No matter how many job interviews you've been on, or how well you think on your feet, most people are rarely as prepared as they should be.
In fact, as the CEO of a recruiting firm, I've spent decades interviewing candidates, and I've seen even the most experienced candidates — with the most impressive resumes — make rookie mistakes that can easily destroy a first impression.
Here are five obvious things too many people forget to do before the big job interview:
1. Learn about the company's story, products and services
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People miss this one all the time: They go into an interview without a strong understanding of what the company does.
Just knowing the basics isn't enough. Learn all you can about the company — its history, leadership team, current successes and challenges. If possible, get the company's products and services: Buy them, try them and talk to people who use them.
And use your head in the interview. If you're meeting with PepsiCo and you're offered a beverage, don't ask for a Coke.
Greater knowledge about the company's customers will also help you present your skills and experiences in context. You'll appear more relevant to the hiring manager, and the more relevant you are, the better the connection you'll make.
2. Research who you're going to meet and prepare some icebreakers
When your interview is arranged, get the names and titles of everyone you'll meet. You can even ask the coordinator if there's anything they think you should know about those people.
The goal isn't just to research who they are, but to look for connection points, e.g., you both worked at the same company several years ago.
This will help you come up with some icebreakers. One candidate, for example, noticed my alma mater on my LinkedIn profile and said, "I see you went to USC. That was a great Rose Bowl game last year!"
If you can't find anything in the interviewer's profile, look for current themes. Maybe the company just announced a new product, or the CEO was recently on CNBC with positive news about the company.
Even a benign observation — e.g., "I see that the company just made an acquisition. This must be a very exciting and busy time" — can be an effective opener and conversation starter.
3. Have meaningful questions to ask
Midway into the interview, the hiring manager asks, "What questions can I answer for you?" Replying with "I'm good, thanks!" shows a lack of preparedness, interest and engagement.
Your questions should be smart and strategic, probing the job responsibilities and goals or how the department functions. The questions you ask also show the interviewer how you think.
Here are some examples of smart questions:
- Why is this position open?
- How can I contribute in ways that go beyond the job listing responsibilities?
- Can you give examples of people who previously held this role but were a bad fit? And why?
At the end of the interview, don't ask about "next steps." If you did well, the hiring manager will let you know soon enough.
Instead, tell them how much you love the company, enjoyed the conversation and are interested in the position.
4. Put your phone on silent
You'd be surprised by how many times I've seen this happen.
From the hiring manager's perspective, a phone going off during an interview is a short but lethal sin; it shows carelessness and a lack of respect.
Turn your phone off or put it on silent before you reach the front door of the building. Should you forget, and your phone pings a message or rings with an incoming call, never answer it.
5. Pick the right clothes and do a 'mirror check'
Don't procrastinate on this: Plan your outfit ahead of time. Try it on. Make sure it's clean, pressed and still fits.
Not every job interview requires professional attire, but you still should present yourself as well-groomed and put together. When in doubt, ask people in your network who currently, or used to, work at the company about what's considered appropriate. Sometimes the person arranging the interview will tell you.
The day of the interview, do a "mirror check" before you leave. Anything stuck in your teeth? Breath fresh? Hair combed? Shoes polished?
On the way to the interview, don't buy or bring anything that could spill on you. Just ask the guy who flew from Chicago to New York the morning of his interview. He ordered tomato juice; there was turbulence. You get the picture.
Gary Burnison is a best-selling author and the CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest global organizational consulting firm. His books include "Leadership U: Accelerating through the Crisis Curve," "Advance: The Ultimate How-to Guide for your Career," and "Lose the Resume, Land the Job." Follow Gary on LinkedIn.
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