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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

What to bring to an interview (and what to leave at home)

21 min read
What to bring to an interview (and what to leave at home)
Artwork by:Vika Shibaeva
What to bring to an interview may seem secondary to preparing for the employer’s toughest questions, but what you decide to take with you and (what you leave at home) can make or break your experience.

Being prepared for an interview means more than having your career stories ready to go and picking up your outfit from the dry cleaners. Decisions that you make about what to bring to an interview (and what not to bring) will reflect on you more than you think.

What might you need to bring to the interview in the following scenarios?

  1. Your phone inexplicably runs out of charge.
  2. The interviewer wants you to write something down.
  3. More people attend the interview than you expected.
  4. The office security guard asks you for identification.
  5. It is a hot day, and you are getting a little sweaty.

There are many other conceivable situations where being prepared will save you stress and allow you to focus on the demands of the interview itself. Of course, you are hardly going on a week-long trek into the wilderness, so keep things in perspective, but it is better to take more than you need. Here is what we will explore in this blog:

  • What you should bring to an interview
  • What not to bring to an interview
  • What attitude to bring to an interview
  • Unusual (but important) things to bring
Don't be late
Don't be late
Expert tip

Which documents should I bring to an interview? Bring some form of identification (driver’s license or passport), but in a first interview you won’t need any other documents such as references or education details. That will hopefully come later.

What to bring to an interview

Here are the essential items to bring to any interview:

  1. Multiple copies of your resume
  2. The job description and company info
  3. Directions to the interview
  4. Proof of identity
  5. A pad of paper and a couple of pens
  6. A prompt sheet with things to ask / mention
  7. Your phone (fully charged) and a charger
  8. A list of references / industry contacts
  9. Laptop to show portfolio or presentations
  10. Paper examples of portfolio (brag book)
  11. Personal hygiene products
  12. A smart bag to carry everything

This might seem like a long list of what to bring to an interview, but many of these things are (literally) paper thin, so they shouldn’t take up too much room in your essential interview bag. You can get mini versions of virtually any personal care product, and if you do decide to take an iPad, then that shouldn’t burden you. 

Remember that you can put your bag down onto the floor in most interviews, out of sight, so take most of the list below just to be on the safe side:

Multiple copies of your resume

Your interviewers will be busy people, so you can be sure that one of them will have forgotten to print out your resume . Who prints things at work these days, anyway? Taking paper copies of your resume on top quality paper is a great way of ensuring that your interview will linger in their memory – your resume will lie on their desk for a while. Take 4 or 5 copies – you never know who else might join the interview.

The job description and company info

Relying on your phone to contain all of life’s essentials is normally fine, but just in case a phone disaster happens (unlikely as it is), an interview is not a time to take the slight risk. Print out the job description to have for easy reference in the interview and keep a few sheets of paper with company information in your bag so that they are available if your battery gets low.

Directions to the interview 

In the same way as the point above, printing out the directions for the interview will assuage the fear of a phone malfunction. The fewer things that you need to worry about on the day, the better, so print out those directions and plan plenty of time to get there with various routes and transport options.

Proof of identity

It is unlikely that you will be asked for your driving license or passport in the interview itself, but it may be the case that you will have to prove your identity to be allowed into the office. You may, however, need these documents in the job acceptance process, along with your educational records and maybe even your birth certificate in some countries.

A pad of paper and a couple of pens

You might not anticipate needing to write anything down, especially if the interview is in an informal environment such as a restaurant or hotel lobby. It is nevertheless well worth taking a small notepad that you can maybe fit into a jacket pocket. Make sure that your pen works well and take a spare one just in case. There is nothing worse than being so unprepared that you need to ask to borrow the interviewer’s pen.

Sell me this pen: How to answer one of the toughest interview questions
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A prompt sheet with things to ask / mention

If you suffer with memory issues or become particularly nervous in new situations (it happens), taking a prompt sheet that you can refer to in order to help you tell your story is fine. The interview is not a memory test, it is an opportunity to explore how you might be a fit for the role, so if you genuinely need such assistance, do not hesitate.

Your phone (fully charged) and a charger

Charging your phone (and not using it too much on the commute) is one of the most basic rules of interview preparation. If your interview is at the end of the day and you have a lot of things to do on your phone before then, packing a charger and giving it a charge when you get the chance will save you any worries. 

A list of references / industry contacts

There is nothing worse than forgetting the name of a reference or contact when you are in an interview. Having a paper list of important names and contacts (and also saving it in your phone) will allow you to refer to it if your memory fails you. It is a small world - you never know who your future boss might know, so dropping a few names is always a good idea.

Laptop to show portfolio or presentations

In a device-led world, there is nothing strange about bringing your laptop – it may come in handy if you decide to share some of your portfolio or previous work. Make sure that the work is already booted up so that you don’t have to spend time searching in various folders.

Paper examples of portfolio (brag book)

In many creative professions, a brag book is a tool of the trade. If you know that you will be required to take your interviewers through examples of your work, physical copies of your portfolio (that they can take with them) sometimes carry more impact than showing off your work on your computer screen. Having both is usually the best option.

Personal hygiene products

Interviews take place all year round. If you happen to be in a hurry on the way to an interview under the beating sun, a small can of anti-perspirant would come in handy. Maybe you want to touch up your make-up or suck a few breath mints. Anything that helps to feel fresh and ready to go when you walk into that room.

A smart bag to carry everything 

A candidate who turns up with nothing is a candidate who doesn’t seem prepared. You will look like you just walked in off the street for an exploratory chat. If you are taking the role seriously, you should bring all of the above and should therefore bring a smart bag, briefcase or laptop bag. Avoid casual rucksacks, no matter how relaxed the culture.

Expert tip

Is it OK to bring a notepad into an interview? While it might seem like a useful thing to take,  a notepad can be used as a crutch when things get stressful. Scribbling away in a notepad can take your attention away from the interviewer, so while it might be beneficial to have on the table, only write in it if necessary. A notepad can easily stop you being “present” in the interview if you are not careful.

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What not to bring to an interview

While the list of what to bring to a job interview is relatively long, what not to bring is also worth some serious thought. Take the essentials and omit what may be frowned upon:

Don’t bring any kind of food. It is important to fuel your body and mind before an interview (they can be unexpectedly long sometimes); but resist the temptation to bring any sort of food. Nibbling on something in reception as you are waiting might serve to pass the time, but if the interviewer suddenly comes out early you don’t want to be greeting them with a mouth full of food. Also, you risk getting something stuck in your teeth.

Don’t stroll in with your takeaway coffee. There are increasing numbers of workplaces who give off incredibly relaxed vibes (that might be the reason why you want to join), but don’t stroll into an interview sipping on your coffee from Starbucks. You may well have your own reusable cup, but don’t feel that by doing so you will somehow fit in with the anything goes culture. Until you are employed there, with the formality that an interview demands.

Put chewing gum in the bin. Chewing some gum might be your go-to activity if you are nervous; but put it in a tissue (take one) or any bin on the street long before you get to your interview destination. Don’t even chew gum in reception if you are early (the receptionist will notice). Then you take it out and have a sticky hand for the handshake. Chewing gum during an interview is the height of disrespect that will likely cost you the job.

Tone down the jewellery. While we want to “be ourselves” during an interview, this advice is primarily aimed at personality and opinions. While there is nothing wrong with rocking all kinds of jewelry and piercings in a social setting, you never quite know the dress code at work (or a manager’s individual preferences), so keep them understated and professional where possible. Make sure that they match with your interview outfit .

Avoid hats, scarves or sunglasses. Leave the fashion accessories for the strolls in the park and the garden parties. Wearing any kind of hat inside during an interview is considered impolite and any kind of scarf (especially with bright colors) can serve to distract from your facial expressions. Science has shown that a bare neck brings a sense of openness and honesty. Also, ditch the sunglasses as soon as you walk in the door. 

Cover up any tattoos where possible. While tattoos and piercings might form an integral part of your identity, unless you are certain that the workplace culture is very permissive of such things, it is best to tone them down during an interview. Individuality of thought is welcomed more readily than individuality of appearance – some interviewers may have unconscious biases around these matters, so consider your choices carefully.

Any sense of negativity. While this is not a physical item, you will see in the next chapter that you can make choices about the attitudes that you bring to an interview as well as more tangible items. You might be having a difficult time in your job search, but leave any negativity at the door. Interviewers might not understand what lies behind any negative attitudes (justified, or not), but you can be sure that they will count it against you.

If you left a job for a certain reason, what would stop you from doing it again? Behaviors tend to echo, and interviewers want to understand your motivations both from a positive and a negative point of view.

Expert tip

Is it OK to bring a water bottle into an interview? Taking a quality-branded bottle of water (or preferably water in your own reusable bottle) to an interview is a smart idea, but only take it out if a drink has not been offered to you. Drinking water from the same kind of glass as the interviewer creates the sense that you are on the same level. Staying hydrated is important and sipping on some water can give you time to think.

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What attitude to bring to an interview

You choose what to bring to an interview, both in terms of physical possessions and in terms of your attitude. The following attitudes will give you every chance of performing at your best. Your interviewers will notice every subtle sign.

Quiet confidence and belief. You know that feeling when you know that everything will work out fine? Well, that is what you need to bring to every interview. If it doesn’t go so well, then the job isn't for you, and if it does then you have some decisions to make.

Ready to listen and respond. Listening skills are important in an interview, but you are also expected to respond appropriately. Not all interviewers are adept at asking the right questions, so it is key to understand the kind of answer that they actually want to receive.

The right amount of eye contact. Walking into an interview and not taking your eyes off the interviewer would give off serious serial killer vibes. Not giving any eye contact at all would possibly do the same thing. As with all body language, find a comfortable balance.

Curiosity to fill in the gaps. A great interview conversation is about filling in the gaps and developing a common direction. You might start off the meeting knowing very little about each other, but with a little curiosity you can peel back the layers with ease.

Sense of humor where appropriate. There is no way that two or three normal people can sit in a room together and not feel the compulsion to lighten the mood with a joke or two. Humor is perfectly acceptable in an interview – in the right measure and at the right time.

Consciousness of body language. Being aware of your body language does not mean being obsessed with controlling your every move. You simply need to be aware of how your mannerisms look to someone who doesn’t know you and rein in any nervous tics or annoying fidgeting.

Just be yourself (don’t smile all the time). Most importantly of all, bring your whole self to the interview. If you feel that you have to play a part in the interview, you won’t much enjoy playing a part at work when you eventually start the job.

Expert tip

Is it ok to bring an iPad to an interview? It might be the case that conversations turn towards your work portfolio in certain roles, so it might be useful to bring an iPad or small laptop to the interview just in case. Mention that you have it so that the interviewer is aware, but you don’t need to get it out until there is a need. Interview rule number one – minimize distractions. Oh, and make sure that it is spotlessly clean.

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Unusual (but vital) things to bring to an interview

There may be certain things that are essential to your health or wellbeing that you cannot do without. There is huge acceptance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace these days, so if you need to bring any disability aids or medication, do not hesitate.

Disability aids

If you are visually impaired, it is worth checking the inclusivity arrangements at your future employer. There are many roles where this will not be an issue, but if you sometimes require a guide dog, then this is worth checking out in advance.

Equally, wheelchair access is something that needs to be discussed in advance. There is nothing worse that turning up at an office that does not have the access to get you to the right room. Any inclusive employer will ensure that this is not an impediment.

Medication

If you feel your breathing get more difficult during the stress of an interview, it makes no sense to resist the habit of having a puff on your inhaler. Interviewers understand that many candidates will have certain medical needs, so be relaxed enough to ask for a moment and ease your symptoms. You may actually be positively judged for your peace of mind and calm demeanor. You also never know if the interviewers have similar medical challenges.

Expert tip

Can I bring a cheat sheet to an interview? While you might feel like you need to do some last-minute swatting of your key points, taking out a sheet of paper with your key selling points or questions is not the best idea. This is not a hard and fast rule, and it might help certain neurodiverse individuals to focus, but best to avoid if possible.

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Key takeaways

  • Interview success starts when you pack your bag in the morning. If you have a carefully planned list of things to take that covers every eventuality, your mind will be at ease.
  • Make sure to prepare for the most common obstacles with small, easy-to-carry items like a phone charger, tissues, printed copies of your resume and a way to present your portfolio.
  • Don’t forget a positive attitude and a relaxed, confident tone. If you have to force yourself to be someone else during an interview, maybe the workplace is not the right fit.
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