For women, there is the classic matching jacket and skirt worn over a white blouse. Women are allowed a little more latitude if they choose to wear a tasteful bit of jewelry or a colorful scarf. Stay away from high heels, and be sure that you have skin colored hosiery with no runs. This isn't the time to get those fake nails with the flags of your ten favorite states painted on them. Nor is it the time to get that fortune teller thing going with the rings on every finger, or the makeover by the overly aggressive cosmetics salesperson. It is also a good idea to leave your purse at home and bring a valise or briefcase instead.
If you don't have clothes that you feel would be appropriate for an interview, check with some of the organizations in your community and see if they have a lending program. Also, Dress for Success is a national organization that provides suits for low income women who have job interviews.
Arriving at the Interview Site
Remember that you are interviewing for the job from the minute you arrive at the employer's place of business. Too many people make the mistake of waiting to go into interview mode when the interviewer comes into the waiting area to shake your hand and bring you to the room where you will be interviewed. The danger in this mistake is that you may not make a favorable impression on some of the other employees. Too many people make the mistake of treating the receptionist or the secretary as if that person would not impact their chances of being hired. The fact is that in most cases the interviewer (particularly if the interviewer is a hiring manager rather than a human resources professional) will ask the secretary or receptionist what they thought of the candidate.
Take the time to learn the greeter's name, and try to establish a bond. This can help you relax and slowly raise your comfort level as the interview is about to begin. You may also learn a lot from this small talk, including information that you probably would not find out any other way. This does not mean that you should grill the greeter, but using casual conversation to gather information is completely acceptable. Be careful as you are asked questions, because you don't want to share anything at this stage that you would not want to share later.
At some point you will be directed to the room where the interview will take place, or the interviewer will come out and greet you. If you can, it is appropriate to stand as the interviewer asks your name. Look the recruiter in the eye, smile, and shake the interviewer's hand. If you do not have use of your right hand, grasp the interviewer's hand with your left hand. If it is only recently that you have lost use of this hand, practice this maneuver until it becomes second nature. When you shake his or her hand, remember that it's not a strength demonstration; but you do want to use a firm, confident handshake if possible.
You should have some notepaper in your folder or valise, along with several copies of your resume, as well as references if they are not listed on your resume. Use the notepaper to record the names of those you encounter, starting with the secretary. They may give you their business cards; if they don't, feel free to ask them to repeat their names or to give you the correct spelling. Jot down a note about their positions if you can. As you shape your answers to their questions, try and keep in mind the perspective from which the question was asked. An auditor may be looking for a different type of answer than an engineer or public relations specialist.
Make eye contact with the questioner, but if it's a group interview, attempt to make some eye contact with the other members of the interview team as well. Try to look at each person for a few seconds, and then move on to the next person. You don't want to get into a stare down with anyone, but you also don't want anyone to feel ignored. You may want to spend a little more time with anyone who does not seem to be engaged in the interview. You don't want to make that person uncomfortable, but if they "zone out" on you, you have lost them.
Smile. I teach a course in vocational counseling to Master's students who are studying to become counselors. In this class, we always do a segment on helping clients prepare for job interviews. As part of this session, I usually pull two students aside. I tell the first person that he will read a prepared script in response to the question "Tell me a little about yourself." I then give the second student the same script and directions, only I ask that student to smile while reading it. I then ask the two students to sit in the front of the classroom, with their backs to their classmates, and to read their response. I then poll the class to see which person's response they liked better who, if they were an employer, they would be more likely to hire. Invariably the results are overwhelmingly in favor of the second student, the one who smiled, even though the students couldn't see the smile.
Then we take the exercise further. I ask the students in the audience what it was that made the second candidate more likely to be hired. The answers are not surprising. "The second person sounded much friendlier." "The second person seemed more confident.""The second person was more enthusiastic." As any speech pathologist will tell you, the way we physically shape our mouth is equally important as where our teeth or tongue are placed to produce the sounds. By smiling, we know that we look friendlier, more enthusiastic, and more self confident. This exercise shows that it also makes us sound friendlier, more enthusiastic, and more self confident. Surely you can't have a fake smile frozen on your face throughout your interview. Nor would you want to. However, if you make a conscious effort to smile as much as you can where it is appropriate, you will find that you fare much better in the interview.
Toward the close of the interview, it's usually customary to give the candidate a chance to ask a few questions. This is a great chance for you to clarify any information that you are unsure about. This is not the time to ask about salary, benefits, time off, or other extraneous things. It is a good time to find out what the rest of the process will be like, or what the time frame is for the position to be filled. A great question to ask is "What exactly is it that you are looking for in a (position name here)"? Once they have responded, it gives you a chance
In your summation, you want to express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview for the position. You also want to reiterate any points that you feel you may not have driven home to your satisfaction, and then to frame your candidacy within the parameters of how they described what they were looking for in a candidate.
As the interview draws to a close, you want to again show your personality and enthusiasm. Smile, shake the hand(s) of the interviewer(s), and once again offer your thanks. As you leave, be sure to say good bye to anyone you pass that you met when you came in. If possible, use their name when you say good bye. Nothing shows that you care and that you listen like using a person's name.
These interviews sometimes include groups of coworkers, supervisors, or team members. These interviews may be somewhat less formal, and their purpose is usually to determine the extent to which the others in the organization will get along with the candidate. It is also possible that this interview will be your first chance to meet the hiring manager or someone from the hiring unit.