There’s an anecdote about the late actress Shelley Winters that relates to job interviews. As the story goes, it took place late in her very remarkable career, when her agent sent her to meet a casting agent who was demanding an audition–a move she felt (with some justification) was beneath her.
She goes down to see the agent, walks in, sits down, but doesn’t say a word. She reaches into her handbag, pulls out her first Academy Award, thunks it down on his desk. Silence. She gives it a beat, reaches back into her bag, pulls out her second Oscar, plunks it down on his desk. Dramatic pause. Finally, she says, “Y’know, some people think I can act.”
Job interviews can feel like that, particularly if you’ve already had a fairly successful career to date. Even under the best conditions, you’re essentially going up to a stranger and saying, “Honest, I can do a lot for your company–please hire me!” It can feel like begging, and if you’re fresh out of college, that is to be expected. Ten or 15 years in the work force, however, and there’s this feeling that you’ve already paid your dues–that you shouldn’t have to go through this again.
It’s an understandable feeling, which evokes a simple, three-word response: Get over it.
If you’re in the market for a job, this is part of the process. And not only do you have to go through the “audition” process, you might even need a refresher course on how to do that. Most job candidates know to bring at least two copies of a resume plus a list of references, but there are also a few things job hunters need to leave at home:
- Clutter. It’s hard to leave a graceful first impression if you’re trying to shake hands while juggling a briefcase, portfolio, purse, what-have you. The ideal is to walk into the interview carrying only a portfolio or folder with your resume and references. Depending on the job, you may need samples of your work, but as much as possible, consolidate everything into a single, easy-to-handle package.
- Computer. Again, depending on the job you’re going for, you may need show samples of your work or some other evidence of a successful project. However, we are in the internet age, so practically everything can be shown in a digital format. Having said that–laptops can still be cumbersome and awkward to handle. Consider investing in a tablet that is simple to access but still large enough to display your work.
- Cell. This one is tricky. For most of us, a cellphone does double-duty as an address book–crucial when filling out applications. At the same time, interrupting the process to answer the phone–or even turn it off–looks highly unprofessional. But what if there is an emergency? Sure, there are some 90 million iPhones in the US, but c’mon–we managed without cell phones (or any phones at all) for centuries. The call can wait 20 minutes. If you have to bring it in, make sure it’s turned off before you ever leave the lobby.
- Coffee. We admit it: we’re a nation addicted to the magic bean. But again, we’re going for graceful here, and trying to hold a hot cup and a portfolio in one hand while you’re trying shake with the other: awkward. And if you spill it? Ugh. And while we’re on the subject, don’t bring in coffee for the interviewer, either: it might sound like a nice gesture, but this, too, can prove awkward. It’s a bit too familiar and a little unprofessional. Impress them with your shining personality instead.
- Crap. Pardon the indelicate phrasing there, but seriously: the hiring process is hard enough without you showing up with a crappy attitude. Come across as smug, entitled, or self-righteous in the interview, and you’re telling the hirer you’ll be a pain to work with. Whatever your situation, into the interview with a chip on your shoulder will only sabotage your chances of walking out with a job in your pocket. Leave the attitude at home.
Job interviews are anxiety magnets. The best way to think about it is, the better your performance in this interview, the better your odds of not having to do another one.