The old saying goes that “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and there’s no place that’s truer than in a job interview. While some of these tips about making a fantastic impression may sound basic, they’re essential for good reason: They’re an instant indicator of professionalism and respect.
1. Arrive early, not just on time.
I can tell you firsthand as a recruiter that I’ve had director-level candidates show up late—and it was cause enough for them to be eliminated from consideration. You never know when the person doing the interviewing is on a very tight schedule, or simply correlates punctuality with professionalism. One smart strategy is to do a practice drive to the location a few days in advance to see how long it takes and verify that your GPS is correct—and then give yourself extra time in case something unexpected comes up. It’s also a good opportunity to assess the parking lot. I recently received feedback from a candidate who arrived in plenty of time, but then had difficulty finding an open space!
2. Dress professionally.
In the age of video interviews and increasing numbers of casual offices, this one’s a little trickier than meets the eye. Let’s address video interviews first, because I’ve been seeing lots of Skype and FaceTime over the past two years. The reason a company does a video interview is, bottom line, they want to see your appearance. A sweatshirt, pajamas, or bedhead are going to be an instant turnoff—and I’ve seen people wearing a shirt and tie or nice blouse, and wow, does that do wonders to make them look serious about the job. In-person interviews can be a bit more complicated, because of the wide range of policies in different industries and companies; while you’d better wear a suit to a bank, that’s probably overkill at a tech or construction company. The rule of thumb is to err on the side of being overdressed—it’s better to look a little dorky than appear not to have taken the interview seriously or like you’re going to the beach. Tip: You can often get a sense of culture from photos on a company’s website. (Or, if you’ve done a practice drive, observe how people are dressed coming in and out of the building.)
3. Do your research.
It’s an easy task for companies to eliminate candidates who don’t ask enough questions or don’t ask good questions. Be forewarned, the types of questions you ask should be related to their business or recent events that might affect it, not about personal items such as vacation policy. The internet makes it so easy to do research, there’s really no excuse to be unprepared. You’re showing that you care, and that will set you above other candidates.
4. Speak positively about past employers.
Sure, you’ve had a bad experience or maybe got laid off, but the last thing an interviewer is going to want to hear is something negative. Prepare to talk about two or three things in advance so that you can speak positively about what you learned while you were there, no matter how justified you would be to talk negatively.
5. Follow up with a thank-you note.
It’s somewhat amazing to me how many job candidates neglect this simple but important courtesy. Don’t overthink it, and do it at your earliest opportunity when you are back home. Just a short, sweet email to thank the interviewer for their time, express interest in the job, and reaffirm why you’re perfect for the position can set you apart—especially if you’re the only one who does it. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can also send a handwritten note, but the prompt email is really the key here.
Even the most outstanding resume and raving references can’t overcome getting the basics right at the interview stage. Follow the steps above, and next thing you know, that job offer will be coming through.