I have a confession. In fact, I’m not even sure some of my closest friends or coworkers know this about me. It is rather embarrassing too. Ok, here goes: I chewed gum in my first interview with a bank and I didn’t get the job. Whew! There, it’s out in the open!

It is important to note that I had no business getting that particular job. I was only 16, had zero time for a job between school, cheer and basketball, and I simply wasn’t mature enough. In fact, I’m not really sure why they even agreed to interview me! Regardless, I gained experience… and an embarrassing memory.

The interview process, while intimidating, is obviously an important piece in getting the job of your dreams. It also requires practice, preparation, and skill. I’ve been a part of the interview process on both sides of the table and one thing is for certain: practice makes perfect. I wish I could go back and tell my 16 year old self that chewing gum was basically the easiest way to get thrown out as a top contender, but I learned it the hard way and I was sure to never made that mistake again. Since that fateful day, I have interviewed for scholarships, college organizations, committees and jobs and with each interview, I got better and better.

One of the most captivating interviews I have ever been a part of was when I sat on an interview panel for a new Executive Director for a non-profit of which I am a board member. The gentleman that landed the job was by in large, the most prepared candidate I have ever seen. He came in, addressed each panel member by name, shook their hand firmly, and went on to nail the interview. His answers proved he had done his homework and as far as I know, he had been preparing for months. At the end of the interview, when asked if he had questions, he got out a notebook, asked a series of incredibly well planned out questions and took notes. When he left the room, the panel and I all stared at each other in awe. I said, “did we interview him or did he interview us?” It was an easy decision for the panel to select him for the position.

The Girl Banker’s Guide To Dominating An Interview

In order to compile this list, I combined my own interview experiences with those of community bank CEO’s, COO’s and managers that have interviewed prospective employees for front line, mid-level managerial, and executive positions. We’ve all experienced amazing interviews similar to my story above, and terrible interviews where we wanted the floor to open up and swallow us so we could end the awkward encounter. Here’s my guide to dominating your next interview:

1. Prepare | Would you run a marathon without training for it? Would you take an important exam without studying? Preparation for an interview is an incredibly crucial piece that may often be overlooked. If you retain anything from this post, it needs to be this tip!

  • Get your resume in tip-top shape. Check out Get Landed for resume tips.
  • Talk to the people you list as references so they will be prepared for a phone call and won’t be caught off guard or put on the spot.
  • Do your homework on the company and the person that is interviewing you. The company’s website or LinkedIn is a great place to start. If you find a connection that works there already, reach out to them so they can put in a good word for you.
  • Understand the company’s history, mission statement and core values. Not only will this help you in the interview but it’s a great practice to ensure they align with your own personal career goals.
  • Clean up your own social media profiles. It is 2018 people! If you think your future boss or HR representative isn’t combing through your social media feeds, think again!
  • Review possible interview questions and be prepared with genuine answers.
  • Prepare your own questions. This could include questions about your potential career path and the company’s future plans. When the question “Do you have any questions for us?” is asked, most interviewers are put off with the response, “no, I can’t think of any.” This shows disinterest or the desire to get out of the interview!
  • Have an answer for why you want the job. Prove that you are the best person they could hire!
  • Gain an understanding of what the job is worth and be prepared to negotiate salary and benefits. This is often when women unintentionally hurt themselves because they undervalue their worth. Do your homework on pay, talk to your mentors and be ready and confident for this discussion.
  • Reference a book or article that you have read that compliments your potential job. This shows that you are current with industry trends.
  • Plan your day so that you know you won’t be late and will make your interview on time! Avoid scheduling other appointments prior to the interview. Arriving 5 minutes in advance is a no-brainer, but don’t be so early that it inconveniences the interviewer. These days, more and more interviews are taking place out of the office and in a coffee shop or restaurant. Know where you are going and give yourself plenty of time to be there.

2. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have! | While most of you are probably muttering to yourself, “duh!” you might be surprised at how some people dress for an important interview!

  • Avoid trendy looks and stick to the basics. My go-to interview outfit is a blazer, button-up top, dress pants, and heels. (Flats are fine too!)
  • Try it on in advance in case something doesn’t fit or look right so you have time to find something that does. If you have any inkling that your outfit may not be the best choice, opt for the safe route.
  • Don’t let your outfit be a distraction. Whether it be a crazy print or pattern, cleavage or short skirt, your outfit should compliment your professionalism, not diminish it.

3. Check Yourself! | No one likes arrogant, cocky or unhappy people.

  • When being interviewed, show your confidence and compliment those that helped you get to where you are.
  • Smile! People like happy people!
  • Talk positive about your previous coworkers and jobs and show that you work well with others. It’s a red flag when an interview turns into a bash session.
  • DO NOT CHEW GUM!
  • Shake hands firmly. A wimpy handshake is the worst!

4. Sell Yourself | Anyone can look like a rock star on paper but an interview is what determines a hire or a pass.

  • Highlight your strengths by giving experiences from previous jobs. Experiences can be good or bad, just discuss how you overcame, grew or learned from them.
  • Minimize your weaknesses. No one is perfect and we all have weaknesses, but an interview is not the time to personally assess them!
  • For upper level jobs, have a plan that you will initiate on Day 1. Be prepared to explain the plan and discuss why you feel it is important.

Now, go dominate that interview and get the job of your dreams! And remember, don’t chew gum.