In a perfect world, interviews would always be scheduled weeks in advance, giving you more than enough time to get your best business suit dry-cleaned, conduct extensive research on the company, and get three different versions of your “elevator pitch” down pat.
In reality, that’s just not the way it usually works. Once the chain of events that can lead up to a job interview is set into motion, the situation often escalates rapidly. You may sit next to a foodservice industry executive at a Saturday night dinner party, only to be asked to show up bright and early Monday morning for a job interview. Or maybe a former supervisor will mention your name when the night auditor at a local hotel suddenly skips town, leaving management desperate for a qualified replacement.
Regardless of the reason, last-minute interviews are often a fact of life. This is especially true in the hospitality industry, with its long history of rapid growth, ongoing turnover, and an international network of job-hopping insiders. The most successful job hunters are those who make the most of their connections, using the industry grapevine and word-of-mouth to create opportunities where none may have previously existed.
The downside of this approach? Well, you may have to train yourself to be ready to ace an interview at a moment’s notice. This sounds like a daunting challenge, but if you get into the right mindset, it’s definitely doable. If you’ve been reading a lot of how-to books about interviews, you might think short-term interview success is an impossible feat, since most of the job search literature out there focuses on long-term, carefully-planned employment hunts. Just stick to these simple guidelines, and you can be on your way to wowing your future employer in less than 24 hours.
You probably won’t have time to spend hours in the dressing room contemplating the perfect interview outfit, so select the most business-like ensemble in your closet and drop it off at the one-hour dry cleaners. Do as much as you can to get your look boardroom-ready, but don’t spend too much time on every minute detail.
If you can, try to speak with your contact at the organization the day before the interview. You can frame the conversation as a courtesy confirmation, but try to get as much information as possible about the interview, the atmosphere at the company, and what they expect from potential hires.
The Internet is your best friend during last-minute interview preparations. Use a search engine to turn up all the information you can about the company. Don’t limit your investigation to the company’s web site -- check out the archives of local newspapers, business magazines, food or lodging review sites, anything you can think of. Use the information you find to formulate a dozen intelligent, thoughtful questions about the organization. According to Mary Ellen Templeton, author of Help! My Job Interview is Tomorrow!, this is the most important step you can take to improve your chances of interview success.
Unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t predict exactly which questions your interviewer will ask. But what you can do is spend a few hours crafting the overall message you want to convey in the meeting. PR professionals call these bullet lists “talking points.” Select six or seven accomplishments, skills, and experiences that you think best encapsulate your qualifications and brainstorm several different ways to discuss them. That way, you’ll be prepared to get your message across no matter which approach the interviewer decides to take.
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much preparation, even when you only have a short time to get ready for an interview. Do enough so that you feel confident and self-assured, but not so much that you’re weighed down with data and pre-planned speeches. And don’t stay up until the wee hours doing last-minute prep work! Go to bed as early as possible so that you’ll look -- and feel -- rested and energetic in the interview. Good luck!