Interviewing Like a Champ
If you make it out of the inbox abyss, you’ll almost definitely have to do an interview, either in person or over the phone. If it’s in person, play the part: Hewitt suggests you do a little spy mission before the day of the interview to see how people there dress on the job. Take those cues, but “step it up a little bit,” she says, “because you are on an interview.” Maybe at the bookstore they wear jeans, but put on some nicer pants to show them you mean business. Be on time, obviously.
Most sit-downs will start with prompts that sound deceivingly basic: Walk me through your résumé or Why do you want a job here? or Tell me about a time you failed at something and how did you turn it around. Have some talking points ready, because these can be tricky. Obviously, you’ll be tempted to say that you’ve never failed at anything, but that’s not what they’re asking, and you want to be prepared with a good example of how you turned a challenging situation around so that you’re not just explaining how you dropped that one class, but who needs trigonometry anyway?
Another tricky thing: amping yourself up. It may feel weird to talk about how awesome you are, but that’s what an interview is for. “A job interview is about selling yourself, but not seeming like an asshole, which is also what professional success is about,” says Friedman. (For an example of how not to act, watch this Michael Cera video.) “Everyone can talk in generalities about what they’re good at,” she adds. “Going in with three specific examples [for each positive trait] is really helpful. Have three stories to tell about times you really excelled or solved a problem.”
Do: Be ready to ask your own questions at the end of the interview—at least one or two to show you’re plugged-in and curious. Inquiring about what kind of new projects are coming up in the next few months, for instance, will show interest. (Asking what time you can leave every day is a query for another time.) “These people aren’t just interviewing you for a job—you’re [also] interviewing them,” says Spiers. Adds Hewitt: “It is good to ask open-ended questions that will allow the interviewer to talk, as opposed to short yes/no questions.”
Don’t: Forget to practice. “A simple question like ‘Tell me about yourself,’ which seems like it should be so easy, is really hard if you don’t practice, because there are no parameters around it,” Friedman says. Reading over some common interview questions can help prevent you from being caught off guard.
Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. “It’s just proper etiquette to reiterate your interest in the job,” says Spiers. It’s also a good idea to reference a specific point from the interview—something that stuck with you or got you thinking. It shows you were paying attention.
Do: Be prompt with any additional information requested of you. Sometimes after an interview, a prospective employer will ask you to turn in answers to follow-up questions or a list of hypothetical projects, ideas, etc. If you’re given three days to complete a task, turn it in after two.
Don’t: Miss your chance. “Once in a while I still get handwritten notes—it’s a pleasant surprise, but places are making decisions fairly quickly,” says Hewitt. “If you wait too long, it might not get there in time.” In general, email is fine.
Oh, hey–you got a job offer! Congratulations! But you’re not quite done yet. First you need to know how much you’re getting paid. Everyone should be compensated fairly for their work, so be sure to have an idea about how much other people in the field are making. Look up similar job titles on Salary.com or PayScale.com so you’ll know what to reasonably expect. “Approach it like a research project,” recommends Friedman. “Figure out what the standard is, and ask for that, plus a little bit more.”
Sometimes entry-level pay isn’t negotiable, but you can ask for other, nonmonetary things like time off, or a specific start or end date. “Know what is most important to you and what you want to negotiate,” Hewitt says.
Do: Be assertive. “Negotiation takes practice, especially if you’re a little bit reserved,” says Spiers, but “nothing’s going to explode if you ask for more [money]. Half the women I make offers to just take the first offer no matter what it is, and almost none of the men do. Negotiation doesn’t bother me—it’s a standard part of the process.”
Don’t: Be pushy or defensive. If you can’t accept a salary that’s lower than you need, politely decline. You never know if you’ll come back to the company at some later date or when you’ll cross paths with these people again, so you don’t want to walk out in a huff and leave a bad impression. If you accept, but you’re still not happy about the terms, don’t make up for it with petty orders, like an Aeron desk chair. “You don’t want to come across as demanding,” Hewitt says, “so figure out what are the [one or two] things you really need, and start with those.”
Dealing With Rejection (If Necessary)
If everyone got every job they wanted, it wouldn’t be called a job hunt and we’d all be Beyoncé. The farther you make it in the application process, the more it’s likely to sting if the answer comes back “no”—but it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. A ton of considerations factor into hiring, and that includes occasional favoritism and random luck, as with my very first gig as a below-average sandwich artist. Finding a job might seem like a full-time position in itself, but every moment you’re not doing someone else’s bidding could be devoted to your own hustle. And who knows, maybe soon you’ll be the one doing the hiring. ♦