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How to Have a Great Job Interview

T Paul ThomasIt has been an interesting last 30 days. I find myself answering the same questions from my son, Ross, as I’m getting from my students that are graduating this semester: “What should I do during my job interview to make sure I get the job?” Ross has started interviewing with various police departments in hopes of starting his law enforcement career. The majority of my students this semester are graduating in December or May and they have started getting calls and requests for face-to-face interviews.


So, for this month, I’ll share my Top Four tips for acing a job interview.


#1 The First Impression is Critical


Keep in mind you are already qualified for the job. No employer or hiring manager wastes time scheduling interviews for someone who hasn’t already been pre-qualified.

The interview is all about determining if you are a fit, are interesting and have the passion or energy (remember, they have already determined you meet the qualifications for the position). With that in mind, the first impression is so important.

The first impression starts at the moment you drive into the parking lot. Don’t take the front space. Instead take a space in the back so that you have a chance to walk and think about the interview.

The next first impression is when you walk in the door and greet the receptionist. Be professional and be nice. I would often ask our receptionist how a candidate acted when they approached the desk.

Be early. Walk through the front door 10 minutes early. Go to the receptionist and say, “Hello, I’m Paul Thomas and I’m a little early for my 2 p.m. with Julie Moore. Would you mind letting her know I’m here?”

While you are waiting in the lobby or waiting area, don’t sit down. Just remain standing and flip through your notes or a magazine. It avoids the awkwardness of climbing out of a chair when someone comes out to get you.

Turn off your cell phone. Don’t just silence it; turn it off completely.

Be dressed professionally. College students always have problems with this; they think a black shirt and a white tie looks professional. It doesn’t! Wear a conservative black, gray or dark blue suit, with a white (no stripes or pattern) cotton shirt (that has been ironed) and a silk conservative tie. Make sure your black leather shoes are polished.

Ross once applied for a valet job and wore a suit. The manager hired him on the spot saying, “No one else wore a suit for their interview.”

And, finally, carry a thin leather portfolio and a pen. In the portfolio, have copies of your résumé printed on heavyweight résumé paper (stick with white, pale white or grey).

Do these things and you are off to a great start. A great first impression.


#2 Research the Company


The most commonly asked first question in the interview is, “What do you know about our company?”

Sherri Slayton is the SVP of Alliance Bank and once told my class that 80 percent of the candidates she interviewed knew nothing about Alliance Bank. You need to research the company like you are going to take an exam on the company. Know all the basics; when it was started, primary products/services, number of offices, employees, where they are located, recent announcements.

Just don’t take it to the creepy level. I once was interviewing a candidate for a Sales VP position and he proceeded to tell me where I had worked in the past and what my wife and children’s names were. Stick to the company information.


#3 Ask Great Questions; Interview the Interviewer


This is where the portfolio comes in handy. At some point, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. Never ever say, “Nope, I think you covered everything.” Also, never ask questions about compensation, vacation, sick days, etc.

You should respond, “I have several questions, but is it okay if I write while we go over them?” This shows you are really interested in getting everything done (and gives you an opportunity to think while you write).

Your questions should be an opportunity to turn the table. Ask how long they have been with the company, what they enjoy best about the company, what did they do that made them so successful, what advice do they have for you to make a great first impression in your first 30 days, or tell you what will be the biggest challenge you will have and how did they address it.

A word of warning: You need to be honest and sincere when asking the questions. You need to truly want to hear their responses.


#4 Ask for a Tour of the Plant, Office or Facility


Many years ago, as I was graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, I had an interview with a large manufacturing corporation in Phoenix. At the end of my interview I asked, “Would you mind giving me a tour of the plant?” The interviewer responded, “In four years of doing college recruiting, no one has ever asked me for a tour.” I received a job offer at the end of the week.

Again, you must be honest, sincere and curious about seeing the facility. Ask lots of questions.

While I can’t guarantee you that you’ll get the job every time, I can promise you that these four things will make you stand out as a candidate. Also, these four steps work if you are in sales and trying to win a new business or a new account.


Good luck on your interviews and let me know if this helped you land that perfect job. FBN

By T Paul Thomas

T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University, serves as the CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance (NALA) and is the Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU 2013, Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and President. Paul can be reached at thomas.tpaul@gmail.com.

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