Monday, April 16, 2007

Job interview tips for soon to be graduates

In today’s Houston Chronicle, there is an Associated Press story titled
How to interview like a champ.

The target audience of this article, and the book it references, is soon-to-be college graduates entering the job market. The book, New Rules at Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, by Barbara Pachter, gives advice for preparing for that all-important interview.

While I have not read the book itself, I would venture to guess that it does not address people with disabilities and the additional steps they might need to address. However, the following techniques mentioned in the article are good, practical advice for all job seekers, whether they have a disability or not.

• Be prepared. Know how to relate your relevant experience.

• Make a strong first impression. "It's more than just clothes. Do you look the person in the eye? Do you shake hands?"

• Fake it until you feel it. Behave confidently even if your knees are knocking; your interviewer won't know the difference.

• Send a thank-you note. Even a small touch can set you apart.

Those first three tips should be magnified for anybody with a disability, especially if it is a visible one.

Now, to that short list, I would like to add the following suggestions.

The first impression is so important. The emphasis on conveying confidence at that point is critical. You are asking this person to believe in you enough to select you as the most qualified candidate. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect the interviewer to do that?

Dress for success. It is much better to overdress for an interview than to underdress. Even if the job’s dress code is office casual, nobody will fault you if you interview in a sharp, pressed suit.

If your disability keeps you from doing something during the interview, such as shaking hands, don’t feel awkward about it. The interviewer may be a little uncomfortable at first, and that is when your confidence in handling these situations must be conveyed. Use your confidence as a catalyst to put the interviewer at ease.

Posture can not be overstated. Stand and sit upright, as much as your disability allows.

Be aware of any nervous habits you have and avoid these during an interview. Do not sit there picking at your nails fingers, or other areas, no matter how insignificant you think that behavior is. The interviewer is watching you to see not only what you say, but also how you respond under stress.

Visual impairments have their own unique challenges and being proactive in planning how to deal with these will give you more confidence in handling what could otherwise be awkward moments.

When you first introduce yourself to the interviewer, extend your hand to shake (if you are able). The interviewer will reach to meet your hand. This keeps the interviewer from trying to figure out how you will know his hand is extended, waiting to shake.

Eye contact is important, even if you can’t see. If a person has a visual disability, directing one’s gaze in the direction of the interviewer is still important to the interviewer.

Hand in hand with the above comment about eye contact, remember that facial expressions accompany that eye contact. It is okay to show facial expressions as you interact with the interviewer. It is okay to laugh at appropriate times. These expressions can help the interviewer look beyond the obvious and see the person, not the disability.

Finally, the last tip cited in the article-- yes, the one about sending a thank you note – applies to interviewees with disabilities as well. That can help you make an even stronger and lasting, final impression on the interviewer. Don’t delay in doing this, either. If possible, do it the evening of the day of the interview. If you need somebody to help write the note, then do it. Whatever it takes, get that final point made.

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