Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shoes, Phones and Backpacks: What They're Really Looking at During Your Job Interview

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a real kick out of spending time recently with college students about to enter the job market. But it got me to thinking that no matter how many "rules" I provide about networking and resumes and other stuff, there are always those tricky little things that can trip you up if no one tells you. And believe me, the stuff I'm about to reveal often isn't discussed out loud. It's not that it's some dark, little secret, but it is so subtle that it's often not talked about as much.

So, here are the 10 things you should know when you're entering the job market:

1.They look at your shoes. You need professional-looking shoes. Not the 4-inch stilettos. Not the pseudo-dress shoes that are a cross between a sneaker and a loafer. Not shoes that have a broken shoelace that you've knotted back together. Real shoes that you've practiced walking in so that you don't resemble a giraffe on stilts.

2. Your hair is a problem. If you have Zac Efron hair, get it cut or at least use some kind of super glue to keep it out of your face. If you are female and wear it deeply parted on one side so that you're constantly doing this weird side head sweep to keep it out of your eyes, get the same super glue. If any part of your hair is the color of Kool-Aid, get rid of it.

3. Sit up straight. Slouching when sitting in a chair makes you look like a sullen teenager. Always sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Slumping makes you look bored -- and a possibly even a little stupid.

4. Ditch the backpack. If you're carrying the backpack you schlepped to school, it probably is not only dirty, but smells. Plus, it makes you look like you're headed to class. You want to look like you're headed to a job. You don't have to have an expensive satchel, but get one that is clean and streamlined. And don't put any buttons or stickers on it.

5. Don't play with your phone. While you may know enough to mute your phone during an interview, you also can't even look at it. Don't try to discreetly check it when someone texts you and don't hold onto it like it's your binky. Put it away so you're not even tempted.

6. Put on a watch. A huge pet peeve for many employers is employees who are late or who otherwise can't adhere to a schedule. Even if you don't look at it, wearing a watch shows that you're at least aware of the time. (Make sure it's professional looking -- no Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse watches.)

7. Use formal forms of address. When meeting someone for the first time, always say "Ms." or "Mr." unless invited to do otherwise. This includes the receptionist, the office manager and the person who sorts the mail. These people often are asked for their impression of you, so if the only thing they can say about you is that you were respectful -- that's a big plus for you.

8. Know you're always being watched. Don't litter in the parking lot, fail to hold the door open for someone else when you enter the building or throw paper towels on the floor in the bathroom. Read industry materials while waiting.

9. Avoid eating and drinking. If you carry coffee or a drink with you into an interview, it's a distraction and can make you appear too casual. Don't eat something while waiting for your interview -- it can give you bad breath and you risk getting something stuck between your teeth or crumbs on your clothes. (And the receptionist will notice if you're a sloppy eater.) When you're further into the interviewing process, you may be invited to have a meal, but in the beginning stages just focus on the questions, not your latte.

10. They pay attention when you leave. Did you say "thank you"? Did you shake hands? Did you smile, make eye contact and tell the receptionist goodbye or hurry away? Were you on the phone or texting or taking off your jacket and loosening your tie before your feet hit the exit? Did you pick up some company brochures on your way out? Remember, your last impression is often the most lasting. Make sure it's one that they will recall as professional and positive.

What are some other subtle tips to make a good impression?


GinnySkal said...

I'm not always good with names (particularly when I'm nervous). So I make it a point to look up all the managers on a website before the interview (*bonus if they have pictures) and remember the names. That way when they tell me their name in person, I have a visual memory of seeing it on the website and I'm apt to remember it. Often you meet several layers of management in an interview, so this has been very helpful for me.

Of course, I have taken it a step further and Googled the people I know who are going to be interviewing me. That way I know some facts about their past. It can come in handy during an awkward silence (like when you're waiting in a hallway to be introduced to someone else who is on a phone) to be able to pull out something like: "So I saw you used to be an editor at the Miami Post, did you work with so-and-so".

Glenn S. Phillips said...

Wear clothes that fit reasonably well and are not too out of date. Your suit should not look like it was borrowed from your parent or was what you wore to a wedding 8 years ago when you were 2 sizes smaller.

Ladies, if your nail polish is goth, hot pink, trashy red, orange or any other color or design then you'll look like you just left junior high cheerleader practice or detention. Get a mature, reasonably calm polish with good nail care.

Piercings. Sorry, except of one or two pairs of modest ear rings for the ladies, if you can see them then they have to go. Oh, and for the ear rings, go with modest studs. Ear rings that swing are very distracting too and not for reasons that will help you get a job.

Gentlemen, your socks need to match and cover your leg. No skin should be visible when you sit or if you appropriately cross your leg in the waiting area.

No noticeable perfumes, colognes, or body sprays. No one should be able to smell you from a normal "professional space" distance. Just be clean. Your interviewer may have an allergy and even if they don't, it is likely someone in the work environment does.

Bring a pen. It can be very nice or even a cheap, simple pen. Just don't have one with freaky colors or sizes that looks like you are in 3rd grade again.

Want to be different and look like a serious professional.... go to vista print and order free business cards that are simple in design with your current name, email and cell phone number. Address is okay but not required. Now, don't just hand these out. Wait and if someone you are meeting with during the interview process hands you there card, then give them one of yours. Look like the professional you want to be. Don't make a big deal about it. Just give it to them. Even if they toss it, they'll remember it.

Anita said...

Terrific suggestions! If I might expand a bit...if you see a name and you're not sure how to pronounce it, call the company ahead of time and ask the operator to say it for you. As someone who constantly has her last name mangled, I appreciate someone who says it correctly the first time!

Anita said...

These are wonderful additions to this to this list, and really in the spirit of what I was trying to say: It's the little things that can add up to a lot. Paying attention to the details you've stated is so important. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I think this is a great list and forwarded it to my Twitter followers. Totally comprehensive. Thanks for pulling it all together!

Anita said...

Many thanks! I hope they find it useful.

Stephanie Biscomb said...

I beg to differ on the nail polish colour choice. Considering recent trends, I'd think bright red is ok. However, make sure they're the correct length. I still have nightmares over the length of a United Airlines assistant'a nails I once got. She even had trouble typing into the computer.

Anita said...

I think maybe the red nail polish should only be used in more "trendy" a job in fashion, or some creative type job. I'd rather err on the side of safety, and wait until you've got the job before doing bringing out the red nail polish...and then only if other top performers use it. I do agree that the long nails aren't a good looks more professional and modern to keep them a neat length.
Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Joy said...

Great suggestions; I'll offer one more: No gum.

Anita said...

Great one! Let's expand it to: no gum, no mints, no toothpicks, straws, etc.

David Benjamin said...

Awesome list, great writing.

Others I'm not sure I saw:
1) No perfume
2) Close for the next step in the process
3) Try to smile, but not in a smirky way

Anita said...

Yes, no smirking! If you're not sure if you do that, think of your mom and if she's ever said, "Wipe that smirk off your face!" If so, work on getting rid of it!

Robert Hruzek said...

"... and don't hold onto it like it's your binky." My pet peeve in ANY situation!

Also, get the opinion of a truly TRUSTED friend on this one: your laugh. If you laugh like a hyena, you might want to rethink it a bit.

Anita said...

Good point about the phone. I've actually even seen people suck on the phone antenna...must have been what put the "binky" image in my mind! Love your idea about the "laugh"...!