Be Prepared and Be Yourself During the Interview

by Susan E. Davis
(Glen Allen, Virginia)

As the manager of a busy public relations office for an educational institution, I interviewed dozens of applicants over the years for both full and part-time positions.

Because the college I worked for was considered a state agency, every job applicant was required to fill out the standard application form. In fact, unless a completed application was on file, I was not permitted to schedule any interview. So with that in mind, here are some of my tips to those who might be applying for positions at colleges, universities or state agencies.

Note from Lisa: For some more tips on filling out job application forms and a sample blank application form that you can download and print for practice, please see the article Blank Application Form.
The first and biggest mistake job applicants made was NOT filling out the application completely. No matter how glitzy and glamorous their resume was, it was not a substitute for the state application.

Job candidates who wrote "see resume" on any space on the application were immediately disqualified. It was an easy indicator to see that they were unable to follow directions, even if their attached resumes revealed stellar accomplishments in their last job. Many potential applicants ruin their chances for an interview by assuming their resume is a substitute for an application form. It isn't. So fill out the application, regardless of how tedious it is.

Secondly, arrive on time, even a few minutes early. If you're unfamiliar with the location, take a test drive the day before and be sure to take traffic into account. What may be a 20-minute drive on a Sunday morning could realistically take 45 minutes during a Monday morning rush hour. If you are delayed, call and let the prospective employer know you're running late. It at least shows that you're aware of the problem and are trying to act responsibly.

Thirdly, research the corporate culture and dress accordingly. While casual clothes may be appropriate for a behind-the-scenes job, a more professional outfit will be more impressive and leave behind a good impression. Make sure you know a little about the job you're applying for and more about the company or organization in general. Make a list of your skills and abilities and be ready to say how they mesh with the job opening that you're interested in.

Don't apologize or make excuses! There is nothing more distressing than listening to a candidate who apologizes for not having certain skills or who makes excuses for past behavior.

No matter what, don't ever badmouth any previous employer. Unless you were terminated for good cause (i.e. embezzlement or total incompetence), find a way to explain why your work philosophy did not mesh with that of the company you were working for. But don't lie, as untruths do have a way of catching up with you.

Finally, don't monopolize the conversation and listen to what the interviewer is asking. Take a moment to formulate your answer and then briefly and succinctly respond to the question. A big turnoff to me was having a candidate drone on and on and on without directly answering the question. This is another reason to disqualify an applicant because it can come across as though they have poor listening skills and can't follow directions.

The two big things in an interview are be prepared and to be yourself. Good luck!

Lisa's Response

What excellent advice! Thank you so much, Susan for taking the time to provide such great information about how to excel in a job interview.

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