Rob’s Rules: InterVIEWED

June 28, 2011

RobsRulesBy Rob Schaefer

Every week I watch a parade of individuals walk into our offices to fill out an application, drop off an application or drop by to see if we are hiring.

And about 90% of these individuals would never be hired simply because of their appearance, manners or grammar. I find it astounding that in an economy with thousands of people out of work and thousands of graduates trying to find work, looking the part doesn’t seem to be a priority. Seeking a job is like auditioning for a movie – every detail is noticed, the camera adds five pounds and you better know your lines.

I have found that ego is an applicant’s worst enemy. I call it the
“why should I” syndrome. Here are a few examples:


•I just graduated from college and deserve a great job and a high-rise apartment with a view!
• I am doing these people a favor by talking with them. They should be grateful.
• I have my own personal style and no one is going to tell me what to wear!
• The company has a relaxed dress code so why should I dress up for the interview?
• They are familiar with my work; why should I get a briefcase or portfolio album?
• They called me at the last minute. Why should I get a haircut? After all, I had to cancel my workout.
• They correspond with me via e-mail; why should I have to hand write a thank you note?

Rebecca was a very smart and attractive girl and did not have to work during college. She had several prestigious unpaid internships with major marketing companies and had glowing references. On the day of her interview, Rebecca called the company receptionist twice from the freeway, was very glib about being lost because she was too lazy to look up directions or call ahead for parking instructions. She rushed in the office 5 minutes late with an expensive but wrinkled two-piece outfit on, no pantyhose and very high heels. Her expensive designer bag was crammed with folders and bottled water. She had a beautiful manicure with pink polish. While waiting for the interview to begin, she touched up her makeup and checked her cell phone several times for text messages. At one point she did receive a call and told the caller she would call them later and let
them know how it went. After 2 hours of interviews, she was offered lunch. She ordered Coke and a pasta dish, began eating before anyone else was served and gobbled it down talking nonstop. She took a 15-minute washroom break and made a personal phone call overheard by staff. Then, she applied more makeup and perfume.

Paula was a very smart, yet plain girl, who worked full-time during college and received college credit for her work-study program. She had personal references and a few from her professors. During the phone interview, Paula asked for directions and where to park. She arrived at the interview 15 minutes early and busied herself reading the marketing material on display in the lobby. She wore a simple gray pantsuit and white silk blouse with a strand of pearls and a medium height black heel. She had pulled her hair back and had applied minimal makeup.

She carried a simple black organizer containing her résumé and references and left her cell phone in the car. After 2 hours of interviews, she was offered lunch. She ordered chicken salad NS water with lime and carefully waited until all guests were served before beginning. She did not clean her plate and took a brief washroom break to chew a mint and freshen up.

Who would you hire? E-mail me at [email protected]
and let me know!

It is a tough world out there and you are only setting yourself up for failure if you think that hiring is strictly based on talent. It is your responsibility to research every potential employer carefully. When you call, always show courtesy and respect to the receptionist or phone operator. If a specific contact is listed, ask for that individual. If not, ask to speak with someone in the human resources department. If no one answers, leave a brief and cheerful message with your contact information. For example, “Good morning. This is John Smith calling in reference to the account sales position. I have held this type of position for more than 10 years. I am very interested in speaking with you and can be reached at 555-5555. Thank you for your time.”

A phone interview is a very popular way to save money and time during the hiring process. If you do have a phone interview, make sure that the television is OFF, music is OFF and there are no screaming babies in the background. Your voice and tone are the only tools you have to make a good impression. Have notes, cheat sheets and company information in front of you to help and as soon as the phone interview is over, hand write a thank you note to the interviewer and mail it that day.

If you are invited to come in, you MUST DRESS PROFESSIONALLY, even if it is just to fill out an application. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen and heard of individuals arriving in jeans or sweats to do this. And I am amazed at how many people argue with me that it is acceptable. It is not! This is just part of the overall evaluation to see how you wish to be perceived by their staff and clients. ADAPT!

Each individual you encounter within a company could possibly hold the key to your success. Doormen, lobby attendants and receptionist could all be reporting how you behave to the employer. While you shouldn’t be paranoid, be mindful that someone is likely watching you while you wait for your interview. Always arrive 10 to 15 minutes early and greet the receptionist warmly when you introduce yourself. Decline all offers of food and drink, with the exception of water, if necessary. If you wear a coat or bring an umbrella, ask the receptionist if there is somewhere to keep these items. Be sure to turn your phone off and keep it tucked away. Under no circumstances should you be texting, e-mailing or surfing the Internet while you wait. Try to read information on display about the company, or glance at articles you may have printed out about the company. Sit still and do not fidget. Calm yourself and focus on a great interview. When the employer walks into the room, stand and give him or her a firm handshake. Once inside, sit when invited to sit and sit up straight. Calmly respond to questions and avoid negativity. For example, if asked if you were caught in the pouring rain, smile and respond, “Yes, but at least the rain is making everything beautiful and green!”

If you are invited to a meal, show modesty and restraint when ordering and also when eating. Wait for everyone to be served before you begin your meal and use proper table etiquette (see my article, “Table Matters,” in the winter 2007-08 issue). Be sure to ask for business cards before leaving the interview and depart in a professional and intentional manner. Look poised and relaxed from the moment you pull into the parking lot until the moment you drive away.

Standards of appearance start long before you buy the right outfit. Your hair, your skin, your teeth, your breath, your nails and your smell all impact viewers long before they notice the outfit.

Hair should be professional and tidy. Men, sport a clean trimmed hairline. If you wear your hair longer, gel it back or pull it into a tight ponytail. Trim any wild nose hairs, ear hairs and eyebrows. Ladies, style your hair without it appearing wet or just out of the shower and forgo the large hair accessories. Avoid dramatic color tones or streaks.

Keep makeup, perfume and cologne to a minimum. Ladies, use flattering, neutral makeup and a very light scent, if any at all. Go easy on the faux tanning and if you sweat profusely, use underarm pads. Gentlemen, go easy on the aftershave and use only a tiny hint of cologne under the arms only. Wear an antiperspirant and wear an undershirt.

Nails need to be impeccably clean and trimmed short for a man, and for the ladies, manicured with a neutral polish is ideal. Consider whitening your teeth, avoid smoking and coffee and use breath mints!

Healthy looking skin is more appealing. If you tan, moisturize, and if you struggle with acne, treat it. AVOID DRINKING THE NIGHT BEFORE! Your skin suffers the consequences. Make sure you’re well hydrated and get a good night’s rest. Cover tattoos and demonstrate modesty when arms, legs or cleavage are showing. Men and women need to wear a suit to an interview, as well as to all of the events leading up to being hired. Men need to be in a navy, gray, black or brown suit with a solid shirt and understated patterned tie. Dress shirts should be white, ivory or light blue. WEAR AN UNDERSHIRT! Look at the company’s corporate colors and if you can, subtly incorporate it with your tie. Shoes should be dark, polished and worn with matching socks. Be sure your socks are new and not worn.

Ladies’ suits can either have pants or skirts depending on the nature of the business and the time of year. Again, choose a dark suit paired with a soft toned blouse. Wear the proper undergarments. Polished, medium-height heels with sheer hosiery are always a hit. Keep your accessories classic and understated. Less is more. In my opinion, men should only wear a wedding ring and dress watch and ladies should don earrings, a necklace and a wedding ring. Invest in a briefcase or portfolio case if you have samples you must present during an interview, and be sure to keep them organized and tidy. Otherwise, try to avoid carrying a purse as well as a briefcase. If you
wear a coat, select a neutral tone, and the same goes for an umbrella. Invest in a quality pair of leather gloves and a wallet. Wash your car and fill it with gas the night before to avoid any chance of spilling gasoline on you prior to your interview.

Rob’s Rules for interVIEW success!

1. Even if the work environment and dress code are relaxed,
the interview is not.
2. Manners and etiquette are just as important as your skill set.
3. Phone interviews are not to be dismissed, as most companies
are doing at least one per applicant. Learn basic
phone etiquette and ensure there is no background noise!
4. Dress professionally at all times during the interview
process – even if it is just to drop something off or run in
for 5 minutes. By doing so, you display respect and value
to the employer.
5. Have a designated phone number and e-mail for job
hunting. If this is not possible, at the very least, be sure
that your voice mail message and e-mail address are
professional and appropriate.
6. Refer to individuals as Sir, Doctor, Mister, Mrs., and
Miss when addressing others and always thank them
for their time.
7. Incorporate your personality into your interview outfit
in SMALL DOSES! You can be you as soon as you have
secured the job (within reason)!
8. Note that the farther the interviewer sits from you, the
more he or she is trying to read your body language.
9. Make eye contact and be honest and also positive.
10. Wash your car and fill it up with gas the day before a big
interview and have change if you need to park at a meter.
This is often a tax deductible expense!

This column is meant to provide practical advice, tips and rules of engagement you need in the meeting and event planning industry. If you have a question, whether it’s how to dress, how to address your guests or what to serve as the main course, e-mail Rob at [email protected] com. Your question might just inspire the topic of his next column! Rob Schaefer is Vice President of Steven Becker Fine Dining in St. Louis.

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