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We have all seen it – a person walking down the street or on-campus wearing something that makes us go…hmm. Or, you’ve spent several hours trying to figure out what outfit to wear on a first date. You may not have realized it, but one’s attire is just as important on a date as it is in an interview. How you look and present yourself can have just as much impact an interview as the answers you provide to questions, the firm handshake you deliver, and the thank you letter you send following the interview. Appropriate attire supports your image as someone who takes the interview process seriously and understands the nature of the industry in which you are trying to become employed. Note: Be aware that in some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer is critical. In such industries, your attire will be judged more critically.
So what does it take to look the part? Well…what a male interviewee would wear vs. a female interview would wear is quite different. Lets face it men – you probably shouldn’t wear a knee-high skirt suit with high heels to an interview (unless you are interviewing to be a Scotish Knight in Scotland and need to wear a kilt). Below are some tips regarding what to wear and not wear in preparation for an interview.
Tips for Women:
1. No matter what is suggested, dress professionally. A pant suit is appropriate if you have one, otherwise wear a skirt that is at least knee length. When choosing a color, be conservative (e.g. black, navy, or gray). We recommend avoiding a brown suit if at all possible. Wool, wool blends, or other good quality natural and synthetic fibers, are generally the best fabrics in all seasons. Avoid lower quality acetate/rayon blends.
2. To compliment your suit, wear a button-up collared shirt. Believe it or not, the color of your shirt can make a difference. If you are looking to brighten up your attire, a bright colored shirt would be recommended. However, colors can sometimes be perceived as resembling personalities (e.g. a soft-pink shirt might be perceived as a soft, quiet, and gentle person; while a bright red shirt might be perceived as a fireball or someone who is trying to exhibit power). Our advice, wear a color that other’s close to you think you look good in, or a color that you feel the most comfortable in.
3. Make sure your clothes (suit and shirt) are clean and wrinkle free. A trip to the dry cleaner may be in order if you haven’t broken out your interview suit in a while. Also, carefully inspect clothes for tags, dangling threads, etc.
4. Ladies – we know you love your shoes, but the interview is not the time to show off your latest trendy purchase. Wear shoes that are comfortable. If wearing a heeled shoe, we recommend that the heel not exceed two inches. Plain color is the best approach – avoid leopard print high heels.
5. Keep your hair simple…meaning out of your face. You want to make sure that you full face is visible (especially the eyes) and that you are not spending most of your time in the interview brushing your hear back or tucking it behind your ears.
6. When it comes to jewerly – keep it simple and avoid gaudy or distracting earrings, necklaces, or braclets. Also, keep the perfume to a minimum as others could be sensitive to the smell.
7. Keep makeup conservative. If you are going for a more polished and professional look, a little is usually better than none. Nails should be clean and well groomed. Also, avoid extreme nail length and polish color.
8. Hosiery should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer is most conservative (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. If possible, avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color.
9. If you are looking to compliment your attire with a purse or bag, a business-like tote bag is ideal for interviews and other professional occasions. It can carry your padfolio, extra copies of your resume and any other papers you might need, and personal items can be concealed within. The color of your tote/purse should coordinate with your overall attire; it does not have to match your shoes, but should not clash in style and color.
10. Finally, don’t confuse club attire with interview attire. What you wear to a club should probably not be worn to an interview.
Tips for Men:
1. No matter what is suggested, dress professionally. A suit is highly recommended if you have one, otherwise a nice pair of slacks, button up shirt with a tie (minimal). When choosing a color, be conservative (e.g. black, navy, or gray). We recommend avoiding a brown suit if at all possible. Wool, wool blends, or other good quality natural and synthetic fibers, are generally the best fabrics in all seasons. Avoid lower quality acetate/rayon blends.
2. To compliment your suit, wear a button-up collared shirt with a tie. Believe it or not, the color of your shirt can make a difference. If you are looking to play it safe a white or lite-blue colored shirt would be recommended. However, colors can sometimes be perceived as resembling personalities (e.g. a bright red shirt might be perceived as a fireball or someone who is trying to exhibit power). Our advice, wear a color that other’s close to you think you look good in, or a color that you feel the most comfortable in. As for the tie, avoid Star Trek or Three Stooges ties…or anything with silly graphics on it. The more conservative the better; a tie that compliments your shirt (matches) is preferred. Note: some ties with bold/large strips can be perceived as power ties; as well as all pink or red ties.
3. Make sure your clothes (suit and shirt) are clean and wrinkle free. A trip to the dry cleaner may be in order if you haven’t broken out your interview suit in a while. Also, carefully inspect clothes for tags, dangling threads, etc.
4. When it comes to your sock selection – white gym socks are for the gym not the interview. The key is to keep it simple…if you are wearing a black suit, wear black dress socks. If you are wearing a grey or navy suite, black dress socks are probably best. Also, make sure the length of the socks is at least mid-calf high. You do not want to show any skin when sitting down, even if you think your legs are your best feature.
5. The same approach you will take with your socks, is the same as your selection for your shoe selection. Black suit – black dress shoes; Grey suit – black dress shoes; Navy suit – black or brown dress shoes. Note: absolutely no tennis shoes! On a related note, your belt should match the color choice of your shoes (a brown belt should not be worn with black dress shoes and visa versa). Lastly, make sure your shoes are polished.
6. Guys, unless you are Justin Bieber or Carrot Top avoid obnocious hair styles. Well groomed hair styles and facial hair is preferred; or being cleaned shaven is also preferred. For men with long hair, make sure that it is pulled back and out of your face. You don’t want to spend most of the interview brushing it back out of your face or tucking it behind your ears.
7. For jewerly, wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewelry, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. For conservative industries, don’t wear earrings. If you have other piercings (e.g. lip, nose, eye brow), we recommend removing them as well.
8. Avoid having your hands and fingernails look like that of a mechanic or farmer. Cleaned and groomed fingernails are recommended.
Remember, no matter if you are a man or woman, the look you decide to go with is how others will perceive you. Your professional attire says as much about your brand than your resume. If you are preferring for a phone interview, practice interview with a career counselor or mentor, or will be attending a company information session – the aforementioned rules apply. By “looking the part”, you are half way to a successful interview!
“…Ask What You Can Do For the Company!”
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to sit on a search committee for a high level position, and as part of this process participated in interviewing multiple finalists. What surprised me most about this process was how 60% of the finalists failed in two major categories of the interview: doing their research in preparation for the interview and being able to answer the question “Why are you interested in this position and how does it relate to your career goals?” So…you may be asking yourself what does this have to do with me…well, these finalists were no longer considered for the position based on their lack of preparation (even though they were very strong on paper). Do you want to end up in the same boat…I am guessing NO! Below I have outlined each of these two major categories and how to best approach them.
RESEARCHING THE EMPLOYER
In preparing for your interview, it is extremely important that you take the time to research the employer so that you are able to articulate why you are a good fit for the company. Find out what their mission/purpose is, the size and structure of the organization, what services/products they provide, any awards/recognition they’ve received, what they’ve been in the news for, what do others within or outside of the company say about them…what makes them unique compared to their competing companies. If you have done your research, this question gives you an opportunity to show initiative and demonstrate how your experience and qualifications match the company’s needs. Here are a few strategies you can use to research employers:
Talk to People
- Identify people who work for or have knowledge about the employer or industry. These could be people you meet at a career fair, family members, neighbors, or alumni contacts (The SPH Alumni Networking Database and LinkedIn can be very helpful with this).
- Set-up an informational interview (see our Informational Interviews tip sheet ). Ask professionals about their experience with the organization, what the organization values, and the company culture.
Research the Employer’s Website
- Look at the organization’s mission statement and values, the news media section, information about the management team, locations, history, and organization structure.
- Focus on what makes this employer unique within their competitive market. What about the company resonates with you the most.
- Many companies now have profiles on LinkedIn, the world’s largest online professional networking site. Check out company profiles to learn about the organization and find contacts to connect with, click on “Companies” and then “Search Companies.” You can select your search criteria including location, size, keyword, and industry type.
- Use the “Follow” tool to stay in tune with the latest news and company information.
- You can also use Company pages to reach out and network with professionals on the “inside”. Make sure you customize your connection invite (tip: review their individual profile and find information that you would like to learn more about – include this in your message). Do not use the template response!
- Another great resource in helping research employers is the University of Minnesota Libraries. Each library on-campus provides the opportunity for students to use multiple databases to search for and find information on almost every employer including, company information, industry information, market trends, statistical data, and much more. To access these databases, visit: https://www.lib.umn.edu/business.
Q: WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN THIS POSITION & HOW DOES IT ALIGN WITH YOUR CAREER GOALS?
One should expect that in every interview this type of question will be asked (in one form or another). So what should you do to prepare for this type of question and what is the best approach. Here are a few tips to help you out:
- First of all…make sure you understand this is a two-part question (so try to not forget one of the parts). If you do forget, you can certainly ask them to repeat the question.
- In order to answer the first part of the question (Why are you interested in this position), one MUST do their research of the employer in order to be successful. Employers like to ask this question to determine whether or not the applicant has researched their company and feels they are a good fit.
- Following your research of the employer, determine what you feel are the 3 main bridges between you and the employer. What stands out to you about the employ and/or the position? How does this position align with your qualifications and career goals? How would your past experiences and skills help make the employer successful? How do your passions fit with this position? Why is this the right cultural or environmental fit for you? Try and be detailed in your responses (don’t respond with “I am interested in this position because I enjoyed helping others”).
- Now comes the second part of the question – career goals. Start by reflecting on both your short- and long-term career goals (where do you see yourself in a few year? where do you see yourself 10-20 years down the road?). Employers like to ask this question to determine many things including, are you mature, are you goal or vision oriented, are you self-aware, and how long do you plan on staying with the new position. Start by talking about the job you are applying for and how it specifically fits your goals (try and relate them to the employer). The talk about longer-range goals (it is okay to keep them general and semi-tailored to the industry you are interviewing for).
By researching the employer, discovering the bridges between you and them, and reflecting on your career progression will help you avoid being the candidate that is not prepared no matter how good their resume is.
In the spirit of the 2012 Olympic games taking place in London, England I wanted to provide you with a unique spin on the Olympic games…something we like to call Job Search Olympics. Similar to the multitude of athletes competing in a variety of events, all of these athletes have two things in common…extensive preparation and goal setting. No matter the sport, the athletes who are the most successful are those who prepare the most, build upon their strengths and set realistic goals. Competition, like in the Olympics can be fierce. By following the steps below, as well as others suggested by your Career Services Office, you can separate yourself from the competition and become the Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt of Job Search Success.
1. “Bump…Set…Spike” (Volleyball): Similar to the offensive process of trying to earn a point for your team, the Job Search process has three main parts: Assess…Prepare…and Act. Start by assessing your values, skills, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and work criteria (e.g. who are you and what are you looking for). By knowing yourself, you will be able to approach the net (or the job search) with greater confident and clarity. Second, prepare yourself for a successful job search by knowing how, where and with whom to network. In addition, develop a resume and cover letter that is customized to each position and organization you are interested in (e.g. know your opponent). Lastly, apply and interview for positions that match your qualifications. We may not all be the best setter or striker, as long as you meet the “essential qualifications or skills” they are seeking you will be successful. The key to a successful “spike” is to be the aggressor and know how to work around the defense. Think of the defense (or those trying to block your spike as the questions you will be asked in the interview). By knowing the position description, yourself, your resume and practicing with a career counselor or through Interview Stream you be able to adapt to any question and thus score that winning point we like to call a “job offer”.
2. “Pace Yourself” (Track): You may have heard the concept that the job search is a full-time job in itself. Well…it is true, but not in terms of putting in 40 hours a week or even 8 hours a day. Instead, it means approaching your job search with the same attitude you would if working a full-time position. If you go into a full-time job working 60-80 hours a week working your tail off to get as much done as possible…and as quickly as possible…you will burn out very quickly; similar to track runners who push too hard at the start of the race and run out of energy at the end. My recommendation would be to pace yourself. The average job search can take between 4-6 months (6-8 for government positions). Consider taking the “deck of cards” approach. Grab a deck of cards (including the jokers) and shuffle the deck. Once the deck is shuffled, choose a number between 1-10; this will be the value of all face cards (e.g. Jacks, Queens, Kings). For each day of your job search, flip over a single card – whatever value it reads is the number of positions or networking connections you will make that day (or week). If you happen to flip over a joker, you have earned yourself a day off! No matter the strategy…remember to pace yourself and avoid job search burnout; finish the race strong!
3. “Making a Big Splash in the Candidate Pool” (Swimming): If you have ever attended a career fair you most likely heard at least once (if not multiple times) the phrase “apply through our website.” Believe it or not, employers (or recruiters) tend to use this for traffic control…helping streamline candidates interested in their organization. So how do you become the Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps of the candidate pool? Here’s how! A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked employers for their advice on how to make an electronic application outstanding – here is what they recommended:
- Follow directions. Be careful to enter the correct data in the correct field. (Don’t swim out of your lane)
- Tailor your application information to the position. Don’t copy and paste text from your generic resume. Use keywords, buzz words, and industry verbiage. Use the verbiage in the job description as your model. Employers search on key words when they’re looking for people to fill specific positions. (if you’re swimming the 4-100 medley and are not strong in the butterfly…don’t offer to swim the leg of the race that is the butterfly just because you are a swimmer; swim the leg of the race that is your strongest).
- Include numbers and statistics (quantify) your application if applicable. For example: counted five cash drawers daily; responsible for more than $10,000 per 8-hour shift. (Do you remember swimmers who won a gold medal or do you remember swimmers who won a gold medal and set a new world record?)
- Make sure your resume can hold its own in a very simple format. Fancy bullets, text, italics, and bold do not convert well in an electronic application. Also, don’t forget to spell check and grammar check your application before submitting it. Have an error-free application because this application serves as the employer’s first impression of you. (It is less about the type of swim attire swimmers wear and more about how they swim).
- Follow-up your electronic application with a personal e-mail to the recruiter. A follow-up phone call is acceptable if the job description does not say, “no phone calls.”
For additional tips, please visit: http://www.sph.umn.edu/careers/tipsheets/. Remember – stay focused, compete and know your competition…go for the gold!
In honor of renowned author Stephen Covey, who recently passed at the age 79, we’ve taken the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” from his all-time best-selling book, which sold 20 million copies, and applied it to the job search process.
1) Be Proactive
As job seekers, we are responsible for our own career and job search success. Each of us have the fortitude and independent will to make decisions (choices) that can make or break our job search. Being proactive, especially in a down economy, is more than just hunting for job postings as if they were prey…and you were the predator. Being proactive starts by committing yourself to the search itself; make it a priority. Once you’ve dedicated yourself to the search, we recommend that you do 3 things: 1.) Develop a strong customized resume and cover letter that is tailored to each position and organization you are applying to; 2.) Network – whether in person or through social media, networking your way to hiring managers (or what we call the decision makers) is key to any job search; and 3.) Follow-up – don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything from the employer after having applied. It is your responsibility to follow-up with them to acknowledge receipt of your application, see where they are in the hiring process, and be willing to offer any information to questions they may have. Don’t be the “reactor” – be the aggressor! Being proactive in the job search will be one of, if not the, greatest asset you have going for you.
2) Begin With The End In Mind
Covey once said, “all things are created twice; first, the mental conceptualization and visualization and a second physical, actual creation.” You are your own innovator/navigator, and thus must visualize what a successful job search would look like for YOU! What type of job would be ideal for you? What type of work environment would you thrive in the most? What type of culture and individuals do you see yourself wanting to work with? These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself when developing this visual. As part of that visual, you can then set the stepping stones (goals) as part of the path that will allow you to develop a job search action plan that leads you to the end result you had initially visualized.
3) Put First Things First
When it comes to the job search, no job seeker is or can be successful unless they have strong self-awareness; know yourself. What are your values, strengths, weaknesses, skills, knowledge areas, career goals and personality? By knowing yourself first, you can not only determine what types of positions you are interested in but also know how to represent yourself in your application materials and in the interview. In today’s job market, most employers are looking more at personality and soft skills when hiring. Know what you bring to the table and how it can help their bottom line; but also know what your limitations are. By becoming self-aware first, the rest of the process will seem a lot easier.
4) Think Win/Win
Go in with a winning attitude; in others words…be self-confident. Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives, yet so many people struggle to find it. Self-confident people inspire confidence in others: their audience, their peers, their bosses, their customers, and their friends. Gaining the confidence of others is one of the key ways in which a self-confident person finds success. If we learn and work hard in a particular area, we’ll succeed; and it’s this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks. Thinking with a win-win attitude is also about recognizing the small wins. Olympians did not achieve their level of success unless they focused on the small wins…eventually leading them to the top. For instance, applying for a position and getting an interview but no offer is something I would consider a small win. We will all have to face rejection or setbacks, it is how we react to these that determines our success; in other words…keep a positive attitude. Stay focused, believe and trust in yourself…and watch the magic happen.
5) Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
To duck tail what was explained in Habit #3 (Put First Things First), not only is self-awareness important but it is your responsibility to communicate this awareness to your future employer with the goal of being understood. In Career Services we explain to students that the three things employers are analyzing with any applicant: 1.) do you know yourself, 2.) do you know the position, and 3.) do you know the employer. Most students fail to realize that the job posting or position description is their answer key; one that includes a “wish list” of qualifications, strengths, and experiences the employer is seeking. It is also a document that you can use to determine what types of interview questions you can anticipate in the interview. Here’s a tip: go through the position description and highlight all the keywords that represent the skills, experience and knowledge you have. Next, incorporate these into your application materials. After you have highlighted the keywords, determine the 3-5 that are your strongest. These are the qualifications you will highlight in your cover letter, in the summary of qualifications section of your resume, and what you will communicate in the interview when asked any questions related to skills, qualifications, strengths, etc. For additional interview preparation tips, visit: http://www.sph.umn.edu/careers/tipsheets/interviews/.
Having “Synergy” involves being cooperative, being able to work in a team, being open-minded, and being willing to find new solutions to problems. Lets face it…there are very few jobs that do not require the need to work with others. How well do you work with others? Are you able to see things from different perspectives? Are you able to develop multiple solutions to problems? Are you able to know what you don’t know and who to go to for assistance? These questions and more are among those that employers are seeking answers to. The employer has needs to fill and problems to solve – it is your responsibility to convince them that you have the ability to be the solution. By communicating effectively, being flexible and adaptable, and having strong problem solving skills are what will make you an ideal job candidate for any employer.
7) Sharpen The Saw
A dull saw is like a pencil with no lead…it won’t get the job done! The same applies to you! It is essential in any job search that you take the time to re-energize or replenish yourself. The job search process can be exhausting at times, so it is important to avoid job search burnout by sharpening the saw…in other words YOU! These techniques include, but are not limited to, exercise and healthy eating, reading, volunteering, meditation, traveling or participating in a recreational activity. We don’t all use the “saw” the same amount, so some of us have to sharpen the “saw” more often. Stay sharp my friend!
For more information about Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weYmwv2iyR8.
When it comes to which is better – quantity or quality, your answer might be – it depends. It depends on what exactly we’re talking about, and in what context too. For example, would you rather have gone on 50 average dates, or 1 date that was far better than any other date you’ve ever been on before?
If you believe in love at first sight, know yourself well and what you want…you might just go with the one. However, if you don’t know yourself or what you’re truly looking for in that special someone…then you might decide on 50 dates. Lets be honest…going on 50 dates can be damaging to the bank account. I recently watched a news story about a woman whose goal was to go on 52 dates in 52 weeks. What happens if she meets her prince charming on date 1? What she forgo the remaining 51 dates? Would she even know what her prince charming would look like or act like? Chances are she is more interested in quantity vs. quality, and might not exactly know what she wants or is looking for. The moral of the story is that knowing who you are and what you’re looking for is the key variable to achieving your goals.
Quality is Most Important:
And that totally makes sense. Lets take this blog for example. We only want to read things that are worth our time and are useful, moving, noteworthy, unique, relevant, well thought out, etc. – especially when it’s the kind of information that’s supposed to help us improve some aspect of our personal or professional lives. The same is not only true when it comes to dating, but is also true when it comes to interviewing for employment opportunities. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes.” Here are a few tips/suggestions to help you develop a higher quality experience…both when it comes to dating and interviewing:
1. Know Yourself: Assessing one’s values, strengths, weaknesses, passions, attributes and skills will develop greater self-awareness and help clarify your goals. Accept who you are rather than who you think others want you to be. Having self-confidence is one of the most important aspects to any situation. For instance, most people are reluctant to support an initiative/proposal that is being pitched by someone who is scared, fumbling or over apologetic. However, these same people will be more persuaded by someone who speaks clearly, who holds his or her head high, who answers questions assuredly, and who readily admits if they do not know something.
2. Know What Your Want: Assess what values and characteristics in a company/person are most important to you; which ones are you okay with overlooking if not on your list? What personal or professional goals do you have for yourself and how will the company/person help you achieve them? The process of setting goals is a powerful process that gives you long term vision and short-term motivation. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where and how to focus your efforts. When it comes to dating, both people usually try to get a sense of why the other person is there. Do they want to hook-up, meet a new friend, or have a long-term relationship? As for the interview, employers are wondering the same thing…well, more so why you are applying for the position. Are you looking for a short-term/part-time position, or are you looking for something more long-term? Either way, make sure that you approach both situations honestly and with clarity – this will help reassure them that you are there for the right reasons!
3. Do You Compliment Each Other? While knowing yourself and what you want is one thing, it is also important to know them. When it comes to dating, this is what we call the Q and A session. Start off with the question “tell me a little about yourself.” Assess what information they share about themselves; is it consistent with their online profile, or does it compliment what you are looking for? If they start spouting off everything on their Facebook profile…they are probably a stalker and might make you cringe. However, they may instead speak to their values and lifestyle requirements; using creative ways to truly show their inner-self. When it comes to the interview – it is expected that you research the company extensively. This doesn’t mean memorizing their “about us” page (you don’t want to be the creepy Facebook person), but instead research news articles from credible sources or network with professionals who have a more direct connection to the company -this will provide you with a deeper understanding of the company. For most interviews you will be asked a question related to “why us.” I recommend identifying at least 3 attributes about the company that specifically attract you to them. The more the attributes have depth, the better the response.
4. Are You Applying Elsewhere (Dating Other People)? Picture yourself on a date with someone that you come to find out has been on 50 dates prior to the one you are currently on. What perception does that create? Are you just another number? Why haven’t they had any success and can they explain why? Unless you are on the Bachelor, dating multiple people might not be the best approach. Remember, there are many out there who would be interested in dating only you! As for the interview – you can almost be guaranteed to be asked this question. While some may same to be honest, I suggest that only mentioning (if applicable) interviews which are with companies of a competitive nature. The employer wants someone who is focused on their career aspirations and knows what they want and when they find it. By going on an interview, you have indicated that you strongly feel you are an ideal fit within their organization…and know why. Approaching an interview with the idea that you just need a job is not the best approach. Like in dating, there are many others out there who would love the opportunity to be in your situation solely because of how much they would love to work with that company. Thus, be selective on who you go on date 2 with (or interview with).
By knowing yourself, knowing what you want, where there are bridges between you and them, and knowing who they are will result in an overall quality dating and interviewing experience. Let’s be real, dating and interviewing have a lot in common – especially when it comes to determining if you are a right fit for each other. Good luck!