Mary Kate:

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the interview process for jobs, school, and internships because of my recent experience job searching. Though I’ve talked to friends and family members about interviews I’ve had, I still always wonder a few things: What are employers looking for when they conduct an interview? Is each company different or is everyone looking for the same basic skills and personality traits? Does it matter whether I wear a suit or not? I don’t consider myself an expert on professional interviews, but I would like to share some advice about what worked for me.

Dress Well
I know this seems obvious but I can’t tell you how much I believe in this one simple rule. I’ve been to interviews at companies where two or three other potential hires were also waiting to be interviewed and I’ve observed the differences between someone who is neatly dressed and someone who is sloppy. I do believe that employers take into account how you present yourself for an interview: your clothes, expression, and confidence. You don’t have to buy a new wardrobe for a professional or even school-related or internship interview, but if you look nice and neat I think it can go a long way. If you look put together, you look confident, and if you look confident, you look able and willing to take on the challenges of a new career.

Be Friendly
Now, I know all of you are friendly! But in an interview setting there is a way to be both friendly and professional. While interviewing for my current position, after the formal questions were over and I had asked the questions I wanted to ask, I noticed one of my interviewers had a picture of a Boston Terrier on her desk. I said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing, but do you have a Boston Terrier?” She immediately relaxed and we talked for a few minutes about our love of Bostons. I felt like I connected with the hiring manager, even if only for a split second and even if it was only about something silly. In that situation, we were both able to shake off the formality while still remaining professional, and we both felt more comfortable for it.

Ask Questions
I think this may be more important than many people realize: familiarize yourself with the position for which you are interviewing. Read enough about it to generate some questions, even if you just want to know what a typical day is like doing that particular job. I’ve read in countless articles online that you should research the company before and look up at least five things on their website that you can formulate a question about; I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that memorizing a piece of information from a company’s website just for the sake of it helps you in the long run. What will help you is asking about specific details concerning the position: ask about the dynamic in the office, what the work is like, who you will be talking to/working with on a daily basis. These are the things that you really want to know, anyway, right?

Be Yourself
For me, I didn’t find it helpful to give those “correct” answers you see all over the internet and in books for common interview questions. They sounded robotic and I knew I wouldn’t stand out answering questions that way. I believe a lot of them are good, solid answers, but when I was asked questions I sat back, took a few seconds to calm down and think it through, then answered confidently and, more importantly, honestly. I was honest about how I felt my past work and school experiences, what I want to do with my life, how I would respond to potential problems I encounter in a day. And I found that my interviews went much more smoothly as a result because most interviewers want to follow up with questions about the answers you’ve given already. Because I was honest and open, I could answer those questions easily as well.

Eat Something
This probably sounds silly, but it’s one of the most important things you can do! Eat about an hour before your interview–don’t stuff yourself and don’t just have a granola bar. I went on an interview that lasted close to three hours because I met with different people, completed a proofreading test, etc. and it began around 11 am. I, of course, didn’t eat lunch before and the whole office must have heard my stomach growling that day. Plus, I was uncomfortable and, eventually, downright impatient. I would definitely say do not forget this because you want to be your most confident, comfortable self in an interview setting.

I hope this short list helps someone out there. I liked to keep my interviews as low-stress as possible so that I would be comfortable; this way, I’d remember the interview instead of my own nervousness. Each person is different, though, and it’s important to remember to do what makes you most relaxed.

Photo credit
This picture is intimidating–do you think this is the way to do well in an interview? If you’ve had experience as an interviewer or an interviewee, do you have any advice for others looking to transition into a new career?