You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
After your resume, the interview is the most important aspect of any job hunt. You have about 30 seconds to make the right impression with the employer. Though most people won't say so out loud - first impressions are lasting impressions, and a bad one could cost you a job that you would be perfect for!
Preparing in advance can help lower your stress level as well as help you perform better during at the interview. Here are some key steps to help prepare for a successful interview:
1 - You need to prepare
Research the company to learn as much as you can. Use the information to demonstrate your knowledge and interest during the interview. The Internet is a great resource to help you find out. Check out their website, do a Google search, and don't forget the websites of your local newspapers to see if this company has made any headlines lately.
Rehearse. Practice your facial expression, eye contact, handshake and body language. Review likely interview questions and practice answering them. If you can, find someone to role play the interview with you and give you feedback about how you're doing. This will help you to answer these sorts of questions professionally and without sounding like you've memorized it. If no-one is available for you to practice with, read in front of the mirror, and watch yourself answer. Yes, you'll feel silly, but it's a great way to really smooth out any wrinkles in your answers.
The Interview is the most important thing you have on that day. Some employers may spend most of a day with you, have you meet a number of people, tour their facility, take screening tests and other activities. Other employers may get right down to business and you can be in and out inside an hour. However, you do not know which kind of interview you will have in advance, so you do not want to feel rushed, or to leave the impression you have more important things to do than participate in the interview.
Dress as if you already work there. Men usually wear ties, dress shoes and often a sports coat. Women always wear hosiery and dress shoes. Stay away from trendy looks, go with classic conservative. Avoid displaying anything that may take attention away from your skills and qualifications -- tattoos, nose rings, loud makeup, etc. -- unless you are interviewing at a place where managers, employees and customers alike dress in that style.
Go alone. Don't bring a friend or relative. It may sound obvious, but it's been known to happen. If someone needs to drive you to the interview, leave him or her outside the building. Arrange to meet after the interview. There is only one exception to this: if you require a person with you as an accommodation of your disability (eg a seeing mobility support person, or someone who will read/write for you on any preemployment screening tests). In that case it is perfectly acceptable to bring in this person, however, you may want to alert the interviewer in advance so they can prepare adequate seating.
Arrive a few minutes early. Always make sure you allow extra time if you are unfamiliar with the location.
2. At the Interview
Be polite. Show respect to everyone you meet, whether it's the boss, the receptionist or a prospective coworker. There are a million urban legends of people who were rude to the receptionist only to find that it was really the boss conducting a test to see how the interviewee really behaved!
Focus on what you can offer the interviewer to address the company's problems. The employer needs to understand the benefits of hiring you not to hear that you want the corner office and need to make rent payments.
Bring two copies of your resume with you. This shows that you are prepared in the case that more than one person is interviewing you, and even if they have copies, you can use one to refer to as you answer questions.
Think about what the interviewer really wants to know. Think of yourself as a product with features and benefits you need to sell to customers. How does that shape your answers (no, it's never a good idea to call yourself 'a bargain at any price', or to try to sell yourself like an infomercial - Wait! There's more!) Think of an interview more like shopping at a sophisticated retail store, where no-one is going to discuss the price of the merchandise, but the sales person will describe to you in detail how wonderful your life will be with this product!
Use your own judgment whether or not to discuss your disability. If your disability will affect how you perform the job, it may be a good idea to discuss how you would accomplish the essential duties that the job requires. In Canada, the employer is NOT allowed to ask you about the nature of your disability, but remember, if the employer cannot understand how you would perform the job, he/she may assume that you cannot. It is a good idea to make sure that you communicate your abilities, and use concrete examples, where possible.
Ask the employer some questions. In your preparation, you may have found that you had questions about the company. It's always a good tactic to ask insightful questions during the interview. It sets you apart from the rest of the pack of applicants. Questions show that you've done your homework about the company, and that you're as interested in finding out how you'll fit in and achieve your career goals as they are in learning if you're the right person for the job. You may not have as much time as you'd like to ask all your questions, so plan to ask the most important questions first, in case the interviewer closes the interview before you've had time to ask them all.
Never, ever ask about salary, vacation or other benefits during a job interview. Doing so communicates that you are only interested in what you are going to get out of the job. Remember, the point of the interview is to communicate what you have to offer the employer, not the other way around. The time to talk about money and other goodies is after the employer has offered you the job.
3. Make sure you say "Thanks!"
Follow up with a thank-you letter to the interviewer to let him/her know that you appreciated their time. In cases where the decision is between two very close candidates, a thank you letter can tip the scales in your favour!