Whether you've got an in-person or virtual interview scheduled, here's what you need to have on hand.

For most people, job interviews are a nerve-racking ordeal, with the worst part being the days and hours leading up to the interview. There are a lot of steps to take to ensure you're prepared — including having everything you need on hand.

Whether you've got an in-person or virtual interview coming up, make sure you have what you need to ace the interview and leave a lasting impression.

What should a candidate should bring to an in-person job interview?

If you have an in-person job interview, gather what you need to bring to the interview at least a day before. You want to make sure you have everything you need on hand and ready to go. Here are the essentials:

1. An appropriate briefcase or tote

Start your preparations with a briefcase or tote. Make sure your carrier is big enough to comfortably fit your interview essentials, but not so big that it's clunky and weighs you down. Keep it simple and professional; it's an accessory to polish off your already-perfected interview outfit.

2. The necessary interview documents

Some documents are interview essentials. Chances are you won't need every single one of these, but it's important to have them all on hand just in case. Better to be over-prepared than to come up empty when one of these is requested.

  • Several copies of your resume: Sure, the world's gone virtual, but you'll want to bring hard copies of your resume along anyway. We suggest you bring about five copies, each printed on nice resume paper (It's a bit thicker, making it more durable and professional) so you can offer a copy to each person you interview with.

  • A list of references: If you want, go ahead and paper clip or staple your list of references to your resume, making the transfer of information seamless.

  • Portfolio items: You can also bring along some hard copies of work you've done, if relevant to your field. The hiring manager will likely inquire about your past work, so it'll be nice to pass tangible work samples across the table.

  • A couple of business cards: If you have professional business cards printed up, go ahead and take a few with you. Sure, your interviewer will see your contact information on your resume, but a nice-looking business card says, “Hey, I'm prepared, I'm professional, and I know what's up.”

  • A photo ID: Chances are you'll already have some form of identification with you on interview day, such as a driver's license, but go ahead and add this to your checklist to ensure you don't forget. There are a few instances you might need a photo ID, like gaining access to the building or floor of your prospective employer.

3. A padfolio (or folder, notepad, and pen)

Before stuffing all these items listed straight into your bag, consider investing in a padfolio. A padfolio contains pockets, a notepad, and a pen, so you don't have to fish around in your bag to find what you need. You can find one at your local office supply store or on Amazon for less than $20.

If you don't want to bring a padfolio with you, opt for a portfolio folder, notepad, and pen instead. It won't be as compact, but you'll definitely want to have a pen and paper handy so you can jot down notes during your interview.

4. The office's address and phone number

You never want to be late for an interview; have the office address and phone number saved to your phone to avoid any time-consuming mistakes. Even better: Save it to your favorite navigation app and perform a dry run the day before your interview.

Google Maps also allows you to set reminders to leave. For instance, if your interview is at 10 a.m., simply enter the address, your mode of transportation, and choose your desired arrival time (giving yourself 15 to 20 minutes extra time). Then, Google Maps will notify you when you need to leave, based on traffic or public transportation delays.

5. The names of who you'll be meeting

You'll likely meet with a few people on the day of your interview, so if the human resource department lets you know who that is ahead of time, jot down their names and positions. It's possible you'll end up so focused on interview questions that names of the interviewers will slip your mind, so writing down their names in a notebook will give you a peace of mind.

You should also be somewhat familiar with those interviewing you. Do a quick LinkedIn search to better understand their role at the company and their professional experience (you may even have something in common — bonus points!).

6. A list of questions

If you have a tendency to freeze under pressure, take notes and jot down a list of the questions you want to ask in the interview. Start with a list of typical interview questions, and then gather any specifics from the company's online presence.

Keep this list handy during your interview so you can jot down any specific questions that come to mind during your conversation.

Of course, you don't want to awkwardly read from your list when question time comes around. This list should contain a few bullet points or keywords that can help remind you of the questions you've already practiced to ask the interviewer.

7. Mints

Chewing on a wad of gum isn't the best interview etiquette, but if you're worried about your breath because you've been chugging coffee all morning, stick a tin of breath mints in your bag. Keep it handy so you can easily reach down and grab one before the interview begins.

What should a candidate bring to a virtual job interview?

If you have a virtual job interview coming up, you might assume you don't need to worry about “bringing” anything to the interview, but there are a few essentials you shouldn't forget.

1. Reliable Tech

Because you're relying on technology for your virtual job interview, it's essential to have everything you need — and a backup plan just in case something goes awry.

Here's what job seekers will want to consider:

  • Make sure your computer is fully charged and plugged in.

  • Triple-check your internet connection. In case something happens, have a backup plan in place. One of the easiest things you can do is use your phone's hotspot or download the Zoom app to your phone — it's better than nothing.

  • Get familiar with whatever platform your video interview will take place on, whether that's Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or another option. Ask a friend to hop on a test call with you if you're feeling unsure of your set up.

  • Check your video and speaker permissions. This is one of the most common tech mishaps, so be sure your speaker and video are linked up to whatever conferencing platform you're using.

2. The perfect location

Location is key when it comes to remote job interviews. If you don't have a dedicated home office, spend some time staking out the perfect spot to do your interview. As a rule of thumb, the room should be quiet, have good lighting (you don't want to be backlit), and be both neutral and tidy. Avoid sitting in front of an unmade bed or doing the interview in the same room as your hyper pet.

If you have kids at home, come up with a plan to keep them occupied. Ask your spouse or a trusted friend or family member to stop by. With the pandemic, hiring managers and interviewers are typically understanding when it comes to these “unprecedented times,” but it's best to do what you can to keep the room quiet so you can stay focused.

3. Notes and questions

Just like an in-person interview, you'll want to prepare notes and questions for your interview ahead of time. With a remote interview, you've got a little more flexibility here; you don't necessarily need to go out and buy a fancy padfolio or type up neat notes. 

As long as everything stays out of view, you can have what you want on hand. It's also not a bad idea to print a copy of your resume, just to use it as a reference if needed.

What not to bring to a job interview — in-person or virtual

Now that your bag is packed — or your room is tidied — go ahead and take another look to make sure you leave these items behind.

1. Phone

If you have an in-person interview, leave your phone in your car — or at least silence it and stuff it deep into your bag. You don't want it buzzing or posing a distraction during your interview. If your interview is virtual, just leave your phone in another room.

And don't forget about your smartwatch! Candidates should make sure it's in silent mode, or just take it off for the duration of the interview.

2. Gum

Whether your interview is in-person or virtual, replace your gum habit with mints for just a few hours.

3. Food and drinks

Bringing food into an interview is distracting. If the interview process is long, perhaps the prospective employer will offer you a drink and snack or even take you to lunch. That's fine to accept.

In fact, if they offer you a beverage, accept a glass of water — sipping it can give you time to slow down and think or to clear your throat. Eating at your own leisure, however, can come off as rude to an employer.

In conclusion 

When it comes to interviewing for a new job position, use your professional instincts and remember you're always better off playing it safe. Think about what would impress you (or annoy you) as a hiring manager and let that guide your preparation. Your goal is to come off as put together and professional as possible.

Bring your best self to your next job interview with the help of our career experts. Learn more about TopInterview's professional interview-coaching services.

This article was updated in November 2020 by the original author, Carson Kohler. 

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