Having the right items with you at your next interview can make or break your success

For most people, job interviews are a nerve-racking ordeal, with the worst part being the days and hours leading up to the interview. There are a lot of steps to take to ensure you're prepared – including having everything you need on hand.

So, the big question is, “What do you need to bring to an interview to help your chances?”

Whether you've got an in-person or virtual interview coming up, make sure you have what you need to ace the interview and leave a lasting impression. In fact, showing up to your interview empty-handed throws up the first red flag to the interviewer – that you're not prepared.

What to bring to an interview – in-person and face-to-face

If you have an in-person job interview, gather what you need to bring to the interview at least a day before. You want to make sure you have everything you need on hand and ready to go. 

Here are the essential items you should bring to your next interview:

1. An appropriate briefcase or tote

Start your preparations with a briefcase or tote. If you're going to bring stuff to your interview, wouldn't it be nice to have something to put it all into? 

Make sure your carrier is big enough to comfortably fit your interview essentials, but not so big that it's clunky and weighs you down. Keep it simple and professional; it's an accessory to polish off your already-perfected interview outfit.

2. Documents

You must bring some documentation to an interview – like your resume and references. But it can be helpful to have other documents as well. 

While the chances are high that you won't need every single one of these, it's important to have them all on hand, just in case. 

  • Several copies of your resume: Sure, the world's gone virtual, but you'll want to bring hard copies of your resume along anyway. We suggest you bring about five copies, each printed on nice resume paper (it's a bit thicker, making it more durable and professional) so you can offer a copy to each person interviewing you.

  • A list of references: Since you should never include references directly on your resume, be sure to have a separate document with your references listed. 

  • Portfolio items: You should bring along some hard copies of work you've done, if relevant to your field. The hiring manager will likely inquire about your past work, so it'll be nice to pass tangible work samples across the table.

  • Business cards: If you have professional business cards printed up, go ahead and take a few with you. Sure, your interviewer will see your contact information on your resume, but a nice-looking business card says, “Hey, I'm prepared, I'm professional, and I know what's up.”

  • A photo ID: Chances are you'll already have some form of identification with you on interview day, such as a driver's license, but go ahead and add this to your checklist to ensure you don't forget. There are a few instances you might need a photo ID, like gaining access to the building or floor of your prospective employer.

3. A padfolio (or folder, notepad, and pen)

Before stuffing all these items listed straight into your bag, consider investing in a padfolio. A padfolio contains pockets, a notepad, and a pen, so you don't have to fish around in your bag to find what you need. You can find one at your local office supply store or on Amazon for less than $20.

If you don't want to bring a padfolio with you, opt for a portfolio folder, notepad, and pen instead. It won't be as compact, but you'll definitely want to have a pen and paper handy so you can jot down notes during your interview.

4. The office's address and phone number

You never want to be late for an interview. So, believe it or not, one of the things to bring to an interview is the office address and phone number. The best idea is to have it saved to your phone to avoid any time-consuming mistakes. 

Even better: Save it to your favorite navigation app and perform a dry run the day before your interview.

Google Maps also allows you to set reminders to leave. For instance, if your interview is at 10 a.m., simply enter the address and your mode of transportation. Then, pick your desired arrival time (giving yourself 15 to 20 minutes extra). Google Maps will notify you when you need to leave, based on traffic or public transportation delays.

5. The names of who you'll be meeting

You'll likely meet with a few people on the day of your interview, so if the human resource department lets you know who that is ahead of time, jot down their names and positions. It's possible you'll end up so focused on interview questions that the names of the interviewers will slip your mind. So, writing down their names on a piece of paper – or in the notes app on your phone – to bring to an interview will give you peace of mind. Especially since you'll probably have to tell a Receptionist or other gatekeeper why you're there. 

You should also be somewhat familiar with those interviewing you. Do a quick LinkedIn search to better understand their role at the company and their professional experience (you may even have something in common – bonus points!).

6. A list of questions to ask at the end of your interview

If you have a tendency to freeze under pressure, take notes and jot down a list of the questions you want to ask in the interview. Start with a list of typical interview questions, and then gather any specifics from the company's online presence.

Keep this list handy during your interview, so you can jot down any questions that come to mind during your conversation.

Of course, you don't want to awkwardly read from your list when question time comes around. This list should contain a few bullet points or keywords that can help remind you of the questions you've already practiced asking the interviewer.

Here are some ideas of questions to bring to an interview:

  • Questions about the position

  • Questions about the company, including goals and current projects

  • Questions about how they measure performance

  • Questions about the company's culture, work-life balance, and how they support staff

7. Confidence

The goal of your interview is to make a great impression so you can secure a job offer. The best way to do that is to bring your confidence to your interview. That can be easier said than done, considering that you're likely one big bundle of nerves. Remember, though, that preparation is key. When you walk into an interview ready to go, your confidence skyrockets. 

Expert tip: It can be helpful to go through a few mock interviews to further boost your confidence. 

What to bring to an interview – virtual

If you have a virtual job interview coming up, you might assume you don't need to worry about “bringing” anything to the interview, but there are a few essentials you shouldn't forget.

1. Reliable Tech

Because you're relying on technology for your virtual job interview, it's essential to have everything you need – and a backup plan just in case something goes awry.

Here's what job seekers will want to consider:

  • Make sure your computer is fully charged and plugged in.

  • Triple-check your internet connection. In case something happens, have a backup plan in place. One of the easiest things you can do to prepare for your Zoom job interview is to use your phone's hotspot or download the Zoom app to your phone — it's better than nothing.

  • Get familiar with whatever platform your video interview will take place on, whether that's Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or another option. Ask a friend to hop on a test call with you if you're feeling unsure of your setup.

  • Check your video and speaker permissions. This is one of the most common tech mishaps, so be sure your speaker and video are linked up to whatever conferencing platform you're using.

2. The perfect location

Location is key when it comes to remote job interviews. If you don't have a dedicated home office, spend some time staking out the perfect spot to do your interview. As a rule of thumb, the room should be quiet, have good lighting (you don't want to be backlit), and be both neutral and tidy. Avoid sitting in front of an unmade bed or doing the interview in the same room as your hyper pet.

If you have kids at home, come up with a plan to keep them occupied. Ask your spouse or a trusted friend or family member to stop by. 

Another thing to note about the location for your virtual interview: try to avoid having personal items in the background that hint at things that fall into the illegal interview question category – for example wedding photos or pictures of kids.

3. Notes and questions

Just like an in-person interview, you'll want to prepare notes and questions for your interview ahead of time. With a remote interview, you've got a little more flexibility here; you don't necessarily need to go out and buy a fancy padfolio or type up neat notes. 

As long as everything stays out of view, you can have what you want on hand. It's also not a bad idea to print a copy of your resume just to use it as a reference if needed.

What should you not bring to an interview?

Now that your bag is packed – or your room is tidied – go ahead and take another look to make sure you leave these items behind.

1. Tech

If you have an in-person interview, leave your phone in your car – or at least silence it and stuff it deep into your bag. You don't want it buzzing or posing a distraction during your interview. If your interview is virtual, just leave your phone in another room.

And don't forget about your smartwatch! Candidates should make sure it's in silent mode or just take it off for the duration of the interview.

2. Perfume, cologne, or other scents

Everyone has a favorite scent and you probably wear the same perfume or cologne every day. One thing to remember is that just because it's your favorite scent doesn't mean the interviewer is going to like it. In fact, they may be completely turned off by it or even be allergic to it. It's best to not wear any smell-good stuff to an interview.

3. Recording device

You may be tempted to record your interview so that you can review it later or remind yourself of things the hiring manager said about things like company rules. Don't do this. Instead, use your notepad to take notes. Depending on your state, recording someone without their permission could be illegal. On top of that, it's just awkward. 

4. Food and drinks

Bringing food into an interview is distracting. If the interview process is long, perhaps the prospective employer will offer you a drink and snack or even take you to lunch. That's fine to accept.

In fact, if they offer you a beverage, accept it – sipping it can give you time to slow down and think or to clear your throat. Eating at your own leisure, however, can come off as rude to an employer.

Impress by erring on the side of caution 

When it comes to interviewing for a new job position, use your professional instincts and remember you're always better off playing it safe. Think about what would impress you (or annoy you) as a hiring manager and let that guide your preparation. Your goal is to come off as put-together and professional as possible.

Bring your best self to your next job interview with the help of our career experts. Learn more about TopInterview's professional interview coaching services.

This article was updated in November 2020 by the original author, Carson Kohler. It was updated again in February 2024 by Marsha Hebert.

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