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Get the Most Out of Your Job Interview

Applicants can be in the drivers’ seat

By Diane HelentjarisPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Photo by Ben White, Unsplash

Job interviews shine as critical pivot points in our lives, opening and closing doors to new opportunities. Although the process often feels like a passive one, there’s plenty of room for life-changing action by the applicant. With attention, you can accrue better benefits, raise your starting salary, and duck signing up for a miserable job. Here’s a few of the actions I’ve learned as a hiring manager and an applicant:

Be prepared

Find out as much as you can about the position, the organization, and its people. Use social media and the internet. Study the organization’s website. Is it up-to-date? Do you really want to work for an organization that can’t even keep its public face in order? Look for budgets and annual reports and take the time to read them. Do they make sense? Is the annual budget growing or shrinking? If the interview is for a position in a particular program, read about that program so you get a better understanding of it. Write down your questions to bring with you to the interview. Be sure you are clear which of your possibly many applications are the subject of the interview. Few things frost the heart of a hiring manager like an applicant who doesn’t know what they’re interviewing for.

Know exactly where the interview is, how you’ll get there and where — if you drive — you’ll park the car. Suave applicants do a test drive the day before the interview to make sure. The goal is to get to the interview with enough time to find a bathroom, check your clothes and hair, and take a deep breath or two. First impressions can’t be retracted, so make sure you’re well-groomed and in a neat and clean outfit. Find out how people dress who do the job you want and then wear something similar. You can pick up a used outfit at a consignment shop or Goodwill and have it cleaned if money is tight. Pay special attention to aroma. Heavy perfume or the lingering odors from your current job flipping burgers can be a turnoff.

Flip the research and look over your personal social media presence. Clean it up if you need to and if there are embarrassing tags or posts, be prepared to address them honestly at the interview. Also, make sure your contact email address is appropriate and not too jokey.

Bring to the Interview

If not in the application, bring a list of references to the interview with current contact information. These should be people you’ve specifically asked to serve as references and who have agreed to do so.

Depending on your career, you may want to put together a few work samples to share at the interview. For instance, if you are a biologist and have published articles, bring a copy of them that you can leave. Ideally, your work samples should be in a format you can give directly to the interviewer. Paper copies, a thumb drive of images or videos, a handout with links to your websites are just some of the examples.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

At the interview

Take your time responding to questions and also, listen carefully. Don’t interrupt. Be sure to know the name of the interviewer and have contact information so you can follow up with them. Continue your research by observing current employees, including your interviewer. Are they relaxed or tense? Do they treat each other well? How are they dressed? What does the workspace look like? Is it messy? Is the equipment up-to-date or are they using electric typewriters? Do you like the way you’re being treated? Don’t expect treatment any better as an employee than you receive as an applicant. Avoid over-sharing personal information at the interview, such as your marital status or pregnancy plans, as this may be used negatively by less-than-scrupulous hiring managers. Using certain specific characterizations in hiring decisions is illegal as well.

After the interview

The day of the interview send a short email to the interviewer thanking them for their time. If you’re interested in the job, let them know. If not, just thank them. You might want to mention if you’re interested in other, future opportunities. Often, an applicant will not be a good match for a job they apply for but be superb for another opportunity in the organization.

Follow up as soon as possible with a snail mail letter of thanks, done in proper business format.

Negotiating the job offer

Do not accept the initial job offer. Ever. There is a better offer behind the first one in almost all cases. That better offer may be for additional money or may be additional benefits. Instead, thank the offeror and ask for a little time to think about it. Of course, the manager usually has other applicants available but will understand the need for time. Don’t take too much time — overnight is good. When you have the next conversation, be polite. Thank the manager and then ask them if that’s the best offer they can make. Let them know that you were hoping for a higher salary. If they’re firm, then ask about other benefits that might make the offer more agreeable.

Image by Dan on Unsplash

Starting pay, especially in government positions, will lock you in as future raises may be restricted to specific percentages of your starting salary. Your salary history may limit your future salary negatively, even if you change jobs. For instance, certain government jobs may only be permitted to offer a new employee ten percent more than their highest prior position. Where you start sets your course.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

There may be no higher salary available but often the hiring manager has the ability to offer additional perks. These can be regular teleworking time, additional vacation or sick days, tuition reimbursement, payment for professional meetings, and educational conferences, or training. Another benefit may be leave without pay. Let’s say you have a two- week vacation planned for three months after you’d like to start your new job. You won’t have enough vacation time accrued but would like to take the vacation. Many managers will extend “leave without pay,” letting you take the vacation but not earn salary while you’re away. Another benefit you may want to negotiate is your workspace. (And by the way, don’t accept a job until you see where you’ll be working.) You may negotiate for a private office, for instance. Or a great parking spot.

As a job applicant, you have the power to change your life, to move in a new direction. Like any partnership, each side has its own needs and desires and offerings. By paying attention to details, you can find the right place for your work.


About the Creator

Diane Helentjaris

Diane Helentjaris uncovers the overlooked. Her latest book Diaspora is a poetry chapbook of the aftermath of immigration.

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