Interviewing 101: The first impression counts
By Jim Pawlak
Special to the Palm Beach Post
You control every job interview. Think about it. When you meet any interviewer, you make a first impression. Whether it’s positive or negative, the interviewer will look for things in your responses that support that first impression.
How do you make a positive first impression? Start by remembering that an interview is a fragrance-free zone. You don’t know if an interviewer is allergic to, or offended by, strong scents. In my corporate VP days, I remember interviewing Joe, whose résumé shouted “Superman Salesman.” That was just what I needed. His after shave hung like a cloying shroud around him. Before he shook my hand, I created a first impression: His after shave was Kryptonite and he had no clue. My boss stopped by an hour later and asked who had bathed in after shave.
Chuck, another “Superman Salesman” (at least according to his résumé), had another form of Kryptonite — body odor (and real dirt under his fingernails). His stockyard odor, though different from Joe’s after shave, had the same effect: No Sale!
Then there was Connie, a candidate to replace my assistant; her handshake included a flowery-scented lotion that transferred to my hand. I had to wash my hands twice to get the bouquet off. Jangly jewelry needs to stay home, too. It can be a distraction. Connie earned “Strike 2” when she was gesturing with her hands; the bangles she wore clanged like cymbals.
I could have hired any of them and then tried to talk with them about “issues”. But why should an employer hire people that it would have to counsel when there was pool of candidates that “fit” immediately. Why take a risk that they would change?
You also don’t know if the interviewer has a “thing” about smokers. So if you’re a smoker, make sure your clothes don’t reek of smoke. Spray them with a non-scented deodorizer – like the kind used to vanquish pet odors from furniture and carpeting.
Even in this day of business casual, how you dress creates a powerful first impression. A suit always makes the best impression. Shine those shoes, too.
Now you’re dressed and ready to go. Or are you? 1) Have you checked out the route so you won’t be late? I know an HR manager who scheduled interviews at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. because she knew that a train crossed the road in front of her plant at 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. If you were late, you didn’t even get an interview. Her reasoning spoke to the “planning” attributes of a candidate. 2) Do you have some questions that you can ask the interviewer about the company? You’ll need them to shift an interview from interrogation to conversation. Good questions show that you’ve done your homework – that always scores point in an interview. The questions are important for another reason: you’re interviewing the company to see if it fits you.
When you are introducing yourself, smile, make eye contact and make a firm handshake. When you take a seat, don’t slouch. If you have “happy” hands or feet, quiet them by opening a portfolio across your lap to take notes. Added benefit: Taking notes scores points.
Now it’s time to reinforce that positive impression. In Round 1, many of the questions you’re asked relate to your résumé, your marketing brochure. You need to know it backwards and forwards. Listen closely to the questions; if you have ANY doubt about what’s being asked, respond with a clarifying question. When you answer, continue eye contact and smile as you talk. The smile keeps you talking slowly.
Stay on point, too. If the interviewer’s body language tells you that he/she wants more information, ask: “Is there a specific area you want me to address?”
Leave the way you entered: a smile, eye contact and a firm handshake.