Interview Essentials

The Three Critical Phases You Must Pass

By Theo Gilbert-Jamison

Prior to launching my consulting firm in 2003, I was an HR Administrative Assistant, an Employment Manager, a Corporate Director of Human Resources, and eventually Vice President of Training & Organizational Effectiveness for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. So you can imagine the volume of job applications I have reviewed, and the number of serious candidates I have subsequently interviewed over a twenty year period. I must admit, I have heard and seen just about everything when it comes to interviewing.

From my perspective, there are three phases of the interview process. There's what you do: (1) BEFORE the interview; (2) DURING the interview; and (3) AFTER the interview. The essentials I am about to share under each phase largely determines your ability to move through your interview process with confidence, competence, and finesse - and ace it.


* RESEARCH the company before your interview - Nothing spells lack of preparation more than being asked a question about the organization and not being able to think on your feet with a concise, intelligent response. A day or two before the interview, make it your priority to research the company on the internet. These days most companies have a website, and it is an expectation that you come to the interview with some level of knowledge about the company's history, background, culture, and what products or services they provide.

* PRACTICE answering interview questions - Interviewers typically start and end their interview sessions with a few standard questions. They typically ask about your previous work experience; strengths and weaknesses; what makes you interested in the position you are applying for; what would you like us to know about you... If you answer these routine questions with honesty, sincerity, clarity, and specificity - most likely you'll do well on the other questions. So practice your responses to ensure you present a sharp, confident, and professional image during the interview.

* PREPARATION includes a number of things - Re-read your resume to ensure it is up-to-date (with your correct contact information), error-free, and customized to the job you are interviewing for. Bring extra copies of your resume, just in case the interviewer doesn't have it on hand, along with letters of recommendation and certificates. Also, bring a pen and legal pad, so you are prepared to take notes. There's nothing worse than asking an interviewer for a pen or piece of paper, and it demonstrates a lack of proactivity.

* SELECT an appropriate interview outfit - Be mindful not to over or under dress. If you are unsure of the company's dress code select a suit that is a conservative color, fits you well, and is well-pressed. Be sure that your shoes are also in great condition. Keep in mind, your interviewer is observing your total package. Your image is equally important as your technical skills, education, and competence to do the job.


* ARRIVE EARLY - Leave your house in plenty enough time to arrive for your interview at least 15-20 minutes early. Arriving early allows you to overcome any potential traffic and parking issues that may stand in the way of you putting your best foot forward during the actual interview. It will also allow you time to calm your nerves, collect your thoughts, and observe the work environment as employees past through the lobby or waiting room.

* TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE - Let friends and family members know that you will have your cell phone off during the interview. The worst impression you can make is taking a personal call, or your cell phone ringing incessantly during an interview. So turn off your cell phone as soon as you reach the building or parking lot, discard chewing gum, and don't smell like cigarette smoke. All of these are distracting circumstances that are guaranteed to land your resume in the interviewer's trash pail immediately following the interview.

* BE NICE to everyone you meet - This includes the receptionist who greets you in the lobby, as well as the Administrative Assistant or Staff Member who escorts you to the interview room; even people you encounter in the public restroom of the building, or in the parking lot. Who knows? You may encounter someone whose influence and perception of you contributes to the overall interview and whether or not you make it to the next stage in the process.

* SET A POSITIVE TONE - Begin the interview with a warm smile and lots of enthusiasm, extending your hand for a firm handshake as the interviewer greets you. Address the interviewer by Mr. or Ms. as a sign of respect, unless they request you use their first name. Even if you had a rough time getting to the interview because you got lost on the way, encountered heavy traffic or bad weather, still maintain positivity.

* NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION is critical - Throughout the interview session, the non-verbal communication you display in body language is an integral part of the interview criteria that is being evaluated. Simple things like standing upright, offering a firm handshake, looking the interviewer in the eye, and a genuine smile all contribute to the interviewer's initial impression of you.

* ANSWER interview questions concisely - Don't go on a tangent with long responses, it's not impressive and you may lose the interviewers attention and focus. Don't over talk the interviewer, LISTEN. If you listen closely you may hear exactly what they are looking for in the ideal candidate for the job, which will help you better formulate your response to interview questions.

* Have PREPARED QUESTIONS to ask - 98% of interview sessions end with the interviewer allowing you an opportunity to ask them questions. If the interview is thorough, most of your questions may be answered before you leave. If not, have a couple of questions in mind that will make you shine. Interesting questions to ask might be: What qualities will your ideal candidate possess? Please describe the work environment, what is it like? Can you explain the next step in the interview process? When are you looking to have the interview process completed? If you are unclear on what the job pays, ask in a professional manner - What is the starting salary for this position?

* END ON A POSITIVE TONE - End the interview with the same level of positive impact as you began it. Even if you don't think you'll get the job, remain positive, thank the interviewer for their time, and extend a firm handshake. Ask for the interviewer's business card, so you have proper information for follow-up calls or to send a "thank you" card. Leaving a lasting impact could result in your resume being placed in their job bank for future consideration for other positions.


* ASSESS what you would have done differently - On your way home after the interview reflect on the entire day by asking yourself: Did I wear the right attire? Did I leave home on time? If I were asked that question again, how would I respond differently? If I get a second interview, what will I do differently? Did the office environment seem like one I would enjoy working in?

* SEND A THANK YOU NOTE immediately - This can be done by email or in the form of a neatly handwritten note that is mailed. Keep your notes short; reiterating your interest in the position and your gratefulness for the time they spent with you.

* FOLLOW-UP TELEPHONE OR EMAIL - Give the interviewer a few days to complete the process before following up; nagging emails and telephones calls could negatively impact your ability to get the job. However, if you have not heard anything within the allotted time the interviewer initially indicated and you really want the job, follow-up with a brief email or telephone call reiterating your continued interest in the job.

Bottom-line, while my list of essentials for acing your next interview are not all inclusive, hopefully it has motivated you to consider ways to ensure your next interview creates a positive, lasting impression and lands you the job opportunity that you really want. As a former HR Executive, I have interviewed countless applicants and have found that those who consistently follow these 15 essentials typically get the job (granted they are the most qualified candidate).

And remember, if you don't get the job, don't be discouraged. Continue proactively seeking out other career options, network within your community, and be a model citizen. You never know when some small act of kindness that you extend to another person in need could potentially lead to a huge career opportunity.

Theo Gilbert-Jamison is CEO of Performance Solutions by Design; a global performance consulting firm that caters to luxury and premium brands with an emphasis on transforming organizational culture. She is also the author of two books, The Six Principles of Service Excellence, and The Leadership Book of Numbers (Vol. I). As the creative force behind the innovative concepts and methodologies utilized by Performance Solutions by Design, Theo is a highly sought after speaker and consultant to CEOs and senior executives in high profile organizations. For more information visit her website or you can reach her by email



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