Cents and Sensibility Dos and Seriously, Don'ts for Your Next Job Interview Mary Dacuma

These last few days, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing candidates for our summer internship program. It’s high season for young job hunters. Between new graduates, soon-to-be graduates and students on summer vacation, I am certainly not at a loss for applicants.

What I am at a loss for, unfortunately, are applicants who actually impress me. And it’s not just this round of applicants. Lately, I’m consistently surprised at the obvious mistakes some people make during their job search. According to U.S. News, I’m not the only one. Despite looking to hire even more new grads than in years past, employers are disappointed at the lack of preparation among their young candidates.

Luckily, the mistakes I’ve seen are wholly fixable. So here are some Dos and Don’ts (I’m serious, don’t) to keep in mind during your job search.

Your Cover Letter/Resume
Do: Have someone proofread these for you. Triple-check your cover letter before you send to make sure you have customized it to the right company. Saying that you are very interested in applying for the wrong position at the wrong place pretty much takes you out of the running.

I’ll be walking you through how to do a good cover letter next week if you need help with figuring out the content.

Don’t: Resend revised materials because you initially made a mistake. If it was a huge error, like sending the wrong cover letter, you probably aren’t going to get called in anyway. If you made a small error, cross your fingers and hope the recipient don’t notice. Sending a corrected version only highlights your mistake.

Your Punctuality
Do: Be on time. I don’t do this, but I know a few people who have said that if a candidate comes late, it’s over before the interview starts.

Don’t: Come too early, either. Too early is better than a little late. But if you come too early, you might catch your interviewer at a bad time. If he or she is flustered, things might not go as well for you. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview, and if you arrive with too much time to spare, sit in your car and mentally prep yourself.

Your Outfit
Do: Wear a suit. “Oh, but I hate suits!” Too bad. Wear a suit. If it’s super hot outside, carry the jacket so your prospective employer can tell that you tried to wear a suit. If the company culture is either super casual or always a la mode, you should still wear something suit-like. Even if your interviewer isn’t wearing a suit, you don’t work there yet and you need to look like you are trying to impress.

Don’t: Dress inappropriately. Err on the side of conservatism – close-toed shoes, knee-length hemlines, high-cut necklines, you get the idea. I’m sure you are fashionable people and you can figure out ways to look fabulous and professional. It’s not that employers are prudes. They just assume that during your interview, you are trying to put your best, most professional foot forward. Coming in wearing a deep V-neck or miniskirt makes them worry that once you are hired and comfortable, they will inevitably have to sit you down for this awkward conversation:

I know from experience that having the dress code talk is super-awkward for all parties involved. Employers like to avoid that at all costs, so present yourself in a way that guarantees no future issues.

Your Materials
Do: Bring a few extra copies of your resume and whatever materials they requested. If this isn’t your first job or your first job in a new industry, you can print these on nice paper and claim the costs come tax season. You may also want to have a list of your references handy and a detailed employment and residence history in case they need you to fill out a job application on the spot.

Don’t: Carry these materials in a torn up folder or a backpack or canvas tote. I know we’re all trying to be green, but this is not the time. Invest in a nondescript briefcase or executive bag. They have plenty at Target for $35 and under, including this one. Carry your materials in a plain folder or better yet, a leather portfolio.

Your Interview
Do: Watch your nonverbal cues. According to the Journal of Occupational Psychology by Ray J. Forbes and Paul R. Jackson, successful job applicants consistently engaged in direct eye contact, smiling and head nodding/shaking.

Don’t: Be negative. This means no trash talking your former position, company or coworkers. This also means no talking about what you won’t do. An aspiring administrative assistant once told me that she hated filing. All I could think was that if she ever was assigned to file, she would either resent doing it or avoid it entirely. Either way, it does not make for a happy, productive employee.

And in case you hadn’t heard it a million times already, don’t EVER bring up salary and benefits until after you’ve received the job offer.

Your Thank You Letter
Do: Send one within 24 hours. Want to know a secret? I immediately disqualify any interviewee that didn’t send me a thank you card. Sound harsh? I picked up the practice from many of my former bosses. I was always taught that a post-interview letter was all but mandatory. Yet in every batch of hopefuls, I get enough to count on one hand. If you need help writing this, I’ll cover this next week, as well.

Don’t: Only send a pretty, handwritten card unless you know you have time. Handwritten cards used to be a must; but in this digital age where decisions are made quickly, they are becoming impractical. I strongly suggest sending an email first and a handwritten card to supplement. This won’t make you look over-eager. It’s actually classy, thorough and impressive.

The job market for Milennials is already difficult enough. Don’t let simple, but glaring mistakes make things harder. I’ll cover these individual topics more deeply in the future. But follow these basic guidelines now and keep yourself from ending your job search before you really get started.

Image by Shutterstock

More in career advice:

>> Networking for Introverts

>> Performance Reviews: A Professional Growing Pain

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  1. First time I read decent ariclte on this site. Both parts and I 100% agree. Thank you Sam for your time.Вам кто-нибудь говорил что, например, приезжему инженеру нужно учиться с утра до вечера лет так пять-шесть чтобы потом можно было устроиться по специальности? It was my case. Word-to-word!

    Anonymous | 6/14/2012 09:06 pm
  2. Many thanks for this good advice :-)

  3. Hmm. Some good advice, but I can’t get over the fact that you would seriously judge someone’s ability to do the job well a) by whether they’re wearing something “suit like” (in this century, really?!) and b) if they send you a thank-you letter. How are they supposed to guess that you want them to send you a thank-you letter? They may be the best person in the world for the job, but think such a letter would make them seem too eager, thus deciding against it. It doesn’t have to be such a guessing game.

    Just my two cents.

    • It’s not a guessing game. Wear a suit and send a thank you letter. Nobody will know if you are the best person for the job if you don’t meet standard job interview expectations. And frankly, most people who reach the interview are qualified to do the job well. It’s just a matter of convincing the employer that you are the right choice. When you act professionally, which includes what you wear and how you follow up, you stand out.

  4. I would love cover letter advice! I’ve been job hunting for about a year (doing temp jobs in the meantime) and it’s so frustrating applying for jobs I know I am absolutely qualified for, only to not even get an interview. Could you also touch on what types of questions you think the candidate should ask during an interview?

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so candid and up front in expectations of an interviewee. I plan on reading and following this entire series. Should you ever run out of material, please consider writing about how we should conduct ourselves when our supervisor, or some other authority figure, overtly hates us and we are constantly showered with negativity and embarrassing scenarios. “How to handle stressful situations when your boss is an impossible to please jerk and treats you like an idiot without losing your cool” is an article I would print and memorize.

  6. I’ve never heard of sending a thank-you card after an interview! Is that a particularly US thing, or just something I’ve managed to miss in life?!

    • You know, I’m actually not sure if that’s common practice in other countries, since I’ve only ever lived in the U.S. However, I doubt it hurts your chances. The thank you card isn’t just a polite gesture. It’s also a way to remind the interviewer how interested you are and, in case they forgot, how incredibly qualified you are for the spot. It’s also a good time to mention things you may not have been able to note in the interview. But that’s a good question!

  7. This is very timely! I happen to have a job interview in a few hours!

  8. Thank you!! :)

  9. super!

    • To Tanya:Не правда! Если у человека уже есть диплом учиться не нужно, тем более 5-6 лет.Did you come to Canada 22 years ago barely over 20 y.o.? If your ansewr is no then don’t say Не правда! Don’t exclaim it and leave some room for doubt.One thing if long time grad had successful engineering career in Russia, accredited 10 or more of filed/office work related experience. Then, yes. Most likely you will be asked to take A/B tech examinations, Engineering Economics or FE exam which cancels now A/B and EE. Again it’s up to the board to decide on case-by-case study.From the other hand, if you settled as non-experienced grad from somewhere with basic studies yet not rusted you might as well go back to text books and get education you need for the market.I don’t believe that education and work ethics are competent enough in Russia. I knew some Russians overwhelmed and burnt out on engineering work because they weren’t prepared mentally to do 150% more than they used to do back home. Sadly, but every time am trying to push some eastern Europeans resumes forward, the ansewr I’m getting: those people are just a headaches . Not that I’m agree with that. It’s like to drive the same car for 20 years then got a new one and yet still wining about your old crap.

      Anonymous | 6/12/2012 12:06 am
  10. Thank a lot for all those tips…

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