Preparing for Interview Success

When deciding what to wear for an interview trip, it is important to call ahead, or check the weather forecast for the place you are visiting. It is also important to take a few precautions with respect to your presentation materials.

Growing up and going to school in the Southwest, I have to admit that I was ill-prepared for my first interview trip to Kent State several years ago. I did not have an appropriate coat, and I did not know what to wear.

Even thought it was winter, conditions were warm in LA. Since I knew that it would be a long flight, I wore a comfortable T-shirt and a weathered pair of jeans. I grabbed a jacket on my way out the door, but it was hardly enough for the blizzard conditions in Cleveland. It didn’t help that my luggage was lost in transit. I had definitely not made smart decisions with respect to my attire.

When I landed, the Chair of the Chemistry Department met me at the gate. This was pre-911 when it was easier to get around in airports. He was dressed in a suit and tie with a sharp looking trench coat draped over his arm. It was obvious that he was not impressed by my appearance, but he was gracious in his welcoming remarks. My lesson learned was that the interview begins the minute you leave home. Instead of dressing comfortably, I should have dressed respectfully, because you never know who will pick you up at the airport, meet you for dinner, or escort you on a tour of campus. You also don’t know for sure that your luggage will go to the same place that you will.

The ride out to Kent was chilly. When my host dropped me off at the hotel, he gave me a copy of my interview itinerary and said that he would pick me up the next morning at 7:30 a.m. It was 12:30 a.m. and I had no idea where my luggage was. To make things worse I was standing in over a foot of snow, and the wind was blowing fiercely from the north. I made my way inside the shelter of the hotel and up to my room.

It was imposable to sleep, because I had nothing to wear for my interview the next day, and the overheads that I planned to use for my chalk talk were in my suitcase.* I turned to the phone lines to track down my bags.

Luckily for me, my bags arrived at the hotel by 4:30 a.m. giving me time to clean up, dress up and eat prior to my ride to campus that morning. My research presentation and my chalk talk went surprisingly well, and I even managed to look lucid; although I had not had a moment of sleep the night before.

The process could have been disastrous. I now know to be better prepared for interviews, especially those involving travel. Here are the key concepts that I learned:

  • Dress appropriately for your interview.
  • The interview begins the moment you step out of your door.
  • Carry all of your presentation materials with you.
  • Check the weather ahead of time, to ensure that you have clothing that is warm or cool enough for the place you are going.

Interviews are stressful enough. There is really no need for added drama.

In the end, I received an offer from Kent State, but I did not go. I chose to accept an offer from the University of Hawaii instead. It was a better career path for me.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

* Unavoidable reference to ancient technology used prior to LCD projectors and PowerPoint presentations.

2 Responses to Preparing for Interview Success

  1. Excellent post, as always. One thing should keep in mind to dress appropriately, I always ask the recruiter in advance what attire is appropriate. Since I have always worked in high-tech, the answer is not trivial. Some companies look at you strangely if you show up wearing a suit, and find that business casual is more appropriate.

    Another good tip is to do your research about the company. I am really impressed when someone I am interviewing makes an insightful comment about the company, our products, our recent deals or our industry. I always make it a point to study the company and its business for at least a few hours before going to interview.

    Finally, practicing your answers in advance is always a good idea. A good friend of mine is a Stanford PhD student who is completing her studies this year and a couple of weekends ago had a job market – a concentrated weekend where she interviewed with 17 different organizations… whew! Prior to the big weekend, she asked me to interview her. She asked the same of several other people she knew. Always pays to be prepared…

  2. One more fantastic blog post! I shared this one on Facebook – you must add a “like” button to your posts. 🙂

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