Landing a job interview is pretty exciting. Congratulations! Buy yourself something nice to celebrate. Nothing too expensive – you don’t have the job yet! Double-check the time and place of your interview. Plan to get there an hour early, allowing for traffic and emergencies.
You might still be unclear on what to bring to a job interview. They already have your resume, so do you need to print out your own copy? Can you carry a laptop to work while you wait? Will their security lock all your stuff at the front door? Let’s discuss a few tips in depth.
What to Bring to a Job Interview
1: Carry Comfortable Shoes
Heels and loafers are perfectly professional attire. But if you’re using public transport, walking a long distance, or rushing due to nerves, you’ll probably hurt your feet. So wear comfortable shoes on your way in, then duck into a bathroom and change into your ‘work shoes’.
Along the same lines, a spare shirt or blouse are essential items to bring to a job interview, since you might sweat on your way in. What you’re wearing as you walk in should still be professional and clean. You’re in their building, so the space is filled with potential peers and work-mates.
Meaning you might bump into security guards, receptionists, future colleagues, and maybe even your boss before you’ve had a chance to change. So even if your ‘outside clothes’ aren’t intended for the interview itself, they still need to make a good first impression.
2: Bring a Work Bag
You might have a backpack for your shoes and spare clothes, but avoid bringing them into the interview room. Ask a friend (not your parents!) to come with you, or make friends with someone in reception. That way your (current or new) friend can hold your backpack and keep it safe. You could even plan to leave it in a paid storage locker near the interview site.
When you walk into the interview room, you should only have a conservative handbag, briefcase, or attaché case. If you carry too much luggage you may drop them in your nervous state, which makes you look fidgety and less confident. Plus, you’ll move from reception to the interview room to the lobby. With all that stuff and movement, you may lose something that’s precious to you.
3: Have a Pen and Paper
Yes, most of us take notes using our smartphones. But when you glance down at your hand, the interviewer can’t tell if you’re noting down their words or checking your social media. And many people get offended if you glance at your phone while talking to them. It makes them feel dismissed, unimportant and disrespected. So put your phone on silent and keep it out of sight.
Instead, use a pretty pen (or pencil) and a plain-covered notebook. Buy one specifically for the interview – you don’t want them looking at your flowery fairies or Marvel / DC motifs. And get a pen that won’t drip ink onto your clothes or documents. Also, while it’s smart to take notes, but your nerves might make your handwriting illegible and unintelligible.
Even if you can’t use them later (and even if you’re too full of angst to decide what to write), scribble in your notebook. It makes you look serious and attentive, and the interviewer is unlikely to look at what you’re doing. But don’t doodle! Even from a distance, they might spot the cat caricature or flowered hearts you drew while they were talking, and they’ll be pissed!
4: Print Resume Copies
Most interviewers are prepared, so they’ll have copies available. But there’s always that one person that was dragged in at the last minute, so they’re frazzled and they forgot. Also, while they may have copies for themselves, they’re unlikely to have extra copies for you.
And when they start asking questions off your resume, it helps to have a copy in front of you. That way, you can see what they’re referring to. Make notes on your copy, reminding yourself of any sticky areas they mentioned. Maybe they seemed curious about a specific past position. Based on their interest, you’ll know to follow up with previous bosses and colleagues.
Or maybe they seemed interested in a certain aspect of your past experience. You can read up in that area and polish that topic for future interviews, just in case they ask about it again. That’s why you should make at least five resume copies to bring to a job interview.
5: List Your Question Prompts
Some interviewers encourage you to pepper them with queries throughout the interview. Others wait until the end when they’ll throw it back at you, asking: ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ You don’t want to blank out at that point – you may seem disinterested in the position.
Also, good questions make you seem engaged. The more specific the better, so you don’t want generic cues. Do some research and ask about this company in particular. That way, they know you don’t just want a job – you want this job. But be careful not to interrogate them. Look up common questions for interviewers, write them down, then tailor them to this company.
For example, it’s common to ask about their culture and dress code. So you could ask, ‘I noticed a lot of people wearing jeans in the reception – does everyone dress casually here?’ Or ‘I see a lot of people wearing green shirts and scarves … is that part of the office uniform?’ You don’t have to write out full sentences. Just memorable prompts like ‘boss, clothes, health care, phone plans’.
6: Ready Your Referees
Different companies have different resume styles and preferences. But it’s a good idea to restrict your resume to a single page. Meaning you may not have room for your referees. But the interviewer may still ask about them and you don’t want to be caught off guard. So you should have a ready list of references to bring to a job interview.
Talk to your referees well before the interview. Ensure they’re okay having their names down, and that they’re ready to say positive things about your professional performance. Make a list with their names and current contact details. Include at least five references. It helps to keep your printouts in a dedicated document folder, so they don’t wrinkle, rip, or fold.
7: Pack Pocket-sized Accessories
You’re likely to sit close to your interviewer. There might be a desk between you, but some contemporary work-places will put you side by side on a couch or beanie bags. So you want to feel confident and clean. This may mean carrying a toothbrush to freshen up as you change.
Breath mints will do. Avoid chewing gum – it makes you look too laid back and overly casual. Plus disposing of the gum can be messy. You could also carry wet wipes or hand sanitizer because your palms will probably be sweaty. Hand cream helps – the interviewer will watch your hands a lot as you shake theirs, hand them documents, or write in your notebook. Get a manicure too.
On the techie side, a lot of us feel lost without our phones, so carry a portable phone battery and charger cable. You never know when delays could drain your battery. Also, any key phone information should be written down in your notebook. This could include emergency phone numbers, bus routes, and directions. If your phone goes off, Google and its maps can’t help.
8: Bring Work Samples and Business Cards
The type of samples you bring to a job interview will depend on the job you want. Writers and designers are often asked for portfolios. And while you may have a good website and an online directory, your interview is likely to be put off if you ask to open your website on their computer.
If it’s a coder job, you could ask for a projector and link it to your laptop. But for most other jobs, print out clear, colored copies of your online work. Lay them out in a neat sleeve folder so they can flip through it. You can still put the portfolio in a PowerPoint or PDF deck.
You can always send the digital version as an attachment in your follow-up email, but you should have something tactile for the interview itself. Also, business cards. The interviewer may not want one, but you might meet potential contacts in the lobby or the subway. It’s networking 101, so always carry at least 10 copies of your business card, even on casual grocery trips.
9: Carry Official ID
Regardless of your politics, you’ve probably heard of Ellen DeGeneres. She likes to joke about receiving an award at the White House and being refused entry because she didn’t carry any ID. After all, everybody knows her, even the gate guards. But because of presidential security, they kept her outside until she tweeted about it, and after an hour, they finally let her in.
When you’re walking into an interview, you don’t know what the security protocols are like. And the company you’re applying for has no way to know who you are. So don’t forget an official form of identification, whether it’s a passport or a drivers’ license. And because these are crucial documents, handle them with care and don’t lose them in the middle of interviewing nerves.
10: Ensure a Full Stomach
Some people eat when they’re nervous, but carrying snacks to the interview makes you seem unserious. If you must, get a bite an hour before the interview. You can carry a power bar, but don’t nibble inside the building. Eat it as you walk to the interview, finishing at least ten minutes away. You don’t need water either – they’ll probably have a water dispenser in the office.
You might be offered tea, coffee, juice, cookies, or nuts, which is fine but don’t bring your own. And if they don’t have a dispenser, it’s okay to ask for a glass of water. But be careful – that liquid intake could have you rushing to the bathroom at inopportune times. That said, some studies show being slightly pressed can improve interview performance. Just don’t pee yourself.
11: Research the Interviewer
These days, everybody Googles their blind dates. The second someone says hi or asks you out, you’re scouring their social media for potential red flags. Do the same for your interviewer and the company you’re approaching. You don’t have to use the information. They’ll probably be freaked out if you ask whether their daughter got over her cold or their son passed his tryouts.
But people love stories. So knowing they have an athletic child, you could sneak in a story about how nervous your kids get before big games. Keep it casual and genuine, not calculated. Remember, people love stories. So don’t just come out of the blue yelling, ‘My niece is a cheerleader. Go Patriots!!’ That sounds creepy, voyeuristic, and they’ll know you were snooping.
But when they ask, ‘Why do you want this job?’ Instead of saying you want more money, you could say, ‘I’m a bit of a soccer dad, so I like that the office is close to her coach. It lets me attend her games without eating into work hours. Better work-life balance all round.’ It sounds genuine, it connects with the interviewer, and it makes you appealingly human.
12: Prepare a Salary Suggestion
Job-hunting consultants will tell you not to bring up money during your first interview. And they’re right. When the interviewer asks whether you have questions, many interviewers ruin their chances by asking about payment terms. But at the other extreme, some interviewers like to ask what you expect. You might think they’re impressed and ready to hire you immediately.
More often, it means they’ve dismissed you, so they want a guesstimate for future interviews. They’re looking for a ball-park figure they can play with. In rare cases, they just do it to throw you off. Either way, you need to have this answer ready. Base it on your current pay, recent responsibilities (like a new baby or a sick parent), and existing bills. Then pause and respond.
13: Wear Nothing Distracting
This falls under the category of what NOT to bring to a job interview. If you have a lot of tattoos and piercings, opt for a more conservative approach. Unless you’re applying to be a (tattoo) artist or showbiz where bling is a plus, pair it down and cover-up. One pair of earrings will do.
Avoid bulky jewelry, and wear long sleeves, pants, and high necks to minimize the effect of your tattoos. It’s not about hiding your personality. It’s about helping the interviewer focus on your qualifications rather than your appearance. If you usually wear neon hair dye, tone it down for the day. Dress appropriately – nothing too tight or revealing, or too loose and rebellious.
We’ve already talked about bringing food and drinks, but even something as simple as take-out coffee or Nutribullet smoothies could draw your interviewer’s eye, so complete your breakfast before you enter the building. Be neat, wear a mild cologne or perfume, and keep your dressing understated unless the job requires flaunted assets and bright colors.
What’s in Your Bag?
Today’s work-places have high security, and the less luggage you have, the better. So what should you bring to a job interview?
- Clear directions and contacts – nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore.
- Back-up batteries and a charger cable for your smartphone, just in case it goes off.
- Analog writing materials (pens, pencils, paper notebooks) to avoid glancing at the phone.
- Printed copies of your resume, portfolio, and relevant documents.
- A change of clothes and shoes in case of nervous sweats and accidents.
What was in your pockets at your last interview? And how did that go? Tell us in the comments!