Why is it that something we do every day with evident ease can strike terror into our hearts when it’s given a different name? Context, it seems, is everything. And when a “conversation” goes by the name “interview,” that is the rub. The best interviews, however, never feel like an interview.
Job interviews can be pressure-filled and scary situations. But it helps if you think of an interview as a form of conversation, an opportunity to connect with another person who is interested in you and your background. Let’s talk about how to put an interview in its proper place so you can thereby manage to take the “scary” out of the situation.
Get the Needed Logistics
In preparing to apply for the job, you did your research on the firm—which, at least in part, is how you landed an interview. But when they call, you are so happy to have nabbed the interview that you forget to get all the logistics for the big day. Don’t feel foolish—call back.
To help eliminate panic on the actual day, you may need to ask more questions than you think. Consider details like these.
■ Particulars on the office location. This doesn’t just mean the street address—it also means the office suite, security protocols and the parking situation. Nothing is more jarring than getting to the site and learning you have to jump through unanticipated hoops to get to the actual location where an interviewer awaits you.
■ Time and numbers. Presumably you know when you are supposed to be there, but it’s helpful to know approximately how long the interview will last. This can tell you whether or not you are in an early-screening process or are the only interviewee. It’s also useful to learn how many people you will be talking to, whether there will be multiple interviews, and if you are talking with people one-on-one or in a group. Find out if you can get a list of the names of all the people you are meeting with, too.
■ Miscellaneous need-to-knows. Is there anything else you need to know? Should you, for example, bring extra copies of your resume, writing samples, a printout of your list of references? Is the employer’s building accessible by the regular route—or is that bridge over the river next to the building closed? You would be amazed at the information people forget to share with you that can rattle your actual approach.
The more information that you can get before the interview, the better prepared you will feel on the big day. Conducting a Google search on the interviewees’ names, reading their LinkedIn profiles and even taking a dry run to the location are all ways to make the actual day of the interview less stressful—and more like the conversation that you would be comfortable having.
Suit Up—Mentally and Physically
A job interview is a conversation for which we get dressed up—both physically and mentally. Even if the person conducting the interview is clearly younger or less experienced than you, it is a conversation in which that person is at least initially in charge, and you need to show you respect the interviewer in your dress and attitude.
It is still the case that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So here are tips on preparing to present your best side.
■ Suit yourself. Even if the prospective employer maintains a business-casual dress code, wear a suit to the interview, unless expressly instructed not to. Dressing in full business attire also helps with your mental preparation because the outfit reminds you to sit up straight, speak clearly, talk in complete sentences and avoid slang. Seriously.
■ Prepare your stories. Interviews are really about preparing a series of work-related anecdotes that illustrate your skills and your work ethic. Look closely at the job description for desired experience and technical skills, and think about how you can demonstrate them when discussing your past experience. Then look at the personal and work characteristics the employer is seeking and recall times and ways in which you have demonstrated these at work, or perhaps in community, volunteer or educational settings.
■ Take stock of your absolutes. These are things you want to get across “no matter what.” Even though sometimes interviewers fail to ask the questions that will get to your best assets, you can in fact tell people things during an interview regardless of whether you have been asked about them. So if you find that time is drawing to a close and you haven’t had a chance to share your top successes, figure out how you will fit them in before the conversation concludes.
Beware of Oversharing: Topics to Avoid
It comes as a constant surprise to me that people discuss very personal and sometimes inappropriate things in job interviews. Often it is a result of the candidate failing to remember that this is, in fact, a job interview no matter how long it lasts or how informal it may appear. Here are a few topics that you should avoid at all costs in a job interview.
■ Personal relationships. Steer clear of discussing your significant other or spouse. Unfortunately, a significant other may be more off-limits than a spouse, since it may get the employer thinking about what could happen if the relationship ends, if you might consider moving to marry, or if you might bring your relationship issues to work. And any personal war stories about relationships past or present are just Too Much Information.
At the same time, getting into issues about what your spouse does for a living, how busy your children keep you, or plans to have children can be a problem, too. This is not to say that, as a candidate, you don’t want a general gauge of how people perceive family-related issues in this firm, or whether it seems to be a family-friendly environment. But during an interview, you don’t want to talk about things that aren’t focused on your job capabilities and commitment.
■ Personal finances. I’ll never forget the story I heard about a summer law clerk discussing his financial woes on a long drive to a deposition. The partner who was driving thought that the information shared indicated bad judgment on the clerk’s part, both in getting into the financial difficulty and in sharing that information during what was essentially a summer-long employment interview. Before the ride was over so were the clerk’s future employment prospects with the firm. How could the financial wherewithal of the firm’s clients be entrusted to someone who couldn’t manage his own affairs?
■ Politics and religion. Many parents warn against discussing these two areas at dinner parties or on first dates. The same applies to job interviews. While your resume may include information about your involvement in one or both of these areas, it doesn’t mean that you should discuss the content of your belief systems during an interview. If there is something on your resume about politics or religion, it should be there because it relates to your pro bono work, your practice area, your volunteer activities or your role as a candidate for public office.
■ Flaws and irrelevant viewpoints. Some people tend to over-talk when they’re nervous or uncomfortable, and if you’re one of those people you might be inclined to ramble in an interview setting. But strive your hardest to avoid talking about what you aren’t good at, or offering your too-extensive point of view on current topics or the legal profession. This doesn’t mean failing to respond to questions that are asked but rather knowing when to say when.
Getting to Yes
Ultimately, job interviews are about two things—can and will—or said differently, capability and motivation. Consequently, you need to make a convincing argument first for possessing the right experience, training and background, and second for being the kind of person who steps up and gets the work done.
So remember to get to the question behind each question during the interview—and don’t save all of your questions until the end. One of the best ways to make this interview seem more like a conversation is to develop a give-and- take with the interviewer. Asking good questions generates a sense of engagement and curiosity—two qualities that any employer is looking for.
If you follow some of these guidelines, not only will the interview seem more like a conversion, it might just win you the job.