Picture your last interview: You’re seated in front of complete strangers, in an unfamiliar environment, answering tough technical questions that will determine your future employment. This can be a tense situation for even the most experienced tech. I know; I’ve been there. But over the years, I’ve developed a technique for making myself more relaxed during an interview. I always take a familiar object with me. Here’s why.

It’s all about territory
Humans are territorial creatures, and it’s because of this that interviewers seem to have the upper hand when it comes to job interviews. They’re in their own environment, surrounded by their coworkers, their desks, their scratchpads, their phones, and the like. As the interviewee, you’re totally alone with no familiar property. That is, unless you bring some with you. By carrying at least one familiar object (your tool case perhaps), you bring a bit of your territory into the interviewer’s environment. Having a familiar object close by has always helped me feel more at ease during the interview process. In one case, it even got me the job.

My trusty tool case
Several years ago, I interviewed for a support position with a small research organization. The job would require me to support several PC workstations and administrate a small Windows NT 4 network. To help myself feel more at ease, I carried my tool case with me to the interview. I told the psychologists, who were conducting the interview, that I didn’t want to leave my tools in the car because that particular area of town was known for car break-ins. Although this was true, it also fit nicely with my ulterior motive.

During the course of the interview, the director showed me a piece of specialized equipment they used for their research. The apparatus was a custom-built yet rather simple response box that had two buttons wired to a 9-pin RS232 plug. They asked if I thought I could repair these devices and make new ones if necessary. Not being able to tell for sure until I’d had a look inside, I pulled a screwdriver from my tool case and opened up the device. It seemed simple enough, so I said, “Yes, I can.”

My foresight in bringing my tool case was repaid in spades. Not only had the case been a comforting object during the interview, it had allowed me to take control of the interview. The psychologists conducting the interview weren’t the most mechanically inclined individuals and were impressed with my hands-on performance. I got the job and later learned that my unconventional approach during the interview was a major factor in their decision to hire me.

What should you carry?
Take the job description into consideration when determining what familiar object to carry. I wouldn’t carry my tool case with me to an interview for a technical writing position. I would, however, carry several writing samples in both paper and electronic format. Choose an object that has relevance to the position for which you are applying.

Can I guarantee you’ll have the same good fortune if you carry a tool case to your next interview? Of course not. But a familiar object can give you a little comfort during a tense interview, and it might give you an edge with nontechnical interviewers. While you’re wondering what they are writing on their notepads, they might be wondering what you have in your case.

What’s your edge?

Do you have a technique for taking control of a job interview? How do you impress potential employers? Post a comment to this article and let us know your secrets to job-interview success.