What To Bring To A Job Interview (And What NOT To Bring)

By Jeff Gillis

Everyone has that one friend. You know the one. They are prepared for every situation. Though they carry only a small bag, this bag is full of a seemingly infinite number of useful objects. Bug spray, barrettes, and yo-yos magically spring from their sack of goodies.

At a job interview, you want to be that friend.

Knowing what to bring to a job interview is an art you should master. Luckily, it isn’t as mysterious as you may think. Your urban-boyscout friend with the infinite sack of items does, after all, have only a small bag. It is not linked to a larger space by alien technology. He is a planner, not an extraterrestrial spy.

What To Bring to a Job Interview

Some of the items below are obvious, but perhaps to you, others are not. The main thing you need to do is acknowledge that straying too far from this list can be detrimental to the success of your interview.

So make sure when you leave your house you have the following items with you:

1. Water

A bottle of water is an amazing interview friend.

Practically speaking, there is nothing worse than dry mouth when you need to do some major speaking.

What causes dry mouth? Stress and nerves.

An important interview is not an uncommon time for someone who has never experienced dry mouth to suddenly find themselves smacking their lips and surveying the room for a water fountain.

As an added bonus, taking a sip of water is an excellent way buy yourself some time to formulate your thoughts.

Tough question? Think. Water. Think. Answer.

You can get significantly more thinking in without it looking odd by breaking it up with a sip of water.

2. Tissues

Hopefully you are in top condition, ready to perform at peak performance during your job interview.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

The sniffles can be excused with tissue in hand. Though sneezing into your hands or sleeve is socially acceptable, a tissue makes the whole affair look that much more dignified. It is also the only appropriate way to conquer a runny nose.

If you want to be really old-school, consider a handkerchief.

3. Your Resume

You may have already sent your resume, but you are now an urban boy (or girl) scout and interview master.

Picture it: you’re all ready to begin when one of your panel interviewers realizes they have printed the wrong resume!

They are just deciding to share one copy, when you whip out a pristine, hot-off-the-press resume, flash a smile, and immediately show everyone in the room that you are reliable and prepared.

Even if you have a single interviewer and he has your resume right in front of him, a casually placed transparent folder with copies of your resume within will send the same message.

4. A Notebook and Pen

The notebook-pen combo is both a signalling item and an instrumental tool. This is where you can keep any questions you’ve developed, important facts and figures, or information you are given while at your interview.

Jotting down notes can help you keep track of a complex question. It can help you to recall the most important features of a position.

It also shows your potential employers that you are organized and prepared.

MIKE'S TIP: If you have prepared answers to interview questions, you can bring them into the interview as a reference, but only if you have them on a single sheet of paper in your notebook and ONLY to be quickly glanced at when you need a little extra help remembering. DO NOT read directly from your paper and do not shuffle through a stack of papers trying to find what you are looking for.

5. Appropriate Attire

Deciding what to wear to an interview is a very important step.

Unless you are a coding god applying for start-up positions in silicon valley, wear a tie. Not a bow-tie, a tie. Of course, depending on the industry there is significant wiggle room here. A bow-tie and tweed coat might be acceptable at a design company or progressive place of employment. The safer option, however, is a proper business suit.

Ladies have more options, but need to look equally professional. Yes, those blister-inducing shoes are part of the package.

In many cases not adhering to this traditional standard will cost you considerably. Employers need to know that you are taking your job hunt seriously and that you understand how to behave in a traditional workplace.

Once you’ve proven yourself, you can show off your Star Wars socks. The interview, however, it not the time to do so.

6. Tidy Hair and Nails

Details matter.

Take the time to scrub under your fingernails. Make sure they are short and tidy, if male. If female, make sure they are even and manicured. Polish is optional, but it certainly won’t hurt.

Independent of your gender, comb your hair. Ensure that it will not be in your eyes or unceremoniously plopped on the top of your head in a messy bun. Trendy is not necessarily professional. Interviews don’t require cookie-cutter Stepford people, but they do require professionalism and good hygiene.

7. A Genuine Smile and Positive Attitude

This is perhaps the most important thing to bring. Things happen. Your tights will rip, you’ll leave your notebook on the roof of your car, or spill ketchup on your tailored dress shirt. It’s okay.

Nearly everything can be forgiven with a genuine smile, a short apology, and a positive attitude. Even the biggest hiccup of all – being late – can be worked through with the right attitude. PRO TIP: don’t be late.

List of what you should bring to your job interview

  1. Water
  2. Tissues
  3. Your Resume
  4. A Notebook and Pen
  5. Appropriate Attire
  6. Tidy Hair and Nails
  7. A Genuine Smile and Attitude
  8. Questions To Ask The Interviewer

What Not to Bring to a Job Interview

Perhaps even more important than knowing what to bring to a job interview, is of course, what NOT to bring to a job interview.

Now you may laugh at some of these items, but trust me, they have all been brought to job interviews by real people and in 99.9% of those cases, they left the interview without  job offer for this exact reason.

So, be sure not to bring these items to your next job interview:

Your Phone

If you must bring your phone on your interview, keep it on silent and don’t take it out of your bag until you have left.

If your interviewer is older they remember a time before smart phones became ubiquitous.

There is a good chance they think younger generations have taken technology dependence to an unhealthy level.

Playing Angry Birds instead of politely chatting with the company receptionist will undoubtedly be a mark against you. Glancing at a text during your company tour will not go unnoticed. Save selfies with the company fish for another day.

The only appropriate time to pull out a phone during your interview is if your interviewer is showing off pictures of their dog and you want to brag about your gigantic greyhound Lucy.

Your Mother

This should be self-evident, but apparently eight percent of young workers surveyed admit to bringing a parent to their job interviews, while three percent said a parent actually sat in on the interview!

Don’t do this. Even if your mom has known the interviewer since college or is an employee at the same company, don’t do this. There are no extenuating circumstances that make this okay.

If you need a ride, mom is allowed to drive you to your interview. She must, however, wait in the car. It is never appropriate to bring your mother to a job interview.

The same applies to your father, aunt, older sister, and greyhound Lucy.

The Importance of Preparing Questions for your Interviewers

Preparing several questions to ask the interviewer is imperative. It shows that you’ve done your research, provides evidence of your interest in the position, and illustrates that you have spent time thinking about how your skills and personality will fit with the company.

For more information about interview questions check out The Interview Guys’ previous blog article Top 14 Questions To Ask In An Interview.

Putting It All Together

Hopefully you now have a good sense of how to become an interview-destroying urban scout!

There is no magic bag. There is no secret technology.

Like so many things, it is all about knowledge, planning and commitment to excellence. Now go get that job, you notebook-toting, tissue-offering, water-drinking interview ninja!

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.