job interview tips

(Note: I originally wrote this in 2001 when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Rescued from the Internet Archive, posting here for posterity.)

As part of my job, I get to interview a number of the people who my company is recruiting.  I have noticed some patterns of things some recruits do, and I've compiled a list of do's and don't's for people who are going through interviews.  These are my own personal observations and tips, and in no way reflect upon my employer's hiring practices.
  • My number one tip:  Use some common sense when answering the interviewer's questions.  For example, if the interviewer asks you if you think you would like living in the geographic area of the prospective job, the correct answer is always, "yes."  Under no circumstances is the correct answer to that question "no," even if you cannot imagine yourself living in that city.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been astounded at the answers that I have been given to some basic questions, because the recruit did not use some common sense and think about what the appropriate answer to my question would be.  I'm not suggesting that you make up substantive answers to substantive questions.  I'm merely suggesting that some common sense will take you a long way. 
  • My number two tip:  Try to relax.  When I interview someone, I just want to talk with them.  I'm not looking for a magic answer, or the "right answer" (apart from common sense answers).  In an interview, I just want to have a conversation about the job they are applying for.  When people get overly nervous, or when they are focusing on trying to analyze my question to determine what the "right" answer is, they loose their ability to have a conversation, because they are thinking too hard about what they "should" say, or what they think I want to hear.  And then they don't get a good review, because from my perspective, they are unable to have a simple conversation.  The ability to communicate well is probably the number one skill employers are looking for.  If you appear to lack that ability, finding a job will be difficult.
  • My number three tip:  Do not speak negatively about anything.  Always put a positive spin on the topic being discussed.  Example:  "Yes, my plane was delayed for 5 hours, but it gave me the chance to catch up on some reading, which is one of my hobbies."
  • My number four tip:  Dress the part.  Find out what the employees wear, and wear similar clothes.  My office is "business casual," and recruits who come in wearing a suit are overdressed.  Ask your recruiting coordinator or H.R. contact what the appropriate attire is, and dress accordingly.  Don't be afraid to as your H.R. contact questions like this.  That is what they are there for, so use them as a resource.
  • Do not use any foul language during any part of the interview.  It is never appropriate.
  • Do not ever talk about drug use during an interview.
  • Do not ever talk about the stupid things you did in high school or in your college fraternity.
  • At a dinner interview, do not order alcohol unless your host does.  Even if your host does, it is better not to order alcohol at all.
  • Follow-up with a thank you letter, or at least an e-mail.  The decision whether to hire you or not will have most likely already been made by the time the letters are received, but they are a very classy touch.
  • Always have at least one question to ask at the end of the interview, even if you ask all the interviewers the same question.  A good question to ask is, "What is your typical day like?"  Not only will this fill up a lot of time, but the interviewer will probably like bragging about how exciting his typical day is, and it will give you some insight into what working there will be like.
  • Make sure you have spelled the name of the company correctly on your cover letter.  I once saw a letter addressed to "Price Waterhouse Coopers & Lybrand."  It should have been "PricewaterhouseCoopers".  Anyone could have figured that out from the company's website.
  • Don't be afraid to use your H.R. contact.  Most large companies have an H.R. person whose sole job is to deal with entry-level or experienced-level recruiting.  They get paid to work with you - so use them to help you prepare for the interview.  What type of clothing is appropriate; who will I be interviewing with; what are those people's job titles; how soon will a decision be made; can you tell me about the benefits; etc.  The more interest you show in working at the company, the better your chances.
  • Many companies make use of behavioral interview questions.  These are questions like, "Tell me about a time you worked well with a difficult team?" or "Tell me about a time you were given a difficult project to accomplish, and how did you approach it?"  The theory is that these questions are good predictors of candidates' future actions.  You should think about these questions, and what your answers to them would be, so that when they are asked, you have a prepared answer.  You can find a list of these questions in any one of many books about interview skills.
  • When people are nervous, and especially in interviews, they tend to hear a question, and they are so eager to respond and say the right thing, they jump right in with an answer.  I would encourage you to listen to the question, take a breath while you think about a response, and then respond. When you talk, keep the answers relatively short. A few sentences to answer and explain, and then turn it back to the interviewer.  You don't want to ramble.
  • If the company hosts a "meet and greet" with an open bar, don't drink more than one alcoholic drink.

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