The ''First Impression'' Opener

Handshakes tell a lot about hiring managers and candidates. A firm, but not too tight, handshake denotes confidence and respect. A limp handshake, on the other hand, may take away from the relationship because it spells insecurity and a lack of self-assuredness. In comparison, some people may squeeze your hand like a bear trap, which may indicate arrogance or an inappropriate assumption of acceptance into the new environment. Again, be comfortable with who you are, but be cognizant of how you're coming across. And whenever possible, as the interviewer, try to extend a double-handed handshake to demonstrate your warmth and willingness to accommodate.

Now onto that ever-so-delicate opening icebreaker: It's not always easy to generate small talk before the actual interview begins, but it always feels natural to do so. Most interviewers look for something that they have in common with the applicant based on the individual's resume, such as school and geographic connections, special interests and hobbies, foreign languages, and the like. And that's always a good way to initiate an interview since it breaks down the natural first line of defense between strangers.

However, what if you haven't had time to review the candidate's resume before the meeting starts? That should be the exception, but many times it's the rule because we're all so busy running from one meeting to the next. In that case, turn that disadvantage into an advantage by beginning the meeting with a verbal recap of the resume's highlights:

''Hi Nina, it's a pleasure to meet you. Please have a seat and make yourself at home. Can I offer you a glass of water or would you care for an Oreo cookie? They're really good. Oh, come on—just one. You don't know what you're missing! You're sure? Okay, no problem. Before we officially begin the meeting, would you mind if I reviewed the highlights of your resume with you out loud?

''Okay, so it looks like you attended DePaul University in Chicago and graduated in 2001.What a great school—I'll want to hear all about it! You interned at two companies while attending college and your first full-time position after graduation was at XYZ Bank in the market research group. It looks like you remained with them for about four years, when you returned to school for your MBA. My guess is that it was a two-year, full-time program, and then you joined ABC Investments, where you've been working as a securities analyst for the past two years. Am I pretty close? Okay, great. Now we could break that down and go from there. . . .''

That's always an easy way to start an interview because it breaks the ice and allows you to refresh yourself and the candidate as to what you're about to discuss. Best of all, besides being a nice icebreaker, it cuts right to the chase and focuses you both on the business meeting that's ahead.

With this brief resume recap in hand, now is the time to look for a common experience or shared value. Jumping too quickly into a structured Q&A may leave the candidate feeling cold, so finding a link based on the resume is always a safe place to start.

''My wife grew up in Chicago, and she comes from a big DePaul family. I only learned recently that they're the largest, most diverse private school in the country, and I know they have a very rich tradition of both leadership and community service. Did you sense that while you were there or have a chance to participate in any of their programs?''

or

''I see that you live in Valencia now. Isn't that a great community? It's so close to Los Angeles but still has a small-town feel to it, which we appreciate so much. We can't seem to go anywhere without running into the kids' ice skating instructor, teacher, or our mail carrier. It's not exactly Mayberry R.F.D., but it's pretty close, and it's so nice to have such a close-knit feel when you live just outside such a large city!''

or

"Hmmm, XYZ Bank has a reputation as not being the easiest shop in town, especially for newly minted graduates. But they have an excellent reputation as a training ground, and I know of many successful careers that were launched from there. What was your experience when you worked there, and how well did it prepare you for grad school?''

In short, look for positive connections and links to each other in terms of similar experience, knowledge of companies where the individual worked, and the like. You'll find that you'll easily combine personal experiences with workplace connections, and that keeps things right on track.

 
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