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Win or lose in the first 5 minutes of a job interview

Type by Franke James;  Vise photo ©istockphoto.com/AndrewJohnson

The first five minutes of any job interview are critical in the selection process. For candidates seeking employment at a job fair, an initial interview with a company may last only five minutes.

BY JOHN A. CHALLENGER

A job seeker has to be qualified in order to get the job but there will always be several other people who are equally qualified as far as the interviewer is concerned. In the end, you will be hired because the interviewer personally likes you the best, not necessarily because you are the most qualified in the field of candidates. And many interviewers, especially in a job fair situation, will know whether or not he or she likes you the best within the first five minutes!

First impressions are vital, knowing that the interviewer will be speaking with several candidates within a short period of time. If you do not make a good impression immediately, the chances are that you will not be able to recover, however excellent your qualifications are for the job. It is a sobering thought to the average job seeker. It means that you have little margin for error in presenting yourself.

If you do make a mistake or present yourself in an unfavorable manner in the interviewer’s opinion, you have erased your likability factor. If you wish to sell any product successfully, it is necessary to know all you can about the product. In respect to the job search, the selling is done at the job interview and the product you must know so thoroughly is yourself.

To maximize your chances of having a successful interview, keep these points in mind:

  • Look the interviewer directly in the eyes and smile when you meet, with a firm, but not hard, handshake. You may be surprised how important those initial gestures are to the interviewer’s impression of you. If you avert your gaze, you may give the interviewer the impression of being shifty or unsure of yourself. If you give the person a “wet fish” handshake instead of a solid one, the impression may be that you are timid and ineffectual. If you crush the interviewer’s hand, the pain will dim your lustre. Smiling sounds simple but is one of the most important rules of the interview. It sets the tone for the entire session, projecting you as a pleasant person. Make it a point to look at the interviewer directly when you are answering his or her questions.
  • Body language is also important. Do not fidget. Assume a comfortable posture from the outset and avoid shifting your position or crossing and re-crossing your legs. If you do, it may give the interviewer a message that you are uneasy or nervous, it can be translated into the perception you are trying to conceal something that you do not want the employer to know.
  • Know your resume thoroughly and be ready to elaborate on any point contained in it. Resumes do not get jobs; interviews do but you have to be in mental command of all of your important accomplishments. You cannot take the chance of trying to ad-lib an unprepared answer to a pivotal interview request such as, “Tell me about yourself.” Interviewers are after specific information about job candidates, not generalities. That is why you should commit your major accomplishments to memory before going into any interview.
  • Always try to be “up” psychologically for the interview. That is often the most difficult thing to do, especially if you have been job hunting for some period of time, but it is very important for the success of the interview. If you appear downcast or depressed, or are unresponsive to the interviewer’s questions or listless in your approach, you will rule yourself out of consideration for that job. Interviewers want enthusiastic, happy people who show a strong interest in the job. If you do not, another candidate most assuredly will.
  • You must do everything you can within moral bounds to get a job offer, and then evaluate it. Do not be overly concerned about what the job is in the beginning. Get the offer and then decide if you want it! You should listen for clues as to what the interviewer wants and try to be the person he or she wants you to be, within the scope of your own skills, desires and talents. Anticipate the interviewer’s questions as much as possible and be ready with all of your homework done. Then let the interviewer pick and choose what is to be discussed in the interview.
  • Bear in mind that your potential employer is operating within a limited amount of time, and will talk about what is important to him or her. Therefore, you should be non-directive: allow the interviewer to choose exactly what he or she wants to talk about. Most interviews last 20 to 30 minutes at the maximum, so that is no time for you to interject with an agenda of your own or discuss points that you think should be covered. Doing that is an invitation to an early exit.
  • Be relaxed: it relaxes the interviewer. Focus all of your attention on the employer. You want him or her to feel witty, charming, urbane. Why? Because it makes the person feel good and the better the individual feels in your presence, the more likely you are to be making a favorable impression.
  • Respond to the interviewer’s hospitality; accept anything that is offered. Even if you do not drink coffee, if the interviewer offers it, take a sip or two and then just leave the cup. Let that person be the host and you be the gracious guest.
  • Dress appropriately: conservative business suits, shirts and ties for men; suits or conservative dresses for women. Avoid any excesses such as long hair, heavy jewelry or earrings for men, flashy dresses or excessive makeup for women. If you handle all of these matters well, you should make a favorable impression on the interviewer — but do not forget to ask for the “order” before you leave.

John A. Challenger John A. Challenger is chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy that pioneered outplacement as an employer-paid benefit in the 1960s. Challenger is a recognized thought leader on workplace, labor, and economic issues.

Win or lose in the first 5 minutes of a job interview © 2009, Challenger, Gray & Christmas;


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  1. 2 Answers to “Win or lose in the first 5 minutes of a job interview”

  2. As a VP, I tend to smile with my candidates.

    By Don Forrest on Jun 8, 2009

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. Jan 3, 2010: Its All About the (first 5 minutes of the) Interview | Lost in Kollel

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