Interview days can often feel as they’re ruled by Sod’s Law. Just because you are nervous and desperate to avoid delays and unnecessary waste of time and energy, the universe seems to be conspiring to slow you down and test your nerves.
I nearly missed my train en route to an interview this week because I misread the platform number as 15, instead of 5, and had literally three minutes to run back to the correct platform on pin heels, carrying a large handbag and a laptop case. I never prayed nor sweated…nor swore to myself so intensively in my entire life… As the commercial says, “Should have gone to Specsavers….”
Dozens of things can go wrong between the moment you step out of the house until you arrive at the interview. On a day when you want to look as professional and tidy as possible, you need to be as prepared as you can for all eventualities.
I thought I would share below my list of 10 practical things I always carry with me for interviews, which have helped me keep my respectability despite mishaps along the way. Please feel free to add your own suggestions. This one is a lady’s version, but if enough male readers leave their tips, I will create a new list and update.
1) An extra pair of tights (=stockings in the US)
Tights are misbehaving creatures at the best of times. All you need is for the edge of your ring, or a broken nail, to get caught on the nylon, and RRRRRIP….another one goes down the dust. This happened to me two days ago on the way to an important interview, although the tear was on the heel travelling upwards. Luckily I had a pair of reserves in my handbag, so I could change into them. If I were only meeting friends, I may not have bothered but arriving for an interview wearing a suit with a huge ladder down your legs will make you look as if you don’t care about your appearance…. You can buy tights inexpensively from pharmacies like Boots or from supermarkets. Or traditionalists from Marks & Spencers. Believe me, you will never be sorry you have packed this.
You can also avoid troublesome tights but opting to wear a trouser suit instead of skirt or dress.
2) Oil blotting tissues
Invaluable if you’re going to an interview in the summer. The ones I am using now came free with a magazine, but you can get them cheaply from Boots, Superdrug, Body Shop, Muji, etc. If you happen to have to run for a train, as I did, the sweat can make your face shiny, your makeup may have started to run… Or you may get stuck for 20 minutes inside a broken London underground train on a very stuffy day.
If you want to look cool and confident as you arrive at your appointment, blot out that shine. Aim for a matt look. (A compact powder top-up can also help). Sweatier types, add to that a small wash towel or a handkerchief to wipe yourself dry before your interview clothes get drenched.
I forgot to take this with me last time so had to make do with a little perfume instead. Even if you have showered and applied deodorant before leaving home, a long journey in a hot summer days can make the cleanest jobseeker in the world start to worry about their body odour. If your interviewer catches any unpleasant B.O. wafting from your direction, you will certainly lose some precious first-impression points.
Don’t forget nervousness can also make people sweat. Always have a mini deodorant in your bag for extra confidence.
For your feet. If you are like me and normally live in flat shoes and trainers, you may find yourself in agonising pain wearing court and/or high heels, particularly on a warm day, when your feet are more likely to be bloated. Apply plasters on those “problem corners”, which most rub against your shoes, before putting the shoes on, to prevent blisters. If you suffer from painful bunions, invest on some good-quality bunion pads and protect all sensitive areas.
Carry plenty of extra plasters with you. Blisters or no blisters, you can’t take off those shoes until after the interview, so save yourself the pain and the tears. Get plastered!
5) Flats (feet again)
A comfort-loving girl’s best friend. Your feet will thank you for a change into them, after you leave the interview. Plain, light ones are the best (rather than anything fancy or designer items), so you can carry them discreetly in your handbag. Large supermarkets and discount stores sell them at laughably affordable prices (I think I bought mine for £6 at Sainsbury’s).
6) Pocket tissues + wet tissues
Most ladies seem to carry tissues in their bags anyway, but I find having one small packet of wet tissues (about a pound in most shops) is indispensable, especially if I am travelling a bit further out for the interview and need to eat/drink on the way. What if you get something sticky on your hands and there is no water in the train’s toilet? What if you spill coffee on your suit? Better be safe than sorry.
7) Breath Mints
Apart from body odour, what can be tremendously offputting for an interviewer is bad breath. Use your common sense. Avoid eating anything too garlicky on the day before your interview, as it may still be on your breath the day after.
I brush my teeth and use mouthwash before leaving home anyway, but as most of my job interviews have been out of town (=long journey), I always need to eat again on the way. Chewing gums can be good for cleaning any food debris from between your teeth when you are on the go, but minutes before the interview, pop in a couple of strong mints to clear any remaining food smells from your breath.
8 ) Pocket-size mirror
It is always a good idea to do a final check in a mirror for any signs of smudged mascara, lipstick, messed up hair, etc before the interview. There may or may not be enough time for a visit to the toilets before the interview, so better have that compact mirror ready as a backup. You may have groomed yourself perfectly before you left home but train journeys, hot weather, rain, humidity, all of these things can have a disastrous effect of your appearance. The last thing you want is to walk into an interview looking like a slob.
One tip about make-up: aim for professional look, not drag queen. Be wary of wearing very bright red lipstick unless you are applying for a job in the sex industry. It can give all the wrong messages…
Did you check the weather forecast before you left home? If there is a chance of rain, pack in a compact umbrella, even if you have never used one in your life as you love walking in the rain… You want to arrive there looking dry and smart, not like a bedraggled rat. As with all items so far, look for a small, light version so as not to overload your bag. My emergency brolly cost £1 at a pound shop.
10) Pen & paper/notebook
Not everyone does this, but I like to take notes during an interview, as the interviewer will usually tell you about the company and the role. Annotating can be useful in many ways: a) it shows you are interested enough to write things down, b) the notes will help you expand further on points discussed if you’re called for a second interview, c) having something to do with your hands will help you feel less nervous (BUT don’t forget to make regular contact with the interviewer or it will look as if you are avoiding them!), d) it can help you look more professional.
I always jot down beforehand some questions I would like to ask during the interview and some key words on subjects the interviewer might want me to talk about. Basically, I use the notebook as a cue card. I personally like reporter notebooks but you may prefer a smaller memo pad. If you do take a notebook, have your own pen(s) ready so you don’t have to ask for one. It shows forethought: you have prepared for it; you are organised, a very important skill in any position.
What do you normally take to an interview that has been helpful?
Products and images shown:
- Bare Cooling Ladder Resit Tights Open Toe Tights (7 denier) from Marks & Spencers £4.00
- Natural Powder Facial Blotting Tissues from Body Shop (£4.50 for tea-tree ones)
- Lemon & Coriander deodorant from Neals’ Yard £7.50
- Clear plasters (pack of 40) from Superdrug £1.69
- Wet anti-bacterial handy wipes from Boots £1.05
- Black pumps from Marks & Spencers £19.50
- Photo of mint assortment by pshegubj on Flickr
- Aluminium Compact Mirror (S,M,L) from Muji (£3.95-£7.50) – image from Muji US
- Totoro’s umbrella from,well, the magic forest in Hayao Miyazaki’s animation (£priceless)
- Reporters Notebook from Asda £0.53