Hiring has been weak for the past few months, with the unemployment rate at a steady, high 8.2 percent. Those of you lucky enough to score an interview can't afford to bring anything less than your A-game in this job market. Here are some of the best ways successful candidates have left a stellar impression on an employer during an interview:
- For non-creative jobs, bring one sample of your best work. While a portfolio filled with brilliant samples is not required for non-creative jobs--leaving one example of your best accomplishment is a great way to leave a lingering presence long after your interview. This can mean any tangible evidence of great work you've done in the past, whether it be reports, guidelines, media clippings, or awards. Entrepreneur and Manager Trainer Karen Southall Watts warns against overloading your interviewer with too many samples for non-creative jobs. "Years ago, I actually did this myself and the hiring manager was really overwhelmed and didn't seem to know how to react," she says. Instead, carry one sample of your best accomplishment in your briefcase. "But be prepared with links to others (e.g. via LinkedIn)," she says.
- Offer to do a free project or sample of work. Watts also suggests that you offer to do a free project or prepare a sample of work. "This can be a win-win since the candidate may land the job, can gather some useful feedback and the employer gets a 'free sample' of work," she says. But remember to communicate clearly how much work you'll do for free, Watts says. In other words, don't fall into an unpaid intern or volunteer trap.
- Don't ask when they plan to go the Initial Public Offering (IPO) route. Coupa Software's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rob Bernshteyn says: "Maybe it's a Silicon Valley thing, but nothing is a quicker turn off than the candidate asking when we plan to go IPO." Even if you're not in the tech industry, it's never smart to question the company's financial health. "It gives you a sense of their priorities," Bernshteyn says. "It shows that they aren't interested in contributing to the creation of a great company first and foremost." You're only interested in a quick payday. Instead, steer the focus on the company's mission.
- Point out a mistake by the company. "We once hired someone who simply spotted a problem on our website and showed us how to fix it without any prompting," says Sandip Singh, CEO and founder of the fundraising website Go Get Funding. This type of initiative is incredibly impressive and demonstrates just how valuable you will be to the team.
- Ask smart questions that really make 'em think. Stay away from bland, easy questions (like what's the work attire policy?), or "yes" or "no" questions (like do you offer overtime?). Your interviewer can recite these answers in their sleep. Ask questions that show off your knowledge of the company and position.
- Make eye contact. You don't have to glue your eyes on the interviewer's gaze. It's okay to blink once in a while. But consistent eye contact speaks volumes about your confidence. Most people are kind of shaky and uncomfortable in a job interview--but if you focus on eye contact and be your most charming self, you'll stand out from the herd.
- Craft compelling stories, not just answers. Watts makes a good point: "The 'tell me about a time' or 'tell me what you'd do' interview is pretty much standard these days." Anticipate these questions and create awesome stories (complete with a beginning, middle, and end) beforehand, pulling from your past experiences. This will help your interview feel more like a conversation than an interrogation. Bernshteyn would agree and says, "Robotic interviews just don't win."
- Weave in the company's core values. For Bernshteyn, one memorable candidate not only explained the company's three core values but also talked about how their values aligned with tangible examples. "They wove themselves into the fabric of our company during the interviewing process where at the end of the interview I felt like we had already been working together for some time," he says. This is particularly a great answer to the common question: "Why do you want to work here?"