Letter to a new graduate: Handling the interview

Congratulations!  You are now a new graduate.

If you are a brand new McMaster engineer, there’s a 65% likelihood that you’ve already found your first job.  Sixty percent of those with jobs in your cohort have salary offers in the $55,000 to $75,000 per year range while 8% will earn more than $75,000 upon earning their degree.

However, you might be among the 35% of fresh McMaster Engineering graduates who are still looking for a job.  You might even be a seasoned graduate who is looking to move across companies and specific fields.  If so, you will have to successfully negotiate one or more rounds of interviews.

During an interview, remember that a display of enthusiasm for the company and the job is helpful.  Don’t grovel or be insincere, but have a clear reason for why you are at the interview.  Your attitude should be, “I want this job because … .”

As preparation, get to know the company or organization, its outlook and working conditions. Apart from the company’s web pages, portals like Glassdoor and Indeed can provide helpful reviews, sometimes even for a specific department.

Review the web through sites like Monster and Glassdoor and learn about the questions that employers ask routinely.

Use an app like Google Maps to identify where your inteview site is, the public transit options, or the most convenient parking if you will drive.  Time your travel beforehand and give your self plenty of time to arrive.  Avoid arriving just in time, rushed, breathless and sweaty.

Take a notebook along and, of course, a pen.  You may be asked a question that has multiple parts.  Write the question for reference so that you can refer to your notes if necessary to fully answer it.  Besides, jotting brief notes during an interview is a signal to the hiring manager that you are taking the process seriously.

However, don’t lose yourself in that notebook.  Raise your head, look at the interviewer or panel and smile when appropriate.  Lack of eye contact or a stiff body posture can be misinterpreted as a mark of avoidance or insufficient empathy.

Take a portfolio along with you of your accomplishments that are not readily apparent through a transcript or resume.

If you are a McMaster Engineering graduate, the odds are that you participated in a club, team or other extracurricular activity.

Hence, your portfolio could include an image or video of the smart “Nite Lite” that indicates to a driver that a rider is waiting to board the bus at a dark bus stop, the offroad racing vehicle that you helped build, your part in organizing a hackathon, or your contribution to the development of an iconic hybrid-electric muscle car.  Use your smartphone or tablet to access the Dropbox or Google Drive folder where you have compiled the elements of your portfolio.

Answer the questions that you are asked to the best of your ability.  Be honest during the interview if you are unable to answer.  However, if you require a moment to think, ask for some time politely by saying, “Let me reflect on your question for a moment.”

Don’t discuss salary until you have an offer.

Do not also discuss personal matters, such as your romantic interest, partner, parents, ethnicity, religion, race, or social media activity.  If you are asked, the interviewer’s question is likely illegal.  Avoid answering that question, but make a note of it.  Depending on the context and severity of the interviewer’s intent, you may have to report the question, for instance to the interviewer’s superior or an ombudsperson.

Have questions handy to ask your interviewer.  You will likely be given the opportunity to ask a question or two towards the end of the interview.  During interviews, I don’t take too kindly to a prolonged silence after asking a candidate, “Do you have any questions for us.”

Establish a connection with your interviewer.  Ask them what they love about their job or the company.  Think of the interview not as an oral examination but as a conversation.  Try and convey your passion and interests, particularly where they match with the objectives of the company.

Then there’s etiquette.  Be on time.  Take care of your grooming and personal hygiene.  Don’t appear dishevelled or grungy.  I had a candidate traipse through my office once who looked as though he’d just rolled out of bed.  If you’ve been waiting in a coffee shop, take a mint to cover that possible coffee breath.

Silence your phone.

Dress appropriately.  What you wear should depend on where you are applying and for which position.  For an older more conventional company, you probably won’t go wrong wearing a white blouse or shirt with a dark suit and freshly shined shoes.  However, a social media or tech company, or a creative outlet might have a more relaxed feel for its employees.

In either case, it won’t hurt you to be a tad more conservatively dressed than your interviewers, although the reverse could bite you.  On a related matter, depending upon the company and job, you might wish to play it safe by also covering up any tattoos.

What if you fall sick, and particularly are visibly so?  The hiring manager will not want you to share your germs.  Hence, try and reschedule.

Finally, follow up after the interview with a brief but enthusaistic thank you note.  Sending a courteous note indicates to the interviewer that you’ll contribute positively to the culture of the organization.

The economy is performing relatively well.  Companies are hiring.  All the best!

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