Raise your hand if you’re reasonably content with your current job but would leave in a heartbeat if a stellar opportunity fell in your lap.
Now raise your hand if you’ve ever been contacted to interview for a dream position while off the job market and had to scramble to pull together the necessary interview materials.
If so, you’re not alone. This happened to me several times until I realized there’s an easier way. Rather than drop everything to update my résumé or raid my closet for clean, wrinkle-free interview attire, I maintain an emergency interview tool kit. Now I have the following essentials ready in case of unexpected, too-good-to-refuse opportunities:
1. Résumé templates and master list. If you’re like me, you tailor your résumé to every position you pursue. Rather than reinvent the wheel each time, keep templates of your most-used résumé versions handy. (I have four: one for teaching, one for editing, one for corporate storytelling and one for business journalism.) Also keep a master résumé that lists all your experience and skills so you can easily pull from it to modify each template as needed.
2. Collections of work samples. Some employers will request two to three relevant work samples with your résumé, even if you have an online portfolio they can peruse. If you find yourself getting this request often, keep several brief, niche-specific collections of your work handy. Think lesson plans, white papers, promotional videos, custom web designs or whatever else your specialty is.
3. Three current, easy-to-reach references. If you think no one asks to check references right away, you’re wrong. This happened to me just last month, when a recruiter called about a contract position they needed filled yesterday. There was no seeing if I made it to the final round to check references. Instead, they wanted to talk to someone right after the preliminary phone screening.
4. Polished answers to phone screenings. It may have been a while since your last interview. Phone screenings can be casual, but that doesn’t mean you should wing them. No interviewer wants to sit through all your “ums” and “uhs” while you scan the recesses of your memory for relevant work experience. Instead, create a cheat sheet of career highlights and selling points you can use to quickly refresh your memory on such calls.
5. List of job requirements and questions. Every in-demand candidate has their must-haves, whether it’s remote work privileges, flexible hours, stock options or some other perk. List yours in writing so you remember to ask about them when the opportunity arises. Same goes for questions you find yourself repeatedly asking about the roles you pursue, like the number of people and accounts you’d be managing and the budget you’d be responsible for.
6. Interview outfit. Every passive candidate needs a stylish, well-fitting, ready-to-wear interview uniform. Your outfit of choice should be cleaned and pressed, with all buttons and zippers intact. Even if you’re not asked to a last-minute face-to-face meeting, the recruiter or hiring manager may request a video call, in which case a fresh shirt, sweater or jacket will come in handy.
Take time at the start of each quarter to update the items in your emergency interview kit as needed. Doing so can save you hours of rushing around to pull these pieces together should opportunity knock.
It might even make the difference between acing the interview and flubbing it.