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How to use a tablet in a job interview

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Dear Annie: Please settle a disagreement. A friend and I are both looking for new jobs right now, and I’ve been on a few interviews where I’ve left my cell phone, laptop, etc., in my car. I think bringing devices to an interview makes you look rude and unprofessional, as if you’re not interested enough in the discussion to cut out any possible distractions.

My friend says that’s an old-school attitude. He thinks it’s fine to bring a cell phone to an interview if you are expecting an important call (from the office: we’re both project managers), as long as you explain ahead of time that you may have to take it. Who is right? —Curious in Cleveland

Dear C.C.: You are, with one major exception. “An interview is one or more people trying to get to know you,” says Bill Rosenthal, CEO of communications coaching firm Communispond. So, even though constantly checking a phone has become commonplace (one recent study found that managers look at their smartphones an average of 45 times a day), “it’s still rude to leave your phone turned on, let alone answer it, during an interview.” An apology beforehand for having to take an important call may help a little. Or it may not.

Tablets, on the other hand, are a different story. “Using a tablet can help make you a stronger and more memorable candidate,” says Rosenthal. “Since the interview is about exchanging information, and so much of it is easily available online, why not take advantage of that?” A picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re a web designer, for instance, showing an interviewer the sites you’ve done, instead of trying to describe them, makes loads of sense.

“But no matter what field you’re in, a tablet can support what you’re trying to get across,” Rosenthal says. “You can show a diagram that illustrates the process you used to achieve a goal, or a bar chart that tracks the results of your last project. You can show photos.”

The only limit, he adds, is “the relevance of the information. Start by identifying what you want the interviewer to know about your work. Are you presenting yourself as, perhaps, a team player, a team leader, a problem-solver, an innovator, or a revenue generator? Once you know how you want to position yourself, you can identify, or create, some displays that support what you’re saying.”

Of course, you could use a laptop, but a tablet is better because it’s smaller, so “it’s easier to hand back and forth. Encourage the interviewer to touch and swipe the information, which is more active—and more interesting—than just sitting and talking,” Rosenthal says. “If you’re being interviewed by more than one person, they can pass it around.”

A few points of tablet etiquette: First, keep the device “handy but unobtrusive. Don’t bring it out until it will help you to answer a question or make a point, and then ask if it’s okay to use it,” Rosenthal advises. If so, “look for opportunities to say, ‘I can show you…’ during the conversation.” Then, give the interviewer a chance to look at what you’re referring to, before you explain it. And, while you’re talking, keep your eyes on him or her, not on the screen.

Make sure the interviewer can see the screen at all times, “maybe by setting it on the desk between you,” Rosenthal suggests. “Try to avoid scrolling through anything with the screen facing you, so that the other person can’t see it, or it will look as if you’re hiding something.”

It’s also a good idea to practice beforehand, “to make sure you can quickly find what you want to show, instead of having to fumble around looking for it,” he adds. “You want to come across as organized and professional, just as you would if your presentation were on paper.”

One more tip: Turn off notifications on the tablet before you go in, since “you don’t want to get pinged by messages during the interview,” Rosenthal says. “You want your tablet to enhance the discussion, not distract from it.”

Of course, your phone-toting friend might point out that anything you can access online is probably also available on a cell phone, but “the real estate is too small,” Rosenthal says. “You don’t want anyone having to squint at that tiny screen.”

The general rule for whether or not to bring any electronic device (or, for that matter, anything else) to an interview: “If it doesn’t add anything substantive—or, even worse, if it could possibly be an annoyance—then by all means leave it in the car.”

Talkback: Have you, or would you ever, take a tablet to a job interview? If you’re a hiring manager, would you have any objection? Leave a comment below.

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