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Three steps that can tilt the hiring scales in your favor.

What is an interview toolkit? An interview toolkit is something everyone needs to bring to job interviews.  It’s like first-aid for your job search, and like a first-aid kit, there are standard necessities that belong in each one.

A basic kit should always include the following: a notepad and pen; questions for your interviewers— ones that show you’ve done your homework on the company; copies of your sparkling resume; a list of references and possibly a portfolio. But to really stand out, there’s one extra thing you should tuck into your interview toolkit—something that can tilt the hiring scales in your favor.

The trick is, that one extra thing is different for every person and every position. It’s something that will demonstrate how perfect you are for the job by showcasing your skills, knowledge or ability to fit into the company’s culture. Figuring out what that one thing is will take research, intuition and creativity.  Once you’ve got it, you’ll be a clear choice.

Step 1: Shift your focus

Martin Yate, bestselling author of Knock ’em Dead 2013: The Ultimate Job Search Guide, says, “The big mistake most job hunters make is not thinking about what the customer wants. The first business lesson everyone learns is the customer is always right. Yet when it comes to resumes and interviews, people just push ahead trying to show how great they are.”

The key to a successful interview, according to Yate, is to get into the employer’s head. He says every job is about identifying potential problems and either preventing them from occurring or solving them as quickly and effectively as possible. Interviewers want to see that you are aware of the problems you’ll face in your new job and will be able to deal with them effectively.

“The most important thing is to show the manager how you are going to take her headaches away rather than giving her headaches,” Yate says.

Step 2: Do your homework

How can you know what an organization wants and needs? Research.

Yate suggests collecting six job postings for similar positions and deconstructing them. “Find out what they have in common. Know what employers think is important,” he says.

Dr. Angela Massey, author of Interview Skills: How to Get Hired NOW, emphasizes that your research should be about pinpointing ways you can help move the company forward. What is their mission, and what can you contribute to help accomplish it? “See yourself as a consultant,” she suggests. “A good consultant comes to a meeting with information.  Notice holes the company should fill and offer solutions.”

Step 3: Find that one extra thing

Next, based on your research, find something you can bring to the interview that will make your unique attributes tangible. It may illustrate your understanding of the company’s needs, the unique skills you bring to the table, or how you will fit in seamlessly with the team.

For example, Massey says, if you notice your target company has all the social media icons on their website but no one tweets on a regular basis, you might bring in information about a competitor’s tweets or examples of your own successful social media endeavors.  When Alison Johnston interviewed for a nonprofit communications job, she saw that the organization’s website featured a photo of each staff member engaged in a physical activity. Her one extra thing was to bring a picture of herself hiking and hand it over at the end of the interview.  “This is the photo I would choose for the website if I got the job,” she said. Johnston is still with that organization.  Yate recommends making your one extra thing seem like something you just happen to have with you.  “Think, ‘What can I guarantee they’re going to ask me about, and what can I take that would illustrate that?’” he says.

For example, he once hired a personal assistant because when he asked about her ability to multitask, she showed him the organizer she used to keep her entire family running smoothly. He was impressed by her system and could see she had what it took to keep his office organized, too.

Leave the bunny at home

Whatever you choose as your one extra thing, be sure it’s professional. “Cutesy doesn’t win jobs,” Yate warns.

As head of human resources for a Silicon Valley company, he once saw an engineer come to the interview with a bunny rabbit. “Not a stuffed bunny, a live one,” he says. “And when she left, we saw the bunny had left presents. We did not hire her.”

The point isn’t to show how different you are, says Yate. It’s to illustrate your ability to deliver on the requirements of the job and to play well with others. 

Get ready to shine

By all means, prepare for an interview by picking out the best possible outfit and gathering all the items an interviewer will expect you to have. But to ensure success, put some time and energy into finding that one extra thing to slip into your toolkit. Then, go get that job.

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Paula Boon is a freelance researcher, writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications in the United States and Canada.