I once got a call from a corporate HR manager. She’d just interviewed one of my candidates, someone we felt was filled with promise and potential. Apparently, the team had decided he wouldn’t be moving on to the next round.
The HR manager told me he’d brought in a bag of groceries, and when offered the chance to tuck it away in the coat closet, he refused. She didn’t come right out and admit to me that this was the specific issue that sunk him, but she certainly made it clear that the awkwardness of that moment did not help his candidacy.
I then had the fun task of sharing the news with my candidate that he had not put his best foot forward with the pre-meeting pit stop.
So if we’ve established that a bag of food shouldn’t ride along, what should you bring to an interview? Here are some suggestions:
1. The Hiring Manager’s Contact Information, the Company’s Address, and Your ID
Don’t even think about leaving the house without the company’s address loaded into Google or Apple maps—where you can also get live traffic updates—or jotted down in your phone’s notepad.
And be sure you know exactly where you should park, if you need any kind of code to get into the building, and the name and contact number of the person with whom you’re meeting.
Finally, make sure you have the proper ID (such as a driver’s license) needed to get through security.
You’ve got enough to sweat about; fretting unnecessarily over logistical details (and possibly showing up late because you weren’t prepared) should not be among those things.
2. Pens (Plural) and a Notepad
Job seekers often ask me if they should bring a laptop for note-taking. My answer is no, unless you’ve been specifically asked to present something or bring it along. The screen alone can serve as a blocker between you and your interviewer. You may also be viewed as aloof if you’re head down in it throughout the entire conversation.
Instead, bring a professional-looking notepad and more than one fresh pen (because…ink explosions). Be sure to jot down things that are interesting, that you want to follow up on, or that you think will help you put your best foot forward. Just don’t spend the entire session madly scrawling away like an investigative reporter. Stay engaged, and be selective in what you write down (you’ll probably only need to take notes at the end of the interview when you ask questions).
3. Several Copies of Your Resume (and Other Application Materials)
While the interviewers may already have a copy of your resume (and have it in front of them), you absolutely need to bring a few copies to share if anyone in the mix hasn’t seen it or needs to refer back to it. Depending on the role you’re pursuing (and what they’ve asked for), you’ll also want to arrive armed with work samples, your portfolio, or any additional information that will help people see that you’re a great fit and affirm that you’re organized, prepared, and able to follow directions.
4. Emergency Items
I once was moments away from taking the stage at a large speaking event when I bumped into a sharp edge and tore a hole in my brand-new black tights. It was beyond noticeable. Fortunately, I had a black Sharpie in my bag. Crisis averted!
Think about the contingencies in advance—having bad breath, breaking a sweat, or your cover-up wearing off of your ever-so-timely pimple—and bring a few quick-fix items that’ll save you in a pinch.
These items might (but don’t necessarily have to) include:
- A stain stick
- A phone charger and/or backup battery pack
- A compact mirror
- Some makeup, if you wear it
- Breath mints or mouthwash (not gum—you don’t want to be chewing while answering interview questions)
- A snack (in case of hunger or all-day interviews)
- A change of shoes (in case you’re on your feet all day or walking far to get there)
- A Sharpie or nail polish (in case of a clothing malfunction like the one I experienced)
- An extra shirt or pair of tights (in case of bigger spills or tears)
5. A Bag or Briefcase
Obviously this is assumed, but it’s still worth noting. You’ll want to carry all your stuff in a professional (a.k.a., not flashy or inappropriate) backpack or briefcase—or, if you just have your resume, a folder or padfolio. The last thing you want is to be scrounging through your pockets for a pen or handing the hiring manager a crumpled-up resume. Make sure the bag isn’t so cumbersome you have nowhere to put it when you go into the meeting.
6. Examples From Your Career Story (Not Memorized Answers)
Memorizing every possible answer to every possible interview question and behavioral question that might come your way could drive you full-on nuts, and it may also put you at risk for coming across as robotic and disconnected.
Instead, consider thinking about how you’d weave examples from your career story around common questions like, “Tell me about a time when you disappointed a client,” “What’s your greatest weakness?”, or “Describe a stressful situation you had with a colleague, and how you handled it.”
You might even jot a few notes down in that notepad you brought along to refer to later. You’re heading into that interview with the expectation that it will be a genuine, engaging conversation. It’s mighty hard to pull this off if you’re madly searching your recall for the perfectly memorized response for every question.
7. Genuinely Thoughtful Questions
The last thing you want to do in an interview is get to that “So, do you have any questions for me?” moment and respond with the ol’ deer-in-the-headlights stare or “Nope! Not a one.”
This may give the impression that you’re just going through the motions, rather than genuinely interested in working at this organization.
You also don’t want to bust out questions that are so obvious that you look unprepared. Once again, get that notepad of yours out and write down two to three questions that show you’ve really been thinking about the challenges, needs, and opportunities of this organization.
An example: “I noticed in your annual report that you faced unexpected profitability challenges last year due to the new tariffs. How is this team working through these issues, and how is the company overall addressing them?”
Check out this article for more great questions to ask in an interview.
8. Miscellaneous Information (Beyond the Logistics)
Who are you meeting with, what’s their role, and what’s some crucial information you need to remember about them? Is there anything else you need to ask or do while you’re there? These kinds of notes are worth writing down and taking with you in case you need to refer back to them.
What Not to Bring to an Interview
Once you’re prepared with all of the interview must-haves, double check to make sure you’re not heading into the meeting with these things in tow:
- A phone with the ringer left on (and don’t you dare set it on the table during the interview)
- Earbuds (in your ears, that is—keep your travel tunes in your bag during the meeting)
- Your carryout lunch (even if they booked your interview during lunch time, best to stick to a small—and not smelly—snack instead)
- A suitcase (if you’re catching a flight right afterward, ask someone at the front desk for the best storage solution)
- A waft of heavy perfume (less is more, and none is even better) or worse, cigarette smoke
- Salary demands (unless you’re beyond the initial interview stages)
- A negative attitude (no need to go through the motions with a chip on your shoulder!)
One final thought: If you absolutely must swing through the supermarket on your way to an interview? When you’re invited to tuck the bag in the coat closet, strongly consider responding with a yes. Or better yet, just hit the store after.