A colleague and I were doing some interviewing of upcoming college graduates at a university campus. Most of them were very prepared, looked presentable, asked great questions, and seemingly did their research. There was one, though, who stood out from the rest, and not in a good way.
Out of the gates I knew this was going to be an interesting interview. He showed up ten minutes late for his interview time. He looked literally as if he had awakened ten minutes before the interview. He had on an old sweatshirt, jeans, and sandals and hadn’t bothered to brush his hair.
He hadn’t researched my company, didn’t understand what products we developed beyond our flagship product, and didn’t know what types of jobs we were looking to fill. The most amazing thing, though, was that he came in expecting me to sell him on the company versus him demonstrating why he was someone worth pursuing. My decision was made in the first minute of the interview. It was my easiest interview of the day.
If you want to work at an organization, the message is crystal clear; you have to put the effort in up front to impress them enough to want to talk to you more. First impressions do matter greatly, and it’s not enough to just avoid a negative first impression. Neutral first impressions will at best position you equally with other candidates and, at worst, put you at the bottom of the list. Why some candidates gamble with first impressions completely boggles my mind; it is completely within the candidate’s control to create that positive first impression. If someone doesn’t care enough to make the strongest impression possible then I don’t want them as an employee. End of story.
Get prepared for that interview and use the following as some ideas to help you:
- Do your organization research – In today’s internet culture, learning about most any organization is only a few mouse clicks away. Learn about what the organization sells, how many employees they have, their sales and net profit, their key business challenges. The more you know and the more you can show you know, the more you’re likely to impress your interviewer.
- Talk to someone who already works at your potential employer – Got a friend, relative, or casual acquaintance who works at the organization? Buy them a cup of coffee and learn about their experience with the organization. You may learn things that either confirms the organization is a good fit for you, or that cause you to not want to work there.
- Ask someone to mock-interview you – Ask a friend, colleague, or family member with experience in interviewing to run you through a mock interview. The goal isn’t to be gentle and lob softball questions at you. Your mock interviewer should ask you the difficult questions and get you out of your comfort zone. The better you are able to respond to the difficult questions in a mock interview, the better you’ll do when the real interview comes along.
- Learn as much as you can about the job – Ask your contact at the company for a job description prior to the interview. Talk to others who work at the company. Talk to someone with a similar job at a different company. Any little bit of information you can dig up will help.
- Learn about your interviewer – Find out the name of the person or persons who will be interviewing you. Has he or she written any books? Has he or she published any articles? Is he or she doing a speech or presentation somewhere you can attend? Do you know someone who might know the person? Does the interviewer have information either on the organization’s website or his or her own website? You may learn about a common interest or idea that could help you establish a connection with your interviewer.
- Dress the part – For Pete’s sake, dress like you want a job. Make sure shoes are shined, shirts or blouses are pressed and hair is combed. Even in today’s casual environment, most employers are expecting interviewees to dress business formal. I’ve never chosen to not hire someone because he over-dressed for an interview, but I’ve declined quite a few who looked like they just crawled out of bed.
- Be on time – ‘Nuff said.
I can’t think of a single instance in my experience where someone had been eliminated from a job search because they were too prepared for the interview. Do your homework, prepare for the tough questions, and dress up for the interview and you’ll leave a positive impression on your interviewer. It may not guarantee you a job, but it certainly won’t hurt your chances either.