Some of the most crucial interactions with a potential employer occur before you even set foot in their office for a job interview and in the time immediately following your interview. While acing the technical and soft-skills requirements of a job interview are up to you, here are some tips for handling the tricky times before and after that interview.
Do Your Homework
Rick Gillis, job search strategist, career expert and consultant advises digging a little deeper than the standard practice of checking out a company's website and LinkedIn profile.
"If it's a publicly held company, you should check out their securities and exchange commission information - these firms are required to file SEC 10K and 10Q reports, which will give you a sense of how the company's doing financially," Gillis says.
"The SEC 10K deals with yearly financials, and the 10Q has information about financials by quarter," Gillis says. The information will be posted on the company's website or you can search for it at the SEC's website, he says.
"The report itself will be glossy and beautifully presented, but if you look closely, you can see all the warts, scars and lesions, like union grievances, harassment issues and that sort of thing," he says. Though you don't want to march into an interview and bring up these issues, you could tactfully address how, if hired, you could help the company address these concerns, he says.
"You should also look at the company's careers page and/or job listings," Gillis says. "If it's a law firm and they're hiring three lawyers and a bunch of support staff, then you'll know things are good. It's all about reading between the lines," he says.
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Piera Palazzolo, vice president of marketing for Dale Carnegie Training, agrees.
"Look into their clients, recent news and business, their CEO, and mission. Have a good understanding and perspective on the company and what they do. Being well-versed in an organization's background will not only show you are knowledgeable and have done prior research, but it will also show your interest and passion for the brand," she says.
While Palazzolo advises looking up the name of the person(s) with whom you'll be interviewing to find similar interests or to discover if you have a similar educational background, there's a fine line between doing your research and appearing too nosy, says Chris Duchesne, vice president of global workplace solutions at Care.com.
"If you've done research on the folks who are going to be interviewing you, it can be hard to know how much information to share with them in the interview," Duchesne says.
"If they come in and you say, 'I see you went to Rutgers; so did I' that can be off-putting and can be seen as being ignorant of etiquette," Duchesne says. While it's fine if the topic comes up organically in conversation, trying to insert it into a conversation artificially can be awkward, he says.
"It's a weird double-edged sword of social media -- it's out there and public, but there's still a level of privacy and etiquette that's expected, especially in formal interviews," he says, so don't bring it up unless it comes up unprompted. If you do, it can be viewed as a lack of understanding of appropriate boundaries and judgment, Duchesne says.
What to Wear
Another important consideration is what to wear to the interview. What you wear to the interview can demonstrate your understanding of and your ability to fit into that company's larger culture, says Duchesne. For some companies, like a major manufacturer of snowboards and outdoor equipment, he says, showing up in a suit instantly signals that person will not be a good fit for the company's culture.
"If you can, show up a week or a couple days before your interview and observe how employees are dressed," says Gillis. "Then, dress just a little bit nicer than what you see." If you can't do this, your company research can help you understand the type of environment, and then settle on appropriate dress.
Interview Your Interviewer
And interview should be a two-way conversation between you, the job seeker, and the person interviewing you, say both Gillis and Palazzolo. Have a number of questions prepared for those interviewing you, and if you're having problems coming up with some, use Google, says Gillis.
"If you don't know what to ask, Google it. You can use search terms like, 'Interview questions for law firm' or 'interview questions for electrician,'" Gillis says.
"You should have at least three questions prepared for the interviewer," says Palazzolo, though Gillis advises coming up with between eight and 10.
"This illustrates a level of intellectual curiosity, which is certainly a positive trait to convey in a professional situation. Planning them out beforehand will help you think out a full articulate question; sometimes, thinking of questions on the spot may be less developed or a bit discombobulated, and you may be perceived as unprepared," Palazzolo says.
"There are two questions you should always ask as you conclude the interview, one of which is, 'I'm assuming you're going to hire me, so, a year from now, tell me what success will look like?'" Gillis says. "Another I like to have my candidates ask is 'What should I avoid doing within the first 60 to 90 days on the job?'" he says.
Every Interaction Counts
Remember that the interview starts not when you first shake hands with those who are asking you about your skills and experience, but when you drive into the parking garage, Gillis says.
"It's some kind of universal law, I think, that the guy you steal the parking space from in the parking lot is going to be the person who interviews you," Gillis says. So make sure your behavior is professional from the instant you enter the company's property, he says.
Give up that choice parking space, hold the door open for others, hold the elevator for that employee racing to catch it. Even the smallest gesture can convey a good impression, Gillis says.
"Everyone you come in contact with could be influential. The receptionist is a power broker -- they are the gatekeeper, so they are as important as the CEO," he adds.
The Thank-You Note
The most important thing you can do to follow up after a job interview is to send a thank-you note. Palazzolo says sending a note by email, and personalizing the note to each person you came in contact with.
Gillis takes it one step further by advising all this clients to take a box of blank cards with them to each interview and writing them out immediately after the interview.
"You should be noting everyone's name as you interview with them. Once you've finished the interview, find a quiet spot and write quick thank-yous on these cards. You'll then return to the building and hand these notes to the receptionist and ask him or her to hand-deliver them to the folks you spoke to," he says. While this task my require you to take a little more time after the interview, it's well worth it, says Gillis.
"In a situation where folks have cleared their schedules to speak to you, have taken the time to spend with you, this technique will make the difference," he says. "When was the last time they received a hand-written thank-you note? You will destroy the competition. You will slay them," he says.
Finally, Gillis says, you must ask for the job you want, he says. Not enough job seekers perform this one simple step that can make or break their job search.
"Ask for the job. I'll repeat - ask for the job," Gillis says. "When you shake hands, hold the interviewer's hand for half a second longer than is comfortable, say "I want this job, thank you for your time," and then you can make your exit," he says.
Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.
Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.