Help me prepare for my upcoming job interview
July 20, 2005 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I've got a marathon job interview coming up, and I'm looking for advice on: a professional purse or briefcase I can use; how to stay energized, alert and upbeat for two consecutive days; cultural things I should be aware of in northeast Florida.

I'm getting flown to Jacksonville, Florida, from the Pacific Northwest on an upcoming Saturday, to be met at the airport Saturday evening by my potential future boss. I'll have Sunday to recover and explore the town before the interview begins.

I'll meet with 12 people over the course of 16 hours on Monday and Tuesday -- HR people, people with the same job as I'm applying for, managers, assistant managers, and the very top corporate big wigs.

In the past I've just brought a leather portfolio to job interviews. My portfolio has room for extra copies of my resume inside, plus smaller pockets for the stuff I'd usually keep in my wallet (cash, license, credit cards, etc.).

I think I'd like to bring a bit more into this marathon interview, however -- including some crackers to munch on during bathroom breaks in case I get hungry, lipstick so I can refresh my fading color, and a prescription drug I'm supposed to take at the same time every day. I also still need to carry extra copies of my resume and my wallet stuff.

Can anyone recommend a professional-looking briefcase or purse that might do the job? Bonus points if it's under $100, and double bonus points if it's closer to $50.

I'd also love advice about how to stay alert and upbeat for the duration of the interview.

I tend to be drained by long periods of interaction with other people, and try to fit some alone time into my days to re-charge. That won't be an option here, as my breakfasts, lunches and dinners are all scheduled with interviewers.

My plan so far: stay on top of my workout routine in the 10 days leading up to the trip; make use of the hotel swimming pool and fitness rooms to continue getting regular exercise; accept every coffee or coke offered to me during the interview. That should help physically. Any tips for how to survive psychologically?

Finally, I've never been to northeast Florida before -- specifically, I'm heading to Jacksonville. I've heard that Miami may be even more laid back than the Pacific Northwest, though it's hard for me to imagine anything more chill than my current office after moving here from the DC area 5 years ago. I don't know if it's safe to assume anything about Jacksonville just because of things I've heard about Miami, however. Any tips on the Jacksonville corporate culture?

I'll be wearing my best business suits to the interview. Beyond that, are there things I should be aware of as I try to click, culturally, with the interviewers?

In case it matters to any of these answers: I am female, 27 years old, with five succesful years of experience in my field. This job would be a huge jump up for me, however. I'd have guessed it was five to 10 years away. Somehow they liked what I said in my cover letter and over the phone, however, and now I'm in the top three. I'd like to make it to the top one.

Sorry for my exhaustive questions. The interview is 10 days off, and I've already started having anxiety dreams about all the things that could go wrong. I figure the more info I have going in, the better. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was in the same boat as you were (well, male and in the Northeast, but still...). I was invited to a two-day interview for a job that I shouldn't have been able to get for several more years. I'm also a person who needs my time away to recoup, and dreaded the beginning-to-end marathon days of interviews and interactions. I found that between meetings, I simply asked (or said yes if offered) for a couple of minutes to regroup. I would walk outside, get some air, walk in circles on the grass, etc., then head back in. No one questioned it at all. If they had, I would have turned it into a positive: I'm well aware of what I need to take care of myself while also taking care of the necessary work.

Can't help you with the bag or FL questions, though, sorry! I carried a pad and slim portfolio, and everything else went into my pockets.

If you have any specific questions about multi-day interviews, drop me an email at my full name at Google mail. Good luck!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:01 PM on July 20, 2005

I just had a whole mess of interviews last week (resulted in job, so yay!) so I'm feeling where you're coming from although I didn't have to travel like you do.

Do whatever you can to make sure you get a good night's sleep every night. If that means bringing your own pillow and white noise machine for the hotel, do it. You're going to be useless if you can't sleep because of a lumpy pillow.

Also, make sure you take a break at the end of the evening to clear your mind. Get a pay-per-view movie, buy a mindless magazine, call an old friend, etc. Do something so the last thing on your mind before you sleep isn't your interview. That seemed to help me last week when my head was spinning with all the things I didn't want to forget for the interviews.

You may want to consider some light exercise in the morning when you're there. Gets me energized for the day and makes 9 a.m. feel not so early.

Just be good to yourself when you're not at the interviews.
posted by awegz at 6:08 PM on July 20, 2005

If you get a chance, visit St. Augustine. It's about 50 miles away, a lovely little town on the beach that also happens to be the oldest city in the US (founded by Spain).
posted by cali at 6:29 PM on July 20, 2005

A friend of mine once told me to just ask to use the rest room if you need a brief break. I've done this in the past without any problems.
posted by substrate at 6:53 PM on July 20, 2005

I've used the restroom for breaks, as well. Good idea there, substrate.

I would advise to lay off the caffeine, if for no other reason than it can be hard to "come down" from. If you feel you need to, I'd really try hard to avoid it the first day to avoid messing up the sleep schedule (which will already be borked from travel) and limit it to the second day.

You're probably already familiar with the effects of caffeine on your body, though, so let that guide you.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:35 PM on July 20, 2005

This may sound like an obvious suggestion, but when you're nervous, or when you really just need a minute to yourself but can't quite get to have one right then: take a big breath. And another one. Just take a second and let your whole body focus on that. Then return to the person who is talking/place you have to be/plate of food you have to eat etc. Usually it helps me by giving me a few seconds of me time and then I'm much sharper.

I second the suggestion to be gentle with yourself - maybe get a massage at the hotel for after the first day? or a steam room? Whatever would work for you to relax and make yourself feel better.

I used to take bath salts with me on what I knew to be pretty stressful and long business trips. There is nothing so relaxing as a hot bath after a long day and most of the big hotel chains have bathtubs in the rooms.
posted by mulkey at 10:25 PM on July 20, 2005

eBags has an entire section devoted to Women's Business Cases & Totes... and if you still find nothing there, jump up a level and look in their general business category. There are many options available under $50!
posted by IndigoRain at 12:10 AM on July 21, 2005

I can't imagine a 2-day interview process. The concept just boggles me. I have a cousin who went through a full-day interview process with Microsoft for a paralegal job that pays barely 45K a year, and I thought that that was excessive.

There is a whole 'nuther culture out there that I have no experience with. It just seems very strange to me. :)

Best of luck with the process, though; I hope you get it.

That said, make sure to keep a bottle of water with you ( to keep hydrated) and a roll of Life Savers -- something with sugar for a little energy kick -- would almost certainly be useful.

At the interview-meals, pick dishes that are easy to eat in polite company. Ribs, burgers and noodles: bad. Boneless chicken bits with vegetables, good.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:16 AM on July 21, 2005

I don't know if it's possible, but it might be worthwhile to start shifting your current schedule to eastern time. Having only one day to adjust to the time shift would be killer.
posted by cCranium at 4:33 AM on July 21, 2005

I agree about the jet-lag. You really want to be adjusted and ready to go early on Monday morning. And you don't want to be dipping into a lull as the morning wears on. So I'd second the "move to eastern time" advice -- just go to bed early and wake up early for the three or four days preceeding.

I would NOT read much into Jacksonville culture based on Miami. Florida is a weird state -- a common saying is "the further north you travel in Florida, the further south you get." Jacksonville will be more like Atlanta than Miami, or even more like Mobile Alabama. I've been there, but only as a kid, so I didn't get a good sense of the town or the corporate culture. The beaches are pretty far from the city center (45 mins), so it's not like being on a beach all the time, fwiw.

As far as the rhythm of the days goes, I have the following anecdotes about 2 (separate) days of interviewing at a microsoft. Though they say the entire day is scheduled, there will be downtime. There will be times that they person you're due to meet is not ready / had a meeting run late / can't be found. Use this time to your advantage and feel free to say "great, I'll just wait in the lobby" (or where ever). This gave me 3 or 4 stints of 15 minutes each to chill out, shrug my shoulders, get water, etc. This was very helpful to me. I'd also start each interview with intensity and try to be (my usual, animated) self. Most interviews are decided on two things "skills" and "likeability / cultural fit." So I tried to start off on the best foot and then settle in, instead of saying "wow I'm tired, what an exciting and exhausting day!" at the beginning, I'd say it towards the middle or end of the interview, but then it's easy to keep talking about your skills or experience.

At MSFT, your most important interviews come at the end. You do 3 or 4 interviews and then begin to meet the higher-ups at the end of the day. The first time I didn't know this, but the second time I did. So try to find out when you're meeting with the CEO / big-wigs / etc. And then plan your day accordingly. You could even buy an extra 10 minutes by cutting short the interview right before the most important ones. As you wind down your conversation, you should just say, "My next interview is with XYZ, so I'd love to get 10 minutes to freshen up and chill in the lobby." Nobody would deny you that.

I won't give bag advice, because I'm a guy, and I have prety much no idea what a girl needs, though I know it's more than will fit into your pockets. Because your suit won't have any.
posted by zpousman at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2005

For the bag issue -- I'd recommend a nice leather tote bag. You need something large enough to slide your padfolio and other stuff into, but conservative and professional looking. It should be slim, but have a wide enough bottom that you can set it on the floor beside you during interviews, lunches, etc, and it won't tip over. (Nothing leaves a girl more flustered than fidgeting with her bag.)

It's a bit above your price range, but a go-getter like yourself should consider investing in something like a Longchamps bag. Nordstrom's generally carries a wide selection.
posted by junkbox at 8:03 AM on July 21, 2005

Some tips and random facts about Jacksonville:
  • Some place names aren't pronounced as you expect, like Ortega (or-TEE-ga, not or-TAY-ga), New Berlin Road (accent on the first syllable), and Ponte Vedra (PON-tuh VEE-druh).
  • Jacksonville is very much a Southern city with a small-town feel. It wouldn't be advisable, for example, to gossip in public about people, because you'd probably be within earshot
  • The traffic is often pretty bad for no particular reason.
  • Drivers ignore pedestrians' right-of-way, and pedestrians tend to go when it's clear (and sometimes if it's not) even if it's against the signal.
  • People in charge of corporations in the same field tend to know each other or to have at least met each other.
In general, just be polite to everyone, don't be overly annoyed if things don't move as quickly as you'd like, and you should be just fine.
posted by oaf at 10:13 AM on July 21, 2005

I've recently had to go to several day business meeting and I second the Massage thing. I try to bring a compelling, but mindless book with me and read a bit in the bathroom. It relaxes me and clears my mind of all the fears and worries.

For bags, I highly reccommend I have 2 of their bags and I love them. They are stylish, but most of them can fit a couple of letter files in them. Lots of pockets make it easily to store things. If you check their outlet section you can find a few under 100.
posted by renyoj at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2005

I've been warned about using a special bag for interviews. Something that you aren't used to can feel awkward and that can come through to your interviewer.

If it was me, I'd try to get soemthing nice that paralelled my normal case. Barring that, get something nice for the interview but stow your gear in it a ahead of time and use it for a few days to get used to it.

Don't be shy about asking for a moment to yourself if you need it. It's not in the interviewer's interest to burn you out. The restroom is a perfect excuse.

Best luck! We're all rooting for you.
posted by deanj at 10:59 AM on July 21, 2005

drink a glass of water every hour. it will help maintain your energy. if you feel "slumpy" drink two or three glasses. you will start to perk up in about 10 minutes.
posted by centrs at 12:48 AM on July 22, 2005

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