Need a job? 14 tips for interviewing in crazy times.

It’s that time of year again. College seniors should be triumphantly crossing the stage and grabbing their pricey diplomas to the proud applause of their relieved families. Only this year things are different. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, graduating seniors haven’t seen their classmates in months. Graduation ceremonies are on a laptop. And students are stumbling out of college to find nearly 40 million adults out of work and willing to stab them with a fork to get the same entry-level jobs.  

Under these conditions the smiles, pride, and sense of accomplishment of the college grad are short-lived. The student loans are coming like the Educational Grim Reaper.  Empty-nesting parents’ once again have birds in the nest. And everyone needs worms.

Find A Job Like It’s Your Job

Whether you are a new graduate or newly unemployed, it’s time to find a job. Except now, because there are many more candidates than there are jobs, you need to bring your A-Game. If you are anything like I was when I graduated from college you don’t have a clue how to land that first job. I have learned a lot since then. Here they are in a particular order.

12 keys to successful job hunting.

portrait of a man in corporate attire
Looking good is always a good idea.

1. Request an informational interview.

This is the single best advice I can offer. It’s a free audition for you and the employer. And if the person you are calling won’t take the time to help out a young prospect, or an experienced candidate who needs a hand, you don’t want to work for that selfish bastard or bastardette anyway.

2. Research the company you want to talk to.

If you really want to talk to an employer you should know something about them and their company. To impress, show up with as much knowledge as you can find on the business you’re interested in, and its clients. A great tool I recommend using to do your research is the internet. Because it has all the information ever accumulated by mankind. #noexcuses

3. Work Your Network.

Use Linkedin to see if you have a connection to someone who works where you want to work. Do your research to see if you know someone who can introduce you to someone at that organization. Having an insider vouch for you is like cutting to the front of the line. Ivy Leaguge kids know to do this. You need to too.

4. Make connections.

I’m not just talking about people networking. Make connections between the organization’s needs and your own areas of knowledge and expertise. I got my first job because I knew a lot about farming. And the advertising agency I called for an informational interview had a new client that manufactured farm equipment. The agency seemed to know nothing about agriculture. So to them, I was like Doogie Howser in flannel.

5. Write down your talking points and questions ahead of time. 

If you don’t have any questions for your interviewer you suck at interviewing. Because it indicates that you aren’t thinking, or are not interested. Both make you easy to move to the reject pile.  Yet it can be hard for humans to come up with a good question when you are asked if you have any questions. So script you questions before the interview. You’ll get extra points if you tie your question to some research you did on the company. One of the great things about video conference interviews is that you can keep you written prompts handy for reference at all times. Heck, you can stick Post-It notes all over your interview space if you want. This is like legal cheating. Do it. It helps.

man taking notes in front of his computer
Come prepared with talking points. Because it is hard to think on your feet when you are sitting down.

6. Show up with a pen and paper.

If your interview is in person make sure you bring a pen and notebook and demonstrate that you have them. It shows that you are prepared. That you are gathering information and taking tips and advice. It is a sign of respect to the interviewer. It says, ‘I would like to capture the pearls of wisdom you are sure to drop.’ Employers assume anyone who would show up to an interview without a pen and paper will forget to do other things too. Like zip their fly, wash their hands, and bring their corporate credit card when they are taking a client to lunch. Demonstrating that you have the pad and paper says more than you realize. Even if you never use them.

7. Show up a little early.

Don’t get carried away here. There is a proper amount of early. Too early and you look socially awkward. And late is the kiss of death. This is also true for a video conference interview. Log on a few minutes early to demonstrate your timeliness. Just being there when the interviewer logs on will make a good first impression. As long as you are clothed. For tips on how to look good on camera see this post I wrote about looking good on camera for a TV interview from home via Zoom.

8. Dress professionally.

Determine what that means in your world. For my first interviews out of school I borrowed a suit from my college buddy, Greg Gill Jr. Greg is now a judge and wears a black dress to work. I have never worn a tie to work since. But I made good first impressions. And I got job offers. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And you are never fully dressed without a smile.

9. Practive telling your story.

You have an interesting story to tell about what you know, what you have done and what makes you a great addition to any organization that would hire you. Practice telling that story. Make it concise, funny and interesting. It should get better every time you tell it. Like a standup comedy routine. People love stories. Telling a great one will give you an unfair advantage over others you are competing with for the job you want. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. It’s how great candidates get noticed.

10. Lose the like.

If there is one thing that reminds me that you’re still a kid it’s using like the word like like way too like much. While on the topic of language, I would also like you to stop saying, ‘to be honest…’ or ‘to tell you the truth…’ Those indicate that the rest of what you said may not be fully honest or truthful. Also, avoid pairing kinda or sorta with really. Those words are opposites, and they negate each other. It’s like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room.

confident young woman sitting on office chair in old aged artist workshop
Don’t dress like this. Unless you are interviewing to be a belly button model. 

11. Prove direction.

It’s great to be open to various possibilities. But I want to hire someone who knows what she or he wants. So know your skills. Know what interests you. Have a vision. And don’t get lost on the way to or from the bathroom.

12.  Don’t drink at the interview.

Interviews in some industries, like advertising agencies, can be tricky. Especially if you show up late in the afternoon or on a Friday. The beer is often available and encouraged (this is starting to sound like an ad for advertising). Don’t play along. The dangers outweigh the risks in this case. Demonstrate your self-restraint. Ad people are really good at drinking (see Mad Men). And there are always plenty of permanent markers around and artists who know how to use them on your face.

13. Talk about how you and your friends never use Facebook or Instagram.

Even if you are on Facebook all day every day say that you can’t stand it. Businesses are always trying to spot the next trend they know nothing about. Kids, this is the ace up your sleeve. Tell them about the cool new things you are into and how you are rejecting all previously embraced media. Your stock will rise. Trust me. For the experienced unemployed, make sure you know about TikTok, Snapchat and Dingle. Okay, I may have made one of those up. You should know which one.

14.  Follow up.

After the interview, send a note thanking the people you met for their time.  This is important in several ways. It shows that you are considerate. It shows that you follow through. And it ensures that the people you talked to have your contact information. Send a note in the mail or by email. Both work. Email makes it easy for them to reply to you. A mailed note always feels special. And retro. Here’s the story of a great follow up note I received after an interview.

 

Key Takeaway

A good interview, whether in person, on the phone, or online is all about being prepared. Do your homework. Know the company and the people you are meeting with. Prepare your talking points and your questions ahead of time. Bring a pen and paper. Don’t drink. Where clothes. Smile. And follow up. Good luck!

*If you know someone who needs a job right now, please share this post with them. Let’s give them every advantage they can get.