Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Tried and True Interview Tips

Even people who have been on many job interviews and handle them well may feel some anxiety when facing an interview. Preparation is the key to putting yourself at ease during a job interview while maximizing your chances of getting the job you seek.

As Soon As (Or Before) Your Interview Appointment is Set

Protect Your Privacy: Remove any “questionable, “controversial,” or “unprofessional” photos and text from the public areas of social networking sites you participate in (or check that such material cannot be viewed by persons beyond your personal networks). Many employers check social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to learn whatever they can about job applicants. If employers find material they deem “unprofessional,” they may disqualify job candidates before the interview ever takes place.

Do Your Homework: Explore the employer’s website in depth. Familiarize yourself with its mission, history, staff, services, customer/patron base, and organizational structure. Visit the site’s “press” section, if any, to read recent press releases on new and upcoming projects. This research will help you understand the organizational culture of the prospective employer. It will also enable you to develop a set of pertinent questions to bring to the interview so that you can respond persuasively to the classic interviewer’s question “why do you want to work here?”

Prepare Specific Examples of Your Abilities: Make note of concrete stories and examples from your past experiences in the workplace that demonstrate your work ethic, approach to problem solving, interpersonal skills, and other strengths. Descriptive illustrations of your capabilities will be much more meaningful and memorable to an interviewer than generalities.

Practice: Ask a friend to help you role-play your upcoming interview. The web is full of
interview tips and sample questions associated with library jobs and other kinds of job interviews. Have your friend act as the interviewer and do a few practice rounds. Ask for honest feedback on your performance and try to sharpen your responses with each session.

A Few Days Before The Interview

Reconfirm: Send an e-mail to the person who will be interviewing you to reconfirm the date and time of the appointment (and to reiterate your enthusiasm about the upcoming meeting).

Plan Your Attire: Try on your interview outfit, shoes, and accessories to make sure everything is clean, ironed, comfortable, and ready to wear. The night before the interview, lay out everything you’ll need to wear and bring to the interview.

Organize Your Belongings: Assemble everything you intend to bring to the interview, including:

  • The address of the interview site and directions to reaching it

  • The name and title of the individual(s) conducting the interview

  • The interviewer(s) phone and e-mail contact information (preferably loaded to your cellphone)

  • Identification (which is often required to enter major businesses, large buildings, and other sites)

  • Three or four copies of your resume printed on bond paper

  • Three or four copies of your reference list (which should include at least three references)

  • Complete contact information for all past employers (which may be required when filling out job applications)

  • A copy of the original job posting, to review just before the interview

  • A list of any questions you wish to ask the interviewer

  • Pen and paper for note-taking

  • A briefcase or other professional-looking bag to carry your interview gear

On The Day of the Interview

Silence Your Phone: Before leaving the house, set your cell phone on “vibrate” or “silent” to avoid interruptions during the interview.

Arrive Early: Plan to arrive in the immediate vicinity of the interview site at least 30 minutes ahead of time so that you can enter the workplace 10 or 15 minutes before the interview. Remember that showing up early leaves a much better impression than arriving even one minute late. Lateness is the enemy of a successful job interview, but if circumstances beyond your control set you behind schedule, phone the interviewer immediately to advise him or her of the situation.

Once Your Arrive

Be on Your Best Behavior: When you enter the worksite, greet everyone politely. A rude, dismissive, or indifferent attitude—whether to a receptionist or an office worker who happens to pass by—is likely to be reported through the grapevine back to interviewer. Make eye contact and give a firm handshake when being introduced. Do not sit until invited to do so. Don’t address anyone by their first name unless invited to do so. Never say anything bad about a former employer, regardless of the circumstances.

Take Names: If a panel is conducting your interview, write down the name and title of each interviewer. This provides a useful point of reference during the interview, and will enable you to send a thank you note to each panel member after the interview.

Take Notes: Take notes during the interview on items you wish to follow up on, questions that arise, or aspects of the job you consider particularly important. Taking notes demonstrates interest, thoroughness, and attention. But don’t get so caught up in writing everything down that you neglect to make eye contact with your interviewer(s) or engage fully in the discussion.

Use Body Language to Your Advantage: Maintain polite and attentive body language at all times. Avoid fidgeting or constantly nodding. If you are in a panel interview, make eye contact with each person as you answer a question. Let your body language convey active interest, focused attention, and responsiveness to the moment at hand.

Be Yourself: Always answer questions truthfully and positively, whether verbally or on written applications.

Listen Carefully: Use active listening skills to be sure you’ve answered the question being asked rather than going off on an unrelated tangent.

Pace Yourself: Always take a deep breath before answering a question. This calming action steadies your voice and gives you an extra moment to think about your response.

Ask Questions: Be ready, when invited, to ask any questions you prepared ahead of time or that occurred to you during the interview. A few thoughtful questions will convey intellectual curiosity and insightfulness to an astute interviewer, so make the most of this opportunity to gather information and create a positive impression.

After The Interview

Say Thank You: It is good form to promptly send a thank you letter to each person who interviewed you. This letter should showcase your writing skills with brevity, simplicity, and sincerity. The letter should express your appreciation for the opportunity to be considered for the position, your pleasure in meeting the interviewer(s), and your active interest in the position. Many books and websites provide templates for such letters, but in composing your thank you note, avoid sounding generic and make the words your own. Before sending, proofread carefully to ensure that your letter is clearly written and error-free.

In most cases, sending your letter via regular mail (vs. e-mail) creates a more formal (and desirable) impression. However, if you have reason to believe that a hiring decision will be made within a day or two, cover your bases by e-mailing and snail-mailing your letter(s).