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Career Advice

From Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella

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My hands are sweating and I can't breathe

Good Monday morning,

They've asked you to "wait right here for just a bit" and now it's a whole three minutes past when the interview was supposed to start and you're trying (too hard) to read the tea leaves: does that mean it's a done deal and they're just putting the finishing touches on their generous offer? Or have they changed their mind and want to figure out how to let me down gently? Maybe they've found something they love on my resume? Or maybe something they hate? What should I do? Your hands are sweating, you're so uptight that you can't breathe and this big interview hasn't even started!

Of course, unbeknownst to you, the reason your interviewer is late is because the mechanic down at the garage has lost her credit card number (again) and she's patiently repeating it for him again s-l-o-w-l-y.

If you've ever felt nervous going in to an interview, take heart. (And if you've never felt nervous going in to an interview, take your pulse — you might be dead!) It happens to e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y.

One of the benefits of writing the world's largest jobs newsletter is that people share with me their job search stories, their feats, and their fears. And I can tell you that nervousness before a job interview is the same for a million-dollar job ("think about what I have at stake, Marc!") as it is for the entry-level gig ("I've never done this before, I'm so nervous").

So here are ten things you can do to chill out and relax a little before, during and after the interview…

1. Show up with a "good" level of knowledge after doing a "reasonable" amount of research. You'd be surprised at the number of people who haven't looked at the company's homepage, Googled its name, and checked out the stock ticker, before showing up for an interview. Likewise, you might be surprised at the number of people who overdo it and show up with eight pages of questions — single-spaced — and start off with an inquiry as to why margins in the Southwest region have declined by 10% since seven years ago despite favorable currency rates.

2. Be on time, unflustered, with a clean, well-presented copy of your resume. Sure, this sounds like "Interviewing 101", but you know that you've violated this rule at least once in your life because you didn't leave the house ten minutes earlier than you "thought" was safe. Do yourself a favor — it's far better to be wasting 10 minutes in the lobby than stressing out in transit.

3. Dress the part — businesslike and professional, no matter how groovy the company is. Except in cases where the culture is aggressively anti-corporate, a coat-and-tie or demure pearls never make you look bad.

4. Be kind to every employee you meet. As a matter of fact, be kind to everybody within 2 miles of the interview building — the receptionist, the parking lot guy, the janitor and the intern. When I ask our receptionists how a candidate behaved, it is shocking to hear the number of people who think good manners and kindness are only to be trotted out in the interview room.

5. Remember JFK? Or remember what your parents told you about JFK? Ask not what the company can do for you, answer instead "what can I do for this company?"

6. This isn't "Real Housewives", it's not a filming of "Biography" on A&E — it's a job interview in which you will explain and sell your ability to do the job. Stick, mostly, to the business side and how you can solve the problems your future boss is currently facing. Don't go into a half-hour long disquisition on the relative merits of Mozart and Beethoven, the reasons you love/hate (but mostly love) the Yankees, or the intricacies of your college rivalries. The interviewer does not want your life story, they want to know your business capabilities.

7. "Bad mouth thee, bad mouth me." Whenever you trash-talk your former or current employer, guess what the interviewer thinks? "Oh boy, if we hire this guy, I'm next on the firing line!" Never, ever say bad, mean, unkind or even unflattering true things if it displays your ability to be an ingrate, gossip or ne'er-do-well.

8. Save the money talk for last. You should get a range from the recruiter or HR person before going in ("in the interests of saving everybody time, I would need to know what range this position is budgeted for, before considering") and side-step the grilling about your current compensation ("my understanding is that we're talking about a future position at your company and what my skills and talents would be worth in that regard, not what I've been paid in the past for a different role, with different responsibilities, at a different company — am I correct in assuming that or am I off-base?"). Don't bring it up in interviews until after they know how excited they are about working with you, because that's when they're most likely to get excited about paying you more.

9. Thank the interviewer for their time and ask (a few) good questions (especially my "single best question to ask in an interview"). A great all-purpose question to ask at the end: "Is there anything else I should've asked about this role or my future boss that I haven't asked?"

10. Send a thank you email. Thank the interviewer again and reiterate (very briefly) what you discussed and how you can contribute. Three sentences is a good length. Five sentences maximum. Walk out of the interview with a note taken on one specific thing you discussed: "I enjoyed our conversation around the changes in the mobile ecosystem and how my background could be useful in designing the advertising strategy for the Big Mick in McDowell's upcoming national campaign." This helps the interviewer remember why they like you when time comes to make the go/no-go decision on hiring you.

I hope these tips help reduce some of the anxiety or nerves or "yips" you feel during the interview, and let you shine on through. Have a great week…
I'm rooting for you,
Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella, CEO & Founder

P.S. Join the conversation on my blog » "My hands are sweating and I can't breathe"

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