Your résumé and portfolio have done their work, getting you face time with one or more people at a firm—and possibly multiple firms. Now what? Rebecca Nolan suggests approaching your visit as an opportunity for true interaction, not just a question-and-answer session. The senior vice president at St. Louis–based HOK should know; much of her responsibility involves interviewing candidates for jobs within the 23-office organization. Trained as an interior designer, she previously served in a similar role for SmithGroup’s California practice group. Nolan sees the interview as a two-way conversation that doesn’t stop with the hire. “The way we grow people is a passion of mine,” she says.

What should you ask before the interview?

Ask whom you are interviewing with and know their role in the organization.

  • Interviews are about more than a potential employer’s current needs, says HOK senior vice president Rebecca Nolan: “It’s not just a fit for today, but a fit that has the ability to evolve and grow” along with the organization.

    Credit: Stefan Hester

    Interviews are about more than a potential employer’s current needs, says HOK senior vice president Rebecca Nolan: “It’s not just a fit for today, but a fit that has the ability to evolve and grow” along with the organization.
How should you prepare?

Invest time. Understand the firm at every level you can. Know about the people, the organization, the projects, and their recent successes. Seek as much information as you can. Prepare questions in advance. What do you want to learn? Be an active listener while sharing pertinent data.

How does the interview relate to your résumé and portfolio?

When you get to the [interview] short list, you’re prequalified: You’ve got the résumé and illustrated the skill set and the expertise for what the need might be.

How do you differentiate yourself?

It’s about cultural fit. How do you understand the organization culturally and how it’s evolving? See how you can be a part of the firm going forward.

Is “be yourself” still a valid tip?

Be your best professional self.

Do social media have a role?

They are platforms to find an alignment of connections. There’s such transparency.

In the era of Facebook and Twitter, how does one differentiate between the personal and the professional?

Six degrees of separation is now two or three. My best professional self is when I relate as a real person to the person I’m trying to know. Drop your guard enough to be genuine. Bring your personal experiences to who you are as a professional.

What can the length of an interview tell you?

A positive and productive interview is a healthy exchange both ways—a true engagement over whatever the topic of conversation is. If the interview goes beyond its scheduled length, that means people are curious and they want to make time.

What’s the dress code?

It has relaxed over the past decade, but it’s OK to be a little more dressed up than the person who’s interviewing you. That’s respectful. If you’re meeting with a few people, aim for the upper range of that group.

Can you be overconfident?

It’s a balance. No matter how strong a candidate you are, humility has a role. If you’re overconfident, you might step away from inquiry.

Is there anything that you have to say?

If this is a position you really want or an organization you really want to be a part of, say that.

Is there an X factor?

I look for a smile. I want to know that somebody has the capacity to be a happy person in the workplace.