5 Things You Should Never Bring to a Job Interview

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5 Things You Should Never Bring to a Job Interview

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Do Networking Events Work?

If you’re in search of a new position, you have to network, period. You can’t get around that. So if you’re going to network, it makes sense to attend networking events, right? If you’re going to network–and particularly if you’re not all that comfortable with it–it only makes sense to go a place where everyone ELSE is networking too, right? More bang for the buck …

Well, maybe.

Don’t get me wrong: doing the rounds at a networking event is better than not networking at all. But they’re not necessarily a good fit for everyone. Sure, you’re making connections … but are you really building relationships? Because that is the real goal of networking: turning encounters into mutually beneficial relationships for sharing expertise and increasing referrals. And networking events aren’t necessarily the ideal environment for that.

For one thing, they tend to be a bit chaotic. They’re not like, say, a job fair, where the people you need to talk to are set up in a fixed location, and you can pick and choose who you want to talk to based on your needs. Job fairs are great for that.

Networking events, however, are more like giant pinball machines, where you randomly bounce from one person to the next and hope you don’t get caught in a trap. What kind of trap? Well, many if not most networking events are populated with two types of people: those looking a job (like you–in other words, competition), and founders and small business owners who are there to … well, to network. They’re not looking for employees so much as trade partners.

Of course, there are also the folks simply there to sell you something, but I don’t even count those.

The odds of a person finding a job in that kind of loud, chaotic madhouse are slim. Which, again, is not to say they are useless: you will be able to pass out business cards to people who may pass them along to others, and eventually the right card may end up in the hands of someone looking to hire.

It’s better than nothing. But if you’re in “failure is not an option” mode, it’s a far cry from efficient.

Networking events are built around quantity: get everyone in one place, you dramatically increase the odds of making a connection. But there’s also something to be said for quality, like connecting with the right person. Personally, I’ve had much better luck building relationships over coffee than over a loudspeaker–which is about what you have to use to get heard in a big event.

Making valuable connections is important. But for job-seekers, networking mixers aren’t necessarily the best approach. Try distinguishing yourself in the market, first: deliver something of value, even if it is as simple as an informative post that offers information in your industry. Create a demand for your time and talents, so that people have some idea why they should care about connecting with you.

Networking events serve a purpose, but they haven’t worked for me, or at least not as well as other methods. Don’t completely write them off, but don’t default to going to networking events just because they’re there. Think carefully about the tradeoffs, and decide if it’s worth it.

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What Is Networking, and How Can It Help?

This is a networking site. That’s why it exists. Yet it’s surprising how many comments and emails we get with people uncomfortably admitting they don’t really understand what networking is. And really, that’s understandable … no business school out there, to my knowledge, teaches a class in Networking 101. Academia doesn’t really teach networking: for one thing, academia is its own network, by default.

Plus, if they’re teaching you, that means they already HAVE jobs. So networking often isn’t even on their radar.

The thing is, though, networking exists for more than just the job search. Oh, it can be used for that–in fact, networking is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your job-hunting toolbox. But it’s a significantly more useful tool if you don’t wait until you’re out of a job to use it.

At its core, networking is about connecting, building ties between people, believing that shared knowledge works to everyone’s benefit. Which sounds great on paper, I know … it’s not that easy in real life–if for no other reason than the fact that the payoff usually isn’t immediate. Networking is the art of fostering and nurturing two-way relationships that will serve both parties; that doesn’t mean the first time you talk with someone, it will change your life … but there does need to be a first time. And that’s where people get stuck.

Networking: It Isn’t Just for Job-hunters

As mentioned, many people don’t even consider networking until they need to find a job–and even more stop networking the moment they find one. The immediate problem with this is that it tends to limit the number of and types of contacts in your network.

You might say “Yeah–isn’t that the point?” Well, in the long-term, no. But even in the short-term, the broader your network is, the more potential opportunities you’re exposed to. When people job hunt, they tend to look for positions similar to the last one they held. But in this day and age, new technologies are changing the employment landscape on a daily basis. There may be a position out there that’s a better fit, in a company or even an industry that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

So the fact is, even if you’re only networking to find a job, job leads can come from just about anywhere: sticking to your comfort zone is usually a mistake.

Networking Through Your Fear

Not everyone is an extrovert. And sometimes trying to make a new contact can be as anxiety-ridden as the first time you ask someone for a date. Fact it: nobody likes rejection.

But really, there’s no need to start accosting strangers. In fact, you probably already have a larger network than you realize, once you start adding up contacts: there are relatives, friends, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. There are all the people your spouse/significant other knows, and people you interact with through your kids, like teachers and other parents.

There are people you work with, people you used to work with, and people you’d like to work with some day. People you’ve met through professional organizations, and those you know from more social groups, like clubs or church. There’s the barista where you buy coffee, the plumber that installed your dishwasher, the stylist who cuts your hair. It could even include people you communicate with on social media but have never met face-to-face!

Networking for Life

The point is, building a network isn’t just about meeting strangers. Sometimes all it takes is getting to know the people you already kind of know. In most case, those people will end up introducing you to people they know–and being introduced to someone by a mutual friend is much easier than “cold-calling” strangers. And if you have a skillset you’re willing to share (like this entrepreneur), people may end up coming to you.

Is it still scary? Sure. But people can learn to move beyond that fear, cultivating their contact list even while staying relatively uncomfortable with the process themselves. A lot of them never get beyond that stage, and as soon as a new job offer comes in, those networking skills go right back into the closet until next time.

The ones who don’t do that, though–the ones who push themselves past their normal tendencies and continue to develop those relationships–these are the people who reap the full benefits of the network. They are the ones who understand that networking isn’t a hit-or-miss proposition: the process–and the rewards–go on indefinitely.

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