It’s interview day. You’re dressed to the nines and you’ve followed every tidbit of advice you could glean from business magazines and your peers. You walk into the conference room and, even though the air conditioning is cranked, you’re sweating. If you only knew what the interviewer was thinking.
Surprise. The first thought that often crosses an interviewer’s mind isn’t likely to be about how you’re dressed – unless you’re wearing a pants suit last seen in the 1970s flick Saturday Night Fever.
"We’re praying that you’re going to be the right person for the job," says Cathy Fyock, the director of recruiting for consultant Resources Global Professionals, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., and author of five books including The Truth About Hiring the Best. "We’ve probably already talked to lots and lots of candidates. What we really want is for the next person who walks through the door to be the right one."
That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook by any means, so don’t get all laid back about your clothes. Because, "the next thought is about how the interviewee is dressed," says Fyock. "We are looking for someone who looks like a professional."
Too often, candidates – particularly those who are unemployed – appear for an interview wearing less-than-appropriate clothing. "We’ve had people come in wearing flip flops and worn out, frayed pajama pants," says Sandy Allgeier, a former corporate HR executive and author of The Personal Credibility Factor. "What we’re thinking is, if you can’t make a good judgment call when it comes to interview attire, chances are you might not make good judgment calls all around."
And while business casual might be company policy, an interview is not the place for khakis. "People aren’t dressing as formally for interviews as they did 15 or 20 years ago, but that’s a mistake," Allgeier says. "Look as polished and professional as you have the ability to look."
Next, the interviewer is looking for a candidate who’s done his or her homework. "I’m appalled at the number of people who come for an interview that haven’t even gone to the companyÂ¿s Web site," Fyock says. "It’s inexcusable."
She recommends candidates identify issues and trends in the industry. "You need to do a lot of thinking in advance of an interview," she explains. "Go over the job posting and brainstorm the kinds of competencies the hiring manager is looking for, from attention to detail and communication skills to an ability to lead or be a team player. Then, think about your achievements on the job and how they link to those qualities."
Don’t Be Late
"Being late is simply unacceptable," Allgeier warns. "Interviewers don’t get over the fact that you’re running behind, even if there is a major accident on the freeway. People who are serious about a job scope out the location in advance – two hours or even the day before," she adds. "When you do that extra legwork, not only are you on time for the interview, but you’re not all stressed out when you get there."
Finally, if there’s bad blood between you and your current or past employers, keep it to yourself. "DonÂ¿t badmouth your past supervisors, employers or coworkers," Fyock says.
She recalls an interview where she asked the candidate to describe a conflict he’d had at his current place of employment. "He told me three stories, and every case had ended up in a lawsuit," she says. That was the kiss of death. "I’m not about to hire someone with conflict management issues – someone who is potentially going to sue my organization."
Amy Rauch Neilson is a business writer based in Belleville, Mich.