Interviews are a mix of both super thrilling and super stressful. An exciting new opportunity could lie on the other side of the day, but first, you’ve got to marathon through a series of unpredictable experiences. (Virtually interviewing? We’ve covered that in depth if you need a choreographed strategy for long distance experiences!). Preparation and planning ensure you are ready to dazzle in any interview situation.
Here are the four essentials to take to your interview to the next level:
1. An Adaptable Outfit
More of us are interviewing in offices where traditional corporate dress is not the norm, and while you should always err on the side of formal, part of the interview is showing that you can adapt to a new company culture. A dress and jacket is my go-to combination — fully buttoned you look formal, open jackets are bit more casual, and if you’re getting major creative vibes, you can ditch the topper altogether. In all but the most formal settings, steer clear of the jacket, collared shirt, and skirt combination. It can come of as “junior” if it lacks any hints of your personal style, and is harder to switch up on the fly.
2. Your Brand Content Package
“But I’m not in marketing!” Indeed you are, my friend. You are in full marketing mode in an interview. Too many of us think that bringing a pile of resumes is enough personal branding preparation. In today’s ultra-competitive work world, you are missing an opportunity to stand out if you stop there. Here’s what goes in your branding package:
Yes, absolutely still bring a pile of extra resumes. Splurge for thicker paper and do your best to make your resume as short as possible.
Calling cards — or ultra-personal business cards — are a valuable addition to your networking toolkit. Interviews often include small panels or roundtables with potential future colleagues. Where many already have your resume in hand, a calling card is a great way to reinforce your personal brand, professionalism, and contact info. It also prompts these folks to hand you something back — ideally their business card. Boom, networking circle widened. (Psst: Do not give your current business card. You want something company neutral with personal contact info and your work-appropriate socials to help your interviewers envision you in their role, not someone else’s.)
Ideally, you’ve got an iPad in hand and stocked with your portfolio of great work. This can be anything from graphs showing how your project drove revenue increases for the company to other written or visual pieces — be creative here! With all kinds of tools to design something relevant, everyone should have some version of a work portfolio. Keep it in an easily accessible file that includes your LinkedIn page and any references or relevant links that you might want to pull up quickly.
The Second-Degree Thank You Note
You’ll need to be quicker responding to your interviewers than dropping a physical note in the mail, so shoot them an email quickly after. But you’re really on top of it, so you’ve got a few hard copy thank you’s in hand. These get filled out and dropped in the mail to whoever helped you get there that wasn’t in the room. It’s a sophisticated, thoughtful way to remember your network and opens the connectivity to keep them posted on future work developments.
3. The New Job Game Plan
The girl who gets the job doesn’t come “prepared with questions” — she comes prepared with ideas and analysis. This takes a little Sherlock-type mentality, but pays off in big ways with an interviewer. Have a couple of narratives built out — what you’d do in the first 90 days, networking organizations that you could contribute to, rivaling a competitor’s recent product offering — and do some really robust research on how you would execute that idea. It might mean getting very in the weeds analyzing LinkedIn profiles or another company’s financials and website, but it’s an extra degree of preparation that sets you apart.
Having a few of these narratives well-prepared is important because more than likely, one of them will get asked as a direct interview question. The few that don’t become your questions. Show your homework! Instead of outright asking a question… “How would you measure success for this role in the first 90 days?” give them your 90-day game plan. Walk them through a few minutes of ideas, benchmarks for measuring progress, and the team you’d assemble to get the job done. Then your question becomes much more detailed — “How does this plan fit with what you have in mind for the role?” or “What other resources in the company could help support executing a plan like this?” This effort shows you’re already thinking ahead and investing in the possible next steps.
4. A “Save the Day” Kit
Interview days are long and sometimes unpredictable. Of course you need the essentials —flats, mints, a mirror, comb, bobby pins, a quick snack, and the like. But think slightly outside of the immediate interview to be sure have little extras to save the entire day if emergencies come up. Do you have all interviewers’ phone numbers written down somewhere in case of tech issues? An extra battery to charge your phone? Cash in case their cafeteria card reader is down? Multiple routes to get there in case of transport troubles? Thinking through a few different plans makes you much better prepared if a mini disaster strikes.