Sunday, June 26, 2011

CareeringToday: Great Impressions

We all know about the importance of a positive initial encounter. A first impression is a lasting impression. It’s critically important you think about how to make a positive first contact before a job interview. You may not think you can do much to insure a great first impression, and that is partially true, but some variables are within your control.

As a career recruiter, I have interviewed thousands of candidates. Unfortunately, unlike other encounters, there are no job interview “do-overs.” You may be able to recover from a shaky first impression with someone you wish to date, a potential customer, or a new friend. But an interview is so dependent on rapport, fit and chemistry that a deadly first impression is — well, deadly. After all, employees generally spend as much time together during their waking hours as they do with their families during the week. And, in this tight job market, employers are extraordinarily cautious about making a job offer to a candidate.

Making Great Impressions
So, in Part I of “Great Impressions,” I’m going to give you a “laundry list” of hints, tips and “watch-outs.” Some may seem obvious, but trust me I’ve seen applicants even in the upper ranks of management make avoidable mistakes. And, although some of this may seem a bit much to remember in the moment, in these difficult times you can leave nothing to chance. So, here goes:

•Even if you are told when scheduling the interview that it is a “business casual” environment, it is not so for the interviewee. Dress up—you can never really over-dress, but you can easily under-dress for the occasion. Be certain your hair, make-up and grooming are impeccable. In most situations it is best to dress conservatively, particularly as you don’t want your outfit or jewelry to be distracting. Your choices are a reflection on you.

•Get to the interview 20 minutes early. Mapquest the directions or get them off the company website. Allow plenty of time for potential traffic or late mass transit. If you are wearing a jacket, hang it up while you are driving so it is wrinkle-free when you arrive at your destination.

•Have a comb or brush and breath mints available for last minute grooming in your car. After you announce yourself to the receptionist, ask to use the lavatory and check your appearance one last time to be certain you are well “put together.” Ask the receptionist if there is a coat closet so you do not have to carry around an overcoat. Travel light inside of the building. A leather portfolio with extra copies of your resume and two pens is best, but an attache case and/or presentation portfolio works, too.

•Since you are early and will no doubt spend time in the lobby, pay particular attention to the environment: employee interaction, employee body language, style and condition of facility, etc. You don’t need to be a super sleuth, but you’d be surprised about the clues you can pick up.

•If you are waiting for an extended period of time, stay calm. Take a few deep breaths. Often the longer you wait, the more anxious you may become. Don’t start reading the magazines or newspaper in the lobby. It will distract you from focusing and will be awkward when you have to stand up when the interviewer finally approaches. Better to go over your notes, resume and pithy questions. A mentor once told me to stand vs. sit for five minutes before your interview as you will seem more energetic and in control. I don’t know if I agree, but I pass it along for consideration.

•When the interviewer appears, smile, offer a firm handshake, make good eye contact, and follow her lead in walking to the interview room. Walk side-by-side, not in front nor in back of the interviewer. Seem to hang on to every word the interviewer says—never have you heard such “pearls of wisdom.” Compliment the person on the facility (unless it is a total dump!) or some other nicety as long as it seems sincere and befitting of someone with a great positive outlook. Accept an offer of water, but not coffee or tea. Spillage is a catastrophe (I’ve experienced this) and if nervous, your heart could start racing from caffeine.

•When you get into the interview room, ask the interviewer where she would like you to sit – you’re the visitor. Once seated, sit up straight, legs together or crossed but not apart, unbutton your jacket, slightly pull the bottom back part of your jacket down for maximum fit and wait for the interviewer to take the lead.

•Be aware of your overall tone as much as you can—voice modulation, body language, expression, enthusiasm.

Now, you’ve done a great deal of what you can to take control of making a good first impression. In Part II of “Great Impressions” we’ll focus on how to best conclude the interview to help create a positive lasting impression.

You may feel such tips are a bit much to pay attention to on top of answering the questions and “being authentic,” but believe me when I tell you, many times it is very difficult to recover if things don’t start off well. There are many variables outside of your control, but some things are very much up to you.

Follow these suggestions when interviewing, and you're certain to make a good first impression!

All the best,

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