It’s the holiday season and I am feeling generous. After interviewing a series of job candidates this past year, I thought I would share some dos and don’ts of interviewing-in particular, at a non-profit. Most of these ideas are applicable to both for-profit and non-profit settings. However, non-profits are quirky places to eat, breathe and work. The workplace culture can definitely be on display throughout an interview. Is there alcohol featured somewhere in the room? Is the interviewer in business attire or business casual? Does the interview occur in a closed office or out on a couch? These are items to note as you sit down for your face-to-face interview.
Here are Some Tips on What You Should NOT and what you SHOULD do during the Interview
- Don’t arrive late. It just looks bad. You will come off as disinterested. Now, I actually have hired someone came late to both the first and follow-up interview. But this person was very, very smart and seemed a good fit. It did, however, always stay at the back of my mind. I knew timeliness could be a bit of a problem. Since I had a heads up we were able to address that immediately upon hire. But, more often than not, I am not going to hire you if you come late to the interview. If you are not super right for the job, don’t press your luck. Get there at least 5 minutes early. If you get there earlier than 30 minutes expect to wait a while. Thirty minutes early can be a bit annoying and cause a traffic jam of sorts.
- Don’t state that you would handle a problem by calling your dad. If you do not know the answer to a particular question, that’s ok. Just state you would have to carefully consider the situation and assess the resources available. Don’t state that you would call your dad because he has a certain type of expertise. Unless your dad is Bill Gates, Kenneth Cole or Bill Clinton, that answer is not going to fly.
- Don’t forget to send a thank you card. Plain and simple: it’s good etiquette. Plus, there are many job applicants out there. You want to stand out and be remembered. Send a thank you note within 48 hours of the interview. If you send a note two weeks later you will come off as desperate to find out if you got the job.
- Don’t talk badly about your current or recent past employer. Such talk comes off as petty and again is just bad, bad etiquette. It brings a bit of an “icky” factor to the interview and makes one wonder what your boundaries are. It may also make you look like you are a bit burnt out. You are basically sending the message that you “come with baggage.”
- Don’t go on and on. Make sure you read the interviewer’s body language. If they start fidgeting, moving about the office or calling down to their secretary: stop talking. If I am interviewing you, it should not be that I bite my fingernails down to the core in order to keep myself from poking my eyes out or banging my head against the table. If there are two or more interviewers try to note if there is a signal that they are giving each other. Because I work at a non-profit, one of my signals is when I ask the applicant “what is your favorite tv show?” At that point, I am letting my colleague know that I don’t need to keep the interview going. It does not mean that I do not like the applicant. It just means I have heard enough and can make an informed decision. Now, if you notice that the interviewer closes their notebook five minutes into the interview, take that as a bad sign and try to change up the rhythm of the interview.
- Don’t ask about salary during your first interview. Those things get worked out at the second or third interview. Also, in that same vein, do not mention the 10 other job prospects you are looking into or jobs you have been offered. Makes you seem less than serious about that particular job position.
- Do take notes during the interview. Note taking can serve as an indicator of your interest in what your potential new employer is saying. Make sure, however, to not just scribble your name over and over again on your notepad. Such scribbling will be used as an indicator of your mental stability, homicidal tendencies or predilection for The Shining.
- Do come prepared with questions. However, do not treat this as a way to show how smart you are by having 20 questions written out that you proceed to badger your interviewer with. Such questioning is not impressive and is just boring. When you are asking questions, refer to the notes you just took.
- Do be ready to bring it! You may be asked very specific questions to assess aptitude and ability. Don’t fake it. If you were to get the job and then you can’t produce you will get even less leeway than if you had admitted upfront that there were certain things you were not entirely familiar with.
- Do bring a sense of humor. Laughter is actually a good thing during an interview. Oftentimes, people talk about breaking bread. Well, here you can make a connection through a joke or funny anecdote. Many non-profits like a bit of snarky humor. But you have to make sure to read the environmental cues. Personally, I like someone who has a witty comeback in the moment. Doesn’t mean you have to be a comedian but bring a little sass to the interview. Or rather, bring some personality.
Skills sets are obviously important and are the number one factor in a job offer (supposedly). However, I cannot emphasize enough how good manners and a charming personality will take you far. That thank you note can be the tiebreaker…
P.S. If you are not offered the job and you still have to interact with that particular agency, here is a word of advice: don’t remind them of how horribly you did during the interview. Move on and re-establish a new rapport.