Continuing my focus on employment, I present Job Interviews: before, during and after. This information is taken from the talks I give to IPRT clients seeking to find work. It will be contained in my self-help book, "Life Will Tell You: On Living Well With Schizophrenia."
Before the Interview:
First, you'll want to buy two good suits to alternate on interviews. Navy Blue is classic and implies you are trustworthy. Grey is neutral and suggests you are fair and impartial. Women can wear black to convey you want to be taken seriously.
For women on a low income: log on to http://www.dressforsuccess.org/. This worldwide organization gives you free, gently used professional clothes and offers job success workshops and mentoring. For men on a low income: log on to http://www.careergear.org/. This is the male version of Dress for Success.
Once you have the suits, set up a professional e-mail with your full name. It can be Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail. Note: e-mails called "bigdaddy" or "foxymama" or "john2372" or "desperatehousewivesfanatic" will rule you out from the beginning.
Google your full name in quotations to see if anything potentially embarrassing comes up. If you have a MySpace account or a personal blog readily viewed by anyone on the Internet, it should be obscenity-free and nudity-free and not politically charged. To be on the safe side, set up your account so that only the people you allow to see it, can see it. Yes, employers have been known to screen people out based on these obvious liabilities that you are in control of.
Know the law: employers can't ask on a job application if you have a mental illness. They can ask if you've been convicted of a crime. What you claim on the application can get you fired if your new boss finds out you lied.
That said, if you have gaps in your employment, consider finding someone who can say you worked for her if she's a professional or has a demeanor that is beyond reproach. Note: you aren't going to pretend you did something you obviously wouldn't have been able to do, like design websites when you barely know how to turn on a computer. Brainstorm with a trusted therapist or vocational counselor a conceivable, believable former job. My first therapist allowed me to write down that I was his receptionist and answered the phone, set appointments and did light typing.
The best option: Do volunteer work or get an internship while you collect disability benefits. Both are reliable sources of work experience to place at the top of a resume if you don't have significant paid employment. Volunteer work is altruism that aids you as well. An internship is either paid or not, and is an introduction to the field you'd like to work in, where you assist the people who have the kinds of jobs you'd like to do.
Lastly, before you go on interviews, line up three trustworthy references, including their job titles, names, addresses and phone numbers to use on a job application. Always inform them before each interview you go on, so they're prepared to give a glowing review. Also, give them a copy of your resume, let them know the types of jobs you're applying for and what skills are required, so they can custom-tailor their praise.
During the Interview:
Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Even if you've brought your resume, fill out the job application in its entirety if you're given one. When someone introduces herself, shake her hand firmly, not like a limp fish. You may be asked, "How was it getting here? Did you find your way okay?" If so, be cheerful and maybe even say you searched MapQuest and the directions were perfect, if you did. Never moan or complain that the traffic was horrendous or you had a hard time hailing a cab. When I used to interview with firms, I invariably arrived a half hour early to make sure I had time in case I got lost; I would spend the extra time in a nearby café composing myself and giving myself a pep talk.
The interviewer will always ask if you know anything about the company. You will of course have something to say because you researched the company on the Internet. If they don't have a website (highly unlikely in the information age), call their public relations department or communications director to be mailed a copy of the firm's annual report. The New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library is a good place to find out about companies. If you're in a bigger city, it also might have a business library.
Every interviewer will undoubtedly warm up by asking you to "Tell me a little something about yourself." You and I know you're likable, kind to animals and babies, and cross the street only when the light is red. However, your future boss wants to know something about your unique qualifications for performing the job better than the other candidates. You may have five kids and need the job to put food on the table, that's not your employer's concern. Talk about one or two things you did in the past that show you already have the experience needed.
Answer the question asked, rather than provide information she didn't ask for that could cast a negative light. If the interviewer gets chummy, maintain a professional demeanor. If you don't understand the particular question, it's okay to say, "Can you clarify?"
Again, another question, always asked at the end of the interview, is "Do you have any questions?" Your research about the company will have told you they've just expanded into another market, and you could ask about that. Or you could refer back to something the potential boss just talked about. You won't discuss salary, even if the employer asks you what you're looking for. Simply say, "I feel that's premature. I'd be happy to discuss that if an offer is made." You don't want to lowball yourself or devalue your worth. If absolutely pressed, give a number you've researched on a web site like http://www.salary.com/.
At the end of the interview, when you're shaking hands again, a good close is to say, "It was a pleasure to meet you. I'm interested in the position. May I ask when you'll be making a decision?"
Know the law: It is illegal for interviewers to ask about your race, country of origin, whether English is your native language, if you have a mental illness, or are married or single. Keep in mind that even though these questions are illegal, a well-intentioned future boss might not realize her comment was inappropriate. If you get the vibe that you wouldn't want to work there, based on the line of questioning, act with grace and poise, and finish the interview on a positive note. If the firm makes you a job offer, decide then if you'd really like to work there or would tolerate either casual insensitivity or blatantly illegal tactics, such as harassment.
After the Interview:
Get the correct name, spelling and title of everyone you interviewed with, and mail them a typed or neatly handwritten short thank-you note, along these lines:
Dear Ms. Gonzalez:
Thank you for meeting with me today about the junior accountant position. It was a pleasure and I'd like to re-affirm my interest in the job.
I believe my advanced knowledge of the Peachtree software would be an asset. I'm able to do accounts receivable as well as accounts payable. I was impressed with everyone I met.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Reward yourself for a job well done! Buy a new lipstick or a CD, or treat yourself to lunch or a movie, anything to keep up your motivation.
Let your references know they might get a call from the firm. Tell them the things you feel your future boss might bring up. If you do get the job, send each of your references a handwritten thank-you note on a professional note card.
Enjoy some much needed rest, sleep, relaxation and recreation.
Get out there and do it again!
Chris's Pointer: If at all you need reasonable accommodations and thus have to disclose your condition, do so after the job offer is made. Before you get an offer, you have no way of knowing if you were ruled out based on something you said; but if they make an offer and afterwards you disclose, legally they can't rescind the offer if you've accepted it.
Published On: October 16, 2007