job Search.
Interview Hottie? – Even on a super hot and humid summer day, you will still need to wear a suit for most “office” job interviews. You may wear short sleeves under the suit jacket, but do not go sleeveless. Linen is a fabric that breathes well, and may be nice for keeping cool while wearing your suit. Dress suits (or jacket and skirt) are acceptable for women. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes. I do not know why, but it is true that baring some toe is a bit risqué. Simple flats, or low heeled pumps are good for women.
Hygiene –There is a classic book on interviewing called Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. Unfortunately, in the summer “sweaty palms” can be a bit of an understatement. The truth is, that your grooming is as important, if not more so, than your attire. You do not need an Armani suit to make a good impression. Neat and clean are HUGE in conveying professionalism. Make sure that you are prepared to combat the heat with these simple tips:
• Allow PLENTY of time to get to your interview. You do not want to have jogged the last 5 blocks from the train because you were out of time. If you get to a site early, you can find a restroom (even going to the nearest Starbucks) and freshen up.
• If you are prone to sweaty palms, forehead, and the like, bring a hanky (like your grandparents had) in your pocket or purse, or buy some rice paper blotters (many cosmetic lines have this product). It is more polite to dab off sweat than to leave it beading on your body. Also, dusting with baby powder or corn starch can help you stay dry.
• Do wear sufficient deodorant; do not wear a lot of perfume or cologne. Don’t eat strong smelling foods just before you go to interview. Smells in general, even flowery or spicey ones, are distracting and will make your “I’m a great candidate” message harder to hear.