Sometimes old things need rehashing. Some pieces of advice seem so properly basic, so commonsensical, that we may not think they deserve our time. But there are others among us who would be well served by some 101 preliminaries in an area that we have probably all experienced: job interviews. I’ve experienced some tremendous interviews with high-capacity candidates, while others left me scratching my head asking, “Did that just really happen?” Here are a few tips (not an exhaustive list) on how to handle yourself in an interview process...
- Be. On. Time.
Never be late. Ever. For most high-energy, driven leaders, to be late to a job interview is a borderline unpardonable sin. It says you’ve not been able to master the most rudimentary lesson of maturity: showing up. Showing up late is disrespecting everyone else’s time. Too harsh? Think about it this way: if you’re late to a job interview, you’re essentially saying that other things took priority over your previous commitment to meet your prospective boss at the agreed upon time. It is to say your time is more valuable than your host’s. Even if your resume says you shine brightly in other areas, they’ll be wondering if you’re chronically inconsistent. “But I’m a free spirit!” Your interviewer may agree and wish you the best to spread your wings unfettered by restrictive deadlines and weighty projects…just not as an employee of their organization.
- Look at yourself in the mirror before leaving the house or hotel.
Even if the website says something like “Come as you are” or “Casual work environment,” remember that you are interviewing as a potential leader/employee rather than as a parishioner or customer. You represent the organization. One time a prospective team member showed up to an interview dressed in a t-shirt, old jeans, and a baseball cap. Remember, you’re applying for a job, not making a 2 a.m. donut run to your local Walmart. Granted, there are churches or businesses that are expressly very casual. Not a thing in the world wrong with that, but casual doesn’t mean sloppy. Let the leader set the dress code. Never try to do it yourself.
- Answer questions: Don’t dance around them.
It’s likely that your prospective employer is familiar with the “rope-a-dope” common in political discourse. It’s where the candidate doesn’t directly answer questions but attempts to redirect to what he or she feels comfortable talking about. While it may be an effective method of parrying partisan shots, it can be disastrous in an interview. Why? It reveals a lack of respect for the person asking the question. Saying “I don’t know” is a far better response than to insult the questioner’s intelligence by throwing out a half-baked red herring. Also, as a side note, look your interviewer in the eyes. Not an unnerving “I’m going to hold my gaze longer than you hold yours” but a genuine “I care about what you’re saying or believe deeply what I’m saying” sort of eye-contact. It’s rather shocking how rare this happens in interviews.
- Don’t use questions as an excuse to tell your life story.
If you like to talk, shift it down a gear or two before the interview. If people have told you that you’re a talker, seriously pray before the interview. If you’re asked a simple question and it ends with your entire life story or the unabridged chronicles of how you met your spouse, it's unlikely to amuse your possible boss. The response should answer the question rather than unleash a torrent of verbal minutia that would cause even an IRS agent to duck for cover. It’s not a bad thing to talk about your experiences, but remember that they’re probably more interesting to you than to other people. This especially applies in a job interview. If the question asks for details then give them…within reason. Appropriately watering a plant and flooding the entire countryside are two different things altogether.
- Express genuine gratitude to your host.
Did they treat you to lunch? Reserve you a hotel room? Give you the time of day? If so, then clearly express your gratitude for any level of consideration they've given you. This will demonstrate your maturity and emotional awareness. Graciously thanking them for their time shows respect. Expressing gratitude goes beyond simply noticing how the world works: you’re genuinely thankful for them as a person. You’re seeking to encourage them regardless of how the job interview turns out. You’re taking the high road. Period. Something like, “I know you have a lot on your plate. Thanks so much for sharing some of your valuable time with me. Tell your team/family I said “Thanks!”” can do nothing but help you. Humility opens doors. Pride burns bridges.