When you’re on the job hunt, it’s crucial to remember that the interview portion does not begin and end with the formal interview. Instead, think of every step along the way as part of one long extended interview. Your email exchanges, your phone conversations, your thank-you notes – these all factor into your success.

Take our fictional friend Jimbo. Besides having an unfortunate name, Jimbo is also having trouble landing a job. But just the other day, a friend called him with a potential opportunity:

Friend: “Hey Jimbo! Well what do ya know, my company has an opening in the department relevant to your education and past experience! How ‘bout I put you in touch?”

Jimbo: “Yes please! Thanks so much for thinking of me. I’m really getting tired of only eating hot dogs and ramen packets for dinner.”

Jimbo took all the right first steps – he investigated the company, researched the open position, realized it met his criteria, followed up with the hiring manager right away and thanked his good friend for setting it up. The next day, Jimbo received an email response:

Hiring Manager: Jimbo, our mutual friend and colleague passed along your name and resume. I’d love to chat more about this potential opportunity. Is now a good time?

Now this is where our dear friend Jimbo made his first mistake. He saw the word “chat”, assumed this was a casual conversation, and said to himself:

“This sounds casual and I’m a casual dude. Now is a perfectly fine time to display my expert casual chatting skills, I’ll call her on my walk to pick up a hot dog!”

This was, of course, a terrible idea. The hiring manager actually asked Jimbo thoughtful questions about his interest in the position and his relevant experience. Jimbo was unprepared to provide thoughtful answers because he was simultaneously trying to remember his notable achievements, obey the laws of traffic, and take the most direct route to the hot-dog stand. And to add insult to injury, fire engines came roaring by during the so-called “chat”, disrupting the call even more.

Now I think you can guess what happened here. Yes, it was Jimbo’s favorite hot-dog stand that caught fire. And worse, Jimbo received that dreaded “Thank you for your time, but we’ve decided to go in another direction…” email. Which left our Jimbo without a job, and without his dietary staple. Rough day.

But there’s a valuable lesson here: any and every form of correspondence must be treated as meaningful. Even if it sounds casual, even if you’re confident in your walk and talk skills, when a job is on the line, take your correspondence seriously. What may be proposed as “casual”, isn’t.  It may be to them but it shouldn’t be to you. Moral of the story: every “chat”, every email, every touchpoint is part of your interview – treat it as such.

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