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Science Careers Blog

January 11, 2010

Sweat the Small Stuff (but Don't Sweat), and Other Interview Tips

A recent Wall Street Journal's careers section advises job hunters to pay attention to details when interviewing for jobs, particularly in this highly competitive job market, and explains what happens when they don't. Writer Joann Lublin offers horror stories of interviews gone bad, because job candidates did not prepare, were in attentive or careless, or just left their good common sense at home.

In a what-was-he-thinking example, one interviewee who underestimated the travel time to the employer's office, jogged 12 blocks on a summer's day to the interview site, where -- soaking wet -- he asked the receptionist if the office had shower facilities that he could use before the session. They didn't have those facilities and he didn't get the job either.  Lublin advises prospects to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time. You can always find a place away from the interview site to wait and keep cool.

Attire, of course, is important in an interview, and a June 2009 Science Careers article provides tips for making the best sartorial impression.  One piece of advice in that article was not to push the fashion envelope in a job interview, a point apparently lost to an applicant mentioned by Lublin. This candidate apparently wore a low-cut dress that exposed not only cleavage, but also a tattoo when she leaned over the desk. The job, at a hospital in a small conservative Texas town, was filled by another applicant.

Where the interview involves a meal, you need to remember more than just your table manners, says Lublin. Being on time is always good advice, but particularly when a meal is involved where your tardiness is more visible. In one case of an employer who took a group of candidates out for a meal, one candidate arrived late, well after the rest of the group was seated. A business etiquette specialist telling the story to Lublin, said the candidate compounded the error by ordering the most expensive item on the menu and then ate so quickly that he was finished even before others in the group had been served.  

Employers like prospects who show enthusiasm, but there are limits. One candidate cited by Lublin waved his hands wildly during the interview first knocking over a water bottle -- fortunately still sealed -- but later sending an uncovered mug of coffee sailing across the conference table.

One way to make a better impression is to pay attention in the interview. Lublin tells of one candidate who mispronounced the interviewer's name four times -- even after being corrected three times. The interviewer told Lublin it was probably a case of nerves, but he chose another candidate who seemed to be less easily flustered.

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