Don’t Blow the Interview Before You Sit Down

Don't Blow the Interview on Pura Vida Sometimes
First impressions are everything, especially when it comes to interviews, because sometimes that’s all you have. There are a number of ways to prepare for the Q&A, nerves are both natural and excusable, but if you really want the job, make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself before the grilling starts.

There are a number of physical cues that let me, as an interviewer, know whether you’d have the presence you need in the office and with business associates and third parties, and whether you really want to work with me. For each open position, I may have interviewed 10 candidates so I keep a scorecard of important factors and things that might trigger my memory of my interaction with you. Aside from education, experience, and skill set, there are a number of first-impression-based qualifiers that always make it to the candidate scorecard.

executive purse
  • Cover letter: The cover letter is my true first impression of you. I will circle all typos and errors (edit, edit, edit!), note whether the candidates’ letters were generic, strong, well-written, enthusiastic, and I’ll quote “dream job” or other key phrases they’ve used in the letter. Beware if you use these strong descriptors – I may challenge you on them. Tell me the story that a very quick scan of your resume doesn’t – what you’d want to tell me in person – this is your chance! Aside from good grammar, proper presentation, and customization of the cover letter to the job you’re interviewing for, the tone is very important.
  • Resume: I want to see deliverables. It’s nice to know what you were responsible for, but what did you accomplish for your company? Further, when you load that baby up with numbers and metrics, it causes my eyes to stop and my mind to think – so I’ll spend more than the average 6.25 seconds on your resume. Be sure of consistent formatting, good grammar, and a nice layout. It’s a nice courtesy to bring extra copies of your resume, in case your interviewers don’t have it already (but they probably will).
  • On-time arrival: Get there 5 minutes early – no earlier, not much later. As a candidate, if I’m not familiar distances and drive times to an interview, I’ll often do a dry run and work in a little cushion. As an interviewer, I’ve got a full day slated of my regular responsibilities and interviews. If you arrive 15 minutes early, I’ll make you wait, or maybe I’ll hurriedly shuffle things around. To be safe, get there early, find a comfortable place to wait nearby, and show up at reception only 5 minutes early. If you’re late, I’ve already decided that you only kinda sorta want the job or that you have time management issues.
  • Presentation: Before my interview for the role I’m currently in, I was consulting a family member who is also a successful career coach. She said my interview attire sounded great, but my favorite slouchy hobo purse was all wrong. She emphatically told me I need a structured, medium-sized business purse, and that I should borrow or buy one, to which I whined, “But my purse is so cute…” I’ve come to know that my boss does appreciate an executive presence, and I’d bet money she noticed what I now call my “executive purse.” Research ahead of time what the company’s attire is and step it up for the interview – better to go over-dressed than under-. Also on the scorecard – did you bring a notebook? It shows attention to detail, a desire to remember our conversation, and intention to follow-up.
  • Handshake: Did you make eye contact? Was it limp, confused, inauthoritative? Did you crush my hand or play presidential-style power games? There’s a lot of acceptable gray area but be prepared to give a proper handshake.
  • Follow-up email: Send me a thank-you email within 24 hours. I’m sorry, but I may have already made a decision by the time I receive the much nicer but much slower card in the mail. Tell me what interested you most about our conversation, why you want the position, and where you think you’d make the greatest contribution.
  • Fit at our company: Do you like our working environment and style? Do your potential fellow workers have a good first impression of you? Were you nice to the receptionist? Was there ease of conversation? The interview starts the moment you pull into the parking lot.
  • Interest in the position: This, for me, most often is the deciding factor between two very closely qualified candidates: did one want this job more than the other? Did he or she care more about the industry or light up when speaking about the possibility of working here? It translates in the cover letter, in our conversation, as I walk you to the door, and in the thank-you email you send – “I am really excited about the possibility of being a key player in your team’s continued success.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to work somewhere I love, toward something I feel that makes a difference, with people that are nice to work alongside 8+ hours per day. That’s the point of the interview. I interview, but you also interview me. If this is a place you want to be, make sure you’re particularly thoughtful about your first impression, and shine at hello.

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  1. This is great. I'm going to forward this on to a friend that is about to jump back into the job market. I've received advice from you on this for many years and have no doubt the techniques have helped me to get the great jobs I've had. I think one big thing you mentioned that not many do is to be super nice to the receptionist. When I applied for my last job she called to set up the interview and we became great friends from the start. She was sick at the time and I could hear it in her voice and I wished her well and on my follow up interview I asked how she was doing. Who knows if she passed that along or not, and that wasn't my intention, but once I got the job we had a wonderful relationship and we both remembered my interview process.

  2. Glad you like it and thanks for sharing with your friend! It's good to be nice to people as rule of thumb, but also, a lot of time that feedback does circle back to the hiring manager (especially if the interaction is extreme in either direction), and once you're hired, you'll probably rely on reception's help for one thing or another.

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