Each interview process is different – depending on the industry, depending on the employer. You prepared a cover letter, a resume, and possibly more to get to the interview part of the application process. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to investigate the company. Learn as much as you can and prepare to passionately tell the interviewer why they don’t need to look any further – you are the one for the job.
Where do you start? I have been fascinated with the concept of mystery shopping since the 1990s. A company is hired to secretly investigate that standards are being met and employees are acting according to policy. As part of the interview process, I investigate the company by going to the location. I look at the company from both the customer and the employee point of view. You might want to do this before you apply for a job. I prefer to wait until I know I’m being considered for the position. I pay attention – looking and listening – to everything and everyone. What do I observe?
- Does the staff engage customers?
- Does the staff smile? How do they act?
- Does the staff talk to one another?
- Do the customers seem to find what they seek?
- Do the customers willingly engage the staff?
- Do things look like they are in order, complete disarray, or somewhere in-between?
- Do you notice anything out of the ordinary?
- Do you notice something new or fascinating?
I could go on – but you get the idea. Really observe every detail. Take it all in. Overall, how do you feel in this building? Could you see yourself engaging with the customers and the staff? What was your gut reaction when you walked into the building and what was it by the time you left?
Physical structure: The physical structure can be a sign of financial success or failure. It can also be a sign of what is important to the business. Money might be tight – but being put to use for more important matters like customers and staff.
- What is the building structure?
- How is the lighting?
- Are there strange or strong smells?
- Is there ample seating? What condition is it in?
- What type of flooring is throughout the building?
- Are bathrooms taken care of?
- Are floors, walls, and ceilings structurally sound?
- What is the condition of the stairs? elevators?
- Do you notice signage? What do you think of it?
- Do you see art or anything aesthetically pleasing?
Ask yourself if you feel like you are walking alongside Joe –in the opening scene of Joe Versus the Volcano or are you with Harry – the first time he walks into Hogwarts? Typically companies fall somewhere in-between. (These are my all-time favorite movies. Click on the titles or search YouTube for them if you don’t know the references. One has deplorable working conditions while the other one is magical.)
Preparing for the interview.
Practice. Practice interviewing with someone who will be honest with you. Your answers don’t need to be perfect. Become comfortable with the process and routine questions.
Know your body language. Be aware of how you come across to strangers. Do you have a nervous habit? Do you say “yes” often? Do you mumble? Do you scratch your head or have a nervous habit? It’s not always about what you say – but how you say it.
Bring a copy of your cover letter, resume, references, and any other information you were asked to hand in.
Prepare a portfolio. Many of us have a hard time talking about ourselves and worried about sounding arrogant. A portfolio directs the conversation and showcases some of the contributions we have made to our current and previous employers. Make sure your portfolio represents a variety of your talents and speaks to things that may apply to the position you are applying. Your portfolio can include your resume and letters of recommendation. Notate on anything in your portfolio something that isn’t your own work – if you were part of a group for a project, for example.
Bring ideas. Employers are looking for people who can fit in. But they are also looking for fresh ideas and thoughts. What original idea can you bring to the table?
Prepare questions. This can be one of the hardest parts of an interview. It’ll be easier to come up with questions for the employer by remembering you are interviewing the employer too. Was there something in the job posting or job description you are questioning? When you did your secret shopping sweep, did you see anything that might relate to the position you are questioning? If you didn’t find information on the company’s website, ask about the company’s long-term goals or vision. Here are a few common questions you could tweak and ask:
- Is this a new position? Is there something new in the job description?
- Can you describe a typical day?
- What do you see as the top 3 priorities for this position?
- What are some of the biggest challenges facing the department currently?
- Where has the department been successful?
- What is the management style of the company?
- What technology is available to the employees and to the customers/patrons?
- Are there opportunities for professional development within the company?
- How do you evaluate the services you provide? How often do you change your services?
- (Ask the interviewer) how long have you been with the company and what has changed the most during your time here?
- How would you describe the general culture of the company and the workplace?
- What is the time frame for making the hiring decision?
Questions about salary, benefits, and time off are not appropriate questions to ask during the interview. I’ve seen recommendations to ask about the employee evaluation process; but I wouldn’t ask about that unless it directly relates to the position (management or human resources position). Leave these questions for the phone call when you are offered the job.
On the day of the interview:
- Dress appropriately. If you didn’t discover, during your investigation, the culture of the company in order to know how to dress – there are some basic etiquette rules you can follow. It’s always better to dress more professionally than not. Don’t dress in something you will be uncomfortable in. If you have never worn a suit or heels, now is not the time to start (unless you have time to practice and feel comfortable). (See references below.)
- Hygiene is important. Brush your hair. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Wear deodorant. Do not wear heavy cologne, perfumes, or scents.
- Be prompt. Actually, arrive about 10-15 minutes early. Don’t check in too early. Use the bathroom, if needed. Warm and dry your hands.
- Turn your phone off.
- Don’t drink alcohol or take extra medications.
- Tell the truth.
- When you don’t know something. Pause to reflect. Ask questions. Tell them what you know. When all else fails, ask if you can get back to them.
I have interviewed hundreds of people for library jobs. People are typically nervous. Sometimes they are entertaining. Sometimes they are inappropriate. Mostly, people are unprepared. Do your homework. Find out about the company, prepare information about you and your interview questions, dress like you want to impress, and be true to yourself. Good luck in your job hunt. Feel free to email me with questions.
~I’m here to help
Business Insider. October 2014. 7 Psychological Tricks to Use in an Interview. Retrieved from: http://www.levo.com/articles/career-advice/7-psychological-tricks-to-use-in-an-interview
*Interesting article. I’m not sure I agree with everything they have to say. But it’s worth the read because you will reflect on the psychology of the interview.
Grant, Adam. December 2015. The One Question You Should Ask About Every New Job. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/opinion/sunday/the-one-question-you-should-ask-about-every-new-job.html?_r=1&referer=
Quast, Lisa. January 2014. 8 Tips To Dress For Interview Success. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2014/01/27/8-tips-to-dress-for-interview-success/#428a1c3472f9
*Great tip in this article: Go to a department store like Macy’s or Nordstrom and get opinions from store stylists.
Vogt, Peter. 2016. Dressing for the Interview by Industry: How to Dress for an Interview. Monster. http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/Interview-Appearance/Dressing-for-Interview-by-Industry/article.aspx
Kudos to the Secret Shopper business for keeping integrity a priority in the mystery shopping industry. “At Secret Shopper® our focus is to provide top notch quality market research at the best possible value. We do this in a direct, open and transparent manner. We partner with our clients to support their leadership within their respective industries. Secret Shopper® strives to be the best value in the Mystery Shopping industry.”