December 3, 2007

The Top 5 … Tips for nailing your interview!

Okay, so you’ve done an awesome resume and cover letter. You dropped it off to the store manager who took a quick glance at it and asked you to come in for an interview in two days.

After getting over the initial excitement from landing an interview, fear and apprehension set in. All of a sudden you start thinking “This is my one chance – what if I blow it?”

Sound familiar? It sure did to me when I was starting out. Interviews used to freak me out because I was always worried that I’d say or do the wrong thing and not get the job – all my hard work would be wasted.

And so I know I'm not alone. Back when I was an employment counsellor helping a client on a one-on-one basis, I’d usually spend most of my time helping the person prepare for an interview. After all, during an interview, you always have to be ‘on’ – and as the cliché goes, the first impression is a lasting impression.

But don’t worry – interviews don’t have to be that hard. I learned how to better prepare myself so I can ace them – and you can too!

Here are my top 5 tips that I always tell clients to keep in mind:

1) Research: Do your research on the company. Make sure you know some general facts about the company. For example, I usually look to see how many stores the company has open, when they were founded, any recent news (e.g. a new clothing line just launched, etc.). This shows a potential employer that you really know the company and want to work there. But I’d caution you – don’t get too in-depth, otherwise you’ll look like a know-it-all … in fact, I’m pretty sure that the person interviewing you doesn’t care that third quarter profits rose 6.4% after factoring in the consumer price index and the recent rise of the Canadian dollar!

2) Learn: If you are looking to work in a store, before your interview, go in the store and get a sense of what they do there. Take a look at what employees are doing/wearing. This is really important because not all stores are the same. Case in point – the sales associate job means different things say if you are working at H&M than if you’re working at the Gap. As well, if you know what the expectations of employees are, you can tailor your responses to ensure that you hit on the key points that an interviewer could be looking for.

3) Dress: On the day of the interview, dress appropriately – but keep in mind that this can vary. My advice is that if you are going to work in a clothing store, dress the way their employees do or in the style of the clothes they sell. This will show that you understand the creative direction of the store and are willing to “look the part.” But I caution you, don’t wear a competitor’s logo – it’s extremely tacky! If the store has a uniform, doesn’t sell clothes, or the interview is for an office job, then I’d go with the classic white shirt/blouse, black pants, and black shoes look – you can never go wrong with that.

4) Prepare: Be prepared for the types of questions they’ll ask you. You’ll probably get your standard “So why do you want to work here?” or “What’s your best skill?” or “Tell me about the time you gave excellent customer service." At the same time, completely unrelated questions are really popular right now like “If you could be an animal, which animal would you be?” or “What’s your favourite colour and why?”. These questions aren’t meant to trick you, but rather to encourage you to think on your feet. Don’t get flustered – take a moment to compose your thoughts and then begin. And by the way, there really is no wrong answer – unless you tell me that your favourite animal is the mosquito!

5) Follow Up: Right after the interview, make sure you shake hands with the interviewer and thank them for their time. A few days later, I’d call or e-mail the person who interviewed you, again thanking them for their time and asking them if a decision has been made. So many people forget to do this, and really, a follow up could mean the difference between getting and not getting the job. For example, when I was interviewed for Gap Kids, only through the follow up would I have known that one of my references didn’t call the interviewer back – I quickly called the person, asked them to return the manager’s phone call, and within 2 hours, I was hired!

Even though I’ve gone through countless interviews, I sometimes still get those butterflies in the stomach feeling because I know how important the interview is.
But after going through so many, I’ve learned that the best thing to do is stay calm and take some time to compose your thoughts. I know that employers would rather hear a well thought-out answer that a rushed on.

And if it helps, go through a practice interview with yourself or a friend. I do it all the time, especially since I want to hear how my answers sound. That way, I can figure out if there are any areas I should go review and practice.

After all, as the cliché goes, practice makes perfect … and for interviews, nothing could ring more true!

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