Eight Important Actions for Interview Success

What do you want to accomplish in your next interview? Although most people know that the interview is important to both you and the employer, few job seekers have a clear sense of what they need to accomplish during those critical minutes. Later chapters describe interview techniques in more detail, but what follows will help you get a quick understanding of the most important things to do in an interview.

Make a Positive Impression

Employers rarely hire someone who makes a negative first or later impression. These tips can help you make a positive impression before and during your interview.

Before the Interview

What happens before the interview is extremely important, although it's often overlooked. Before you meet prospective employers, you often have indirect contact with those who know them. You might even contact the employer directly through e-mail, a phone call, or correspondence. Each of these contacts creates an impression.

There are three ways an interviewer may form an impression of you before meeting you face-to-face:

1. The interviewer already knows you. An employer may know you from previous contacts or from someone else's description of you. In this situation, your best approach is to acknowledge that relationship, but treat the interview in all other respects as a business meeting.

2. You have contacted the interviewer through e-mail or by phone.

E-mail and the phone are important job search tools. How you handle these contacts creates an impression, even though the contacts are brief. For example, both contact via the phone and contact via e-mail give an impression of your language skills and ability to present yourself in a competent way; e-mail also quickly communicates your level of written communication skills. So if you set up an interview with the employer, you have already created an impression, most likely positive enough.

You should call the day before the interview to verify the time of your meeting. Say something like: "Hi, I want to confirm that our interview for two o'clock tomorrow is still on." Get any directions you need. This kind of call is just another way of demonstrating your attention to detail and helps to communicate the importance you are placing on this interview.

3. The interviewer has read your resume and other job search correspondence. Prior to most interviews, you provide the employer with some sort of information or paperwork that creates an impression.

Sending a note, letter, or e-mail beforehand often creates the impression that you are well-organized. Applications, resumes, and other correspondence sent or e-mailed in advance help the interviewer know more about you. If they are well done, they will help to create a positive impression. (For quick advice on putting together an effective resume, see Same-Day Resume, another book in the Help in a Hurry series.)

Tip: Administrative assistants, receptionists, and other staff you have contact with will mention their observations of you to the interviewer, so be professional and courteous in all encounters with staff.

The Day of the Interview

To make a good impression on interview day, use these tips:

Get there on time. Try to schedule several interviews within the same area of town and time frame to avoid wasted time in excessive travel. Get directions online (from mapquest.com or similar sources) or ask for directions from the receptionist to be sure you know how to get to the interview and how long traveling to the interview will take. Allow plenty of time for traffic or other problems and plan on arriving for the interview 5 to 10 minutes early.

Check your appearance. Arrive early enough to slip into a restroom and correct any grooming problems your travel may have caused, such as wind-blown hair. You would be surprised how many people go into the interview with grooming problems such as messed-up hair or smudged lipstick on their teeth. Use a breath mint or gum just to be on the safe side. Do not spray on perfume, cologne, or hair spray right before the interview because many people are sensitive to chemicals and scents.

Use appropriate waiting-room behavior. As you wait for the interview to begin, keep in mind that it's important to relax and to look relaxed. Occupy yourself with something businesslike. For example, you could review your notes on questions you might like to ask in the interview, key skills you want to present, or other interview details. Bring a work-related magazine to read or pick one up in the reception area. The waiting room may also have publications from the organization itself that you may not have seen yet. You could also use this time to update your daily schedule.

Be prepared if the interviewer is late.

Hope that it happens. If you arrive promptly but have to wait past the appointed time, that puts the interviewer in a "Gee, I'm sorry, I owe you one" frame of mind. If the interviewer is 15 minutes late, approach the office manager or administrative assistant and say something like: "I have an appointment to keep yet today. Do you think it will be much longer before (insert interviewer's name) will be free?" Be nice, but don't act as though you can sit around all day, either. If you have to wait more than 25 minutes beyond the scheduled time, you may want to ask to reschedule the interview at a better time. Say it is no problem for you and you understand things do come up. Besides, you say, you want to be sure Mr. or Ms. So-and-So doesn't feel rushed when he or she sees you. Set up the new time, accept any apology with a smile, and be on your way. When you do come back for your interview, the odds are that the interviewer will apologizeand treat you very well indeed.

Tip: Identify things you habitually do that may create a negative impression and avoid doing them during the interview. For example, don't slouch, crack your knuckles, mess with your hair, or spread your papers across the next seat. Do not smoke, even if the employer invites you to do so.

Be particular about your dress and appearance. How you dress and groom can create a big negative or positive impression, especially during the first few seconds of an interview. With so many options in styles, colors, and other factors, determining the correct approach can get quite complex. To avoid the complexity, follow this simple rule: Dress and groom like the interviewer is likely to be dressed and groomed, but just a bit better.

Give a firm handshake and maintain good eye contact. If the employer offers his or her hand, give a firm (but not too firm) handshake as you smile. As ridiculous as it sounds, a little practice helps. Avoid staring, but do look at the interviewer when either of you is speaking. It will help you concentrate on what is being said and indicate to the employer that you are listening closely and have good social skills.

Act interested. When you are sitting, lean slightly forward in your chair and keep your head up, looking directly at the interviewer. This stance helps you look interested and alert.

Eliminate annoying behaviors. Try to eliminate any distracting movements or mannerisms. A woman in one of my workshops saw herself in a videotape constantly playing with her hair. Only then did she realize that she had this distracting behavior. Listen to yourself and you may notice that you say "aaahhh" or "ummmmm" frequently, or say "you know what I mean?" over and over, or use other repetitive words or phrases. You may hardly be aware of doing this, but do watch for it. Ask friends or family for help pinpointing these behaviors.

Pay attention to your voice. If you are naturally soft-spoken, work on increasing your volume slightly. Listen to news announcers and other professional speakers who are good models for volume, speed, and voice tone. I, for example, have a fairly deep voice. I have learned to change my intonation while doing presentations so that everyone doesn't go to sleep. Your voice and delivery will improve as you gain experience and conduct more interviews.

Use the interviewer's formal name as often as possible. Do this particularly in the early part of the interview and again when you are ending it. Do not call the interviewer by his or her first name unless the interviewer suggests otherwise.

Play the chitchat game for awhile. Interviewers often comment on the weather, ask if you had trouble getting there, or make some other common opening. Be friendly and make a few appropriate comments. Do not push your way into the business of your visit too early because these informal openings are standard measures of your socialization skills. Smile. It's nonverbal, and people will respond more favorably to you if you smile at them.

Comment on something personal in the interviewer's office. "I love your office! Did you decorate it yourself?" or "I noticed the sailboat. Do you sail?" or "Your office manager is great! How long has he been here?" The idea here is to express interest in something that interests the employer and encourage her or him to speak about it. This kind of interest is a compliment if your enthusiasm shows. This tactic can also provide you the opportunity to share something you have in common, so try to pick a topic you know something about.

Ask some opening questions. As soon as you have completed the necessary pleasant chitchat, be prepared to guide the interview in the direction you wish it to go. This process can happen within a minute of your first greeting, but is more likely to take up to five minutes. See the section later in this chapter titled "Use Control Statements to Your Advantage" for details on how to do this.

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