Monday, February 27, 2012

Interview Tips, Part 1

As spring is approaching, that means interview season is closing in (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Even if many writers, editors, translators, and teachers work freelance or work with “parallel careers” (i.e. they have a number of part-time jobs), interviews are still a part of what we do, especially in regard to teaching. And yet they are not something we often think about or prepare correctly for.

I’ve had the pleasure of being on a number of interview panels since starting work at the University of East Anglia in England and one of the things I’ve learned most from this experience is what to do – or not to do – at interviews and presentations. It’s amazing how a candidate’s behavior, appearance, and level of preparedness can completely change the minds of the panel; someone who sounds really appropriate on paper can come across as arrogant and hard to work with in person, while someone who sounds possible but not like the best choice can blow us away with his/her intelligence and enthusiasm. Since I have participated in interviews for jobs related to literature, writing, and translation, here I will offer tips that are particularly appropriate for people working in those fields, but the general ideas can be applied to many interview and presentation situations.

Since I have so many tips, I am going to divide them into three posts.

General tips

--Wear clothes that actually fit you. Too often I’ve seen people come in wearing shirts that gap, showing off their bellies or breasts, or trousers that are too tight, offering a view of a camel toe or the outline of underpants, or that otherwise don’t fit. Don’t just trudge out your interview outfit the night before the interview; try it on days in advance and go purchase something new if necessary. People get an impression of you right away and you don’t want to make your interviewers embarrassed by the sight of too much flesh. It’s just unprofessional.

--Similarly, wear clothes that are clean and neat. I’ve been astonished to see people come in wearing stained or hole-ridden sweaters or trousers; it just suggests that they don’t care too much about their appearance, which makes the panel wonder what else they don’t care about. You may wear those clothes when writing at home, but don’t wear them to the interview. Also, if you have a presentation one day and the interview the next, don’t wear the same outfit. It gives people the impression that you aren’t particularly clean.

--Jeans generally aren’t appropriate interview wear. You don’t have to come in a business suit if that’s not your style, but don’t wear sloppy, wrinkled, overly casual clothes either. If possible, spend a day on the campus/grounds before your interview and see what the staff members seem to wear, and then dress slightly better than that.

--Also, don’t wear any heavy colognes or perfumes. I work with several people with severe allergies and you don’t want to make the interview panel gasp for breath. You also don’t want to walk out of the room and leave the panel wishing for fresh air rather than wishing for you to join their department.

--In general, try to look like you take care of yourself. While we aren’t judging you on your looks, it can put us off if you have messy hair, an unshaven face (not that you have to be cleanly shaven, just that you shouldn’t have a day or two’s worth of shadow), bad breath, or too much make-up. Your look should reflect who you are, obviously, but also remember that you’re in a professional setting and should look fairly, well, professional.

--Be aware of any nervous habits you have – biting your nails, picking your nose, jiggling your foot, playing with your hair, and so on – and avoid doing them. It’s very distracting to people who are trying to listen to you. We sympathize with you because we know interviews are nerve-racking, but a key for you is to appear calm and confident.


Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner said...

Great stuff! As someone who's interviewed hundreds of candidates for in-house translation positions, I can honestly say that the vast majority of applicants are either dressed unprofessionally, are unprepared or speak badly of a previous employer. And don't even get me started about the applicant who had taken her sneaker (!) off in the lobby and had her hand stuck in it (was she looking for a pebble?) just as I was coming out. She shook my hand. She did not get the job.

B.J. Epstein said...

Ugh, that's not a pleasant memory. I am not surprised she didn't get the job.

Best wishes,