Q: I am not an expert in HR but I have been hiring recent college grads and am appalled by the lack of professionalism and lack of respect that I have observed during our hiring processes. Can you publish some guidelines for college grads to review before they begin interviewing for jobs? It seems like no one has ever told them how to behave during the interview process.
A: Well, there are college grads who “get it.” I have even hired a few recently for clients! However, I have seen the same lack of professionalism that you have seen in some candidates as well. Let me offer some guidance:
1. The interview starts before the interview. What does that mean?
a. Research the company. College grads are expected to have a basic understanding of the company’s business model, clients and strategy.
b. If you know anyone at the company, it is worth calling or emailing that contact. Check LinkedIn.
c. Invest in your wardrobe. Most of us don’t have to buy a $1000 suit but professional dress is important. For most interviews, leave controversial accessories at home — nose rings, flashy earrings, purple shoes, etc. The focus should be on your skills, work experience and value, not on what you are wearing.
d. Your Facebook page. Lots of jobseekers get angry at me when I ask how they would feel about a potential employer viewing their Facebook page. Of course, most prospective employers are going to look at this page. Either make it private or remove the R-rated photos and comments.
e. Take the telephone interview seriously. Have your resume in front of you. Be prepared with a few questions that demonstrate interest in the role and/or the company. Be on time for a telephone interview just as you would for an in person interview.
f. Be ready for the interview. Have a few meaningful accomplishments ready to discuss. Be prepared to discuss your strengths and weaknesses. Lead with your strengths. Present the positives in your background. Be authentic and use your own words. Avoid clichés that sound too well-rehearsed.
g. Make sure that your resume is crisp, readable and error-free.
h. Can you get there and arrive on time? Do a test-run if you are unsure. Build in extra time for traffic, weather and/or other hassles. Don’t guess!
i. Have your professional references typed up and ready to go. Make sure that you have contacted each one to let them know that you wish to provide their info as a reference.
2. The interview.
a. Arrive a few minutes early, 10-15 minutes ideally. Don’t complain about the traffic, the elevator, the parking or the guard at the front desk. Have your license or other form of identification with you. Some parking garages and buildings require visitors to present a license or other identification before entering the building.
b. Bring along a few extra hard copies of your resume.
c. Look crisp, polished and professional, including your accessories. Don’t carry along a backpack from your high school years.
d. Have a strong, confident handshake. Don’t give a limp handshake to men or women.
e. Maintain good eye contact. It is ok to look away once and a while. Staring can become uncomfortable too.
f. Turn off your phone or other buzzing/ringing electronic items. Don’t even think about checking your phone or other handheld device during the interview.
g. Be candid but lead with your strengths. If asked, offer a weakness but follow up with how you have strived to work on that weakness. Explain that you are open to feedback and you understand that feedback is part of the development process. Be prepared with good examples of some of your work-related accomplishments.
h. Be a good listener. Use active listening skills. No chewing gum!
i. Taking notes demonstrates that you are serious and interested.
j. Ask for a business card. You will want to thank that person for their time.
k. Never leave an interview without knowing the next steps. When can you contact them? Who should be your contact? What is the expected timeline for extending an offer?
3. After the interview.
a. Assess your performance. What did you do well? What didn’t you do well? What can you do better next time? Your first interview will probably not be flawless. That is ok. Learn from that experience.
b. Send a thank you email, note or letter. Which one? You will need to assess how they have communicated with you thus far? If they are a law firm, consider a formal letter. If they are a technology start-up, an email is probably fine.
c. Follow up. It shows interest and professionalism.
d. Be gracious even if you don’t receive an offer. It is a very small world. You never know you will be sitting next to on an airplane or at a Red Sox game.
In the end, as humans, we all learn from our mistakes, errors and missteps. Learn from those mistakes and improve your next performance.