How first dates and job interviews are eerily similar…
January 21, 2011
The HR Wiz
So what happens now that you’ve past the courtship phase? You’ve found a potential employer who has shown some interest in your resume and you have an interview scheduled. You’re almost in the door, right? Well… maybe. Take a second to pat yourself on the back, securing an interview in today’s job market is no easy task and chances are you made some correct moves. Getting through the screening processes of most companies is like successfully navigating through a field of landmines- and trust me, there are a lot of them. Take a deep breath, congratulate yourself, and then let’s get down to business.
Step #2- The First Date:
Now, I’m no Casanova and I’m sure you’re not either, but much like a first date, following some basic rules of etiquette will take you a long way. Your objective here is two-fold and as follows: (1) be yourself, but don’t give your new muse any reason to not fall in love with you and (2) display yourself in a positive light. If you can manage these, your chances of moving on to the next step in the process will be the greatest.
*An important note: these objectives are not mutually exclusive. You need to accomplish both to be a successful interview. Here are some tips for how to do this:
Don’t Drop the Ball:
1. You’re going to Ruth’s Chris, not McDonald’s (dress to impress)
I can’t stress the importance of this step any more. If a job interview is a first date, how you dress directly reflects where you would be going. If you plan on showing up to the interview wearing jeans or shorts and a baggy sweatshirt, you might as well be going to McDonald’s! Now, if you’re looking for love, how successful do you think a relationship will be if you were to show up in some ragged outfit? Dress to impress! It will communicate to the hiring manager that you are taking this seriously and that you are a professional. If you have a nice suit, wear it. If you don’t have a nice suit, get yourself a dress shirt and tie. I don’t care if you’re interviewing to be the “fry-guy” at McDonald’s or CEO, you need to dress professionally.
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit (a quick note about personal hygiene)
It seems like this shouldn’t have to be said, but unfortunately, it does. Personal hygiene is never more important than a first date or a job interview, so make sure you cover your bases. I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve conducted where the person has shown up with some sort of personal hygiene issue. It is human nature to fixate on imperfections. If you come to an interview with some sort of hygiene issue, the hiring manager is going to fixate on it and your chances of getting the job are going to drop significantly. So there’s really no secret here, just do it! Before you set foot on the premises of your prospective employer, make sure you’ve completed this checklist:
- Clean shave
- Trim/Clean fingernails
- Clean ears
- Shower (washed with soap: hair, face, body)
- Brush teeth
- Clean clothes
3. “You’re taking my daughter where?” (impressing the parents)
One of the most important parts to a first date is not simply impressing your date, but making an impression on the influential people around your muse. In most cases, this means their parents/siblings/roommates. Winning the hearts of these people will create a foundation for later success. Just think about, you’ve taken a girl out to a fancy dinner and had a great time, you bring her back to her parents house, meet her mom and dad, have a few words, and then you bid good evening. As soon as your headlights leave the driveway (and probably before) they’re going to start talking. Mom and dad want to know how the date went and they want to put their two cents in with their daughter. A job interview is no different. But who are the people that may potentially influence the hiring manager’s decision? The answer is: everyone! Anyone you come into contact with has the potential to impact a hiring manager’s decision. Thus, you need to be on your best behavior. Be friendly, be personable, and be polite! Pay close attention to secretaries and assistants too, these people traditionally have a huge influence with hiring managers and if you rub them the wrong way, chances are you aren’t getting the job.
4. “Check out my sweet ride… Yea, it’s an ’84 Pinto” (what your car says about you)
You may be asking yourself, what does my car have to do with an interview? The answer is: a lot. Your car says everything about you and it can either help you or hinder you in an interview situation. This is something to keep in mind; your interview begins the moment you come on to the employer’s property. Your car is a reflection of you, and you need to be a complete package. Now, you may go through the entire process and your car never enters into the mix. No one at the company sees your car, no one sees the three months worth of McDonald’s wrappers crammed up in your windshield, and no one sees your “Jesus loves you, everyone else thinks you’re an asshole” bumper sticker. But do you really want to take that chance? What if your interview is at the end of the day and the hiring manager walks with you out your car? I once interviewed at a place where the parking lot was clearly visible from the hiring manager’s office. She saw me pull in, get out of my car, and walk into the building. That’s a huge impression right there, all before we even shook hands! So here’s the point, clean your car because you never know when it will play a part in a hiring manager’s decision. As far as political/religious/opinionated/offensive bumper stickers go, stay away from them.
5. Mind your P’s and Q’s (manners are important)
I’m not going to say a whole lot here, because I think the title speaks for itself. Manners are important and you need to be on your best behavior. I’m going to tell you something my father told me- when someone asks you a question, the answer is, “yes/no sir” or “yes/no ma’am”. Be polite, speak up, and speak properly. Avoid using slang of any kind. Using proper manners will communicate respect to your prospective employer and help you secure your job.
Knock ‘em Dead:
6. Be your resume
When you applied for this position, chances are you submitted a resume. Your resume is a representation of the qualities and skills you possess. A hiring manager reviewed your resume and saw something worth pursuing, so they called you in for an interview. The person that your resume describes needs to show up for the interview. What does this mean? If you wrote on your resume that you are a confident and competent professional then you need to display these qualities in your interview. This is why it is important to create a document that accurately portrays your professional abilities. Discrepancies between what your resume says about you and how you act will be painfully obvious in an interview and can cost you a valuable opportunity. Whatever you do, be the person that your resume describes.
7. “Why should we hire you?” (be prepared to answer this)
Whether the question is asked directly, or not, you need to be prepared with an answer. After all, what is an interview other than a process to determine an answer to this question? If you don’t have an answer for this question, then you probably shouldn’t be applying for the job in the first place. Here’s a quick piece of advice, sit down and come up with a 60 second marketing pitch for yourself. If the interviewer asks you this question, you will be prepared with an answer. If they don’t ask the question, you can work the pitch into your presentation.
8. It’s all about body language
Body language says everything about you. Much of the impression that an interviewer will make about you will come from nonverbal cues. How do you carry yourself, do you project when you speak, do you make eye contact? These are all indicators that can easily be picked up by an interviewer. I once heard a statistic that said a person’s impression of you is made up of 7% of what you actually say, 20% of tonality, and 73% of body language. If that’s true, it means that 93% of a hiring manager’s perception of you comes from your demeanor! How important is body language now? Body language is all about projecting confidence. In order to do this, try to avoid the following: looking at the floor when you speak, fidgeting, slouching/poor posture, and walking like an idiot. Remember this, confidence can be seen in your hands. Try to be conscious of what you’re doing with your hands when you’re speaking. It’s ok to be a little nervous for your interview, but really try to project some confidence through your hands. Finally, how you carry yourself is huge- walk straight and with purpose, sit up straight, annunciate your words, speak with purpose, and make eye contact! Controlling your own body language will give you a huge advantage when interviewing.
9. Steering the conversation toward your strengths
This point directly correlates to your 60 second marketing pitch. Before you can get good at doing this, you need to know what your strengths are. Once you have a good idea of what those strengths are, you need to start figuring out how you nudge your conversations in their direction. Most interviews are fluid and go in different directions based on the responses of the candidate. This means that you have an opportunity to exercise some control over the topics that will be discussed. This means that you can take some of the unknown out of the process. Let’s say you’ve designated one of your strengths as adaptability. Back this up with a practical example or a story about a time that you displayed such qualities. Now, in your interview, let’s say the hiring manager asks you a question about management responsibilities and you don’t have any solid management experience. Instead of saying, “Well, I’ve never been a manager before”, use this as an opportunity to steer the conversation toward your strengths. Bring up your belief that an effective manager needs to be able to adapt to different types of circumstances, hit him/her with your story backing up your claim to adaptability and, viola! Knowing how to positively shift a conversation into a positive direction is very important in your ability to be a good interview.
10. The follow up
Knowing how to properly follow up after you’ve had an interview is just as important as the interview itself. It’s like going on a first date, it’s important to let your date know after the fact that you had a really great time. This shows consideration and afterthought on your part. The same concept applies to interviews. After your interview, you need to send a follow up email to your hiring manager and anyone else you conversed with while you were there. Be conscious of this fact when you begin the interview process. You need to gather the contact information for anyone you have a meaningful conversation with. So here’s how it goes- you need to follow up with the hiring manager, via email, a few hours after the conclusion of the interview. Let them know that you really enjoyed the conversation you had and reiterate your interest in the position. It’s a good idea here to specifically reference a piece of the conversation you had. This will show them that you were paying attention and that you listened to them with consideration. This is also a perfect scenario in which you can address any parts of your performance that you were unsatisfied with. I would usually do this by saying something like this, “I wanted to take this opportunity to elaborate on a piece of our discussion…” This is an opportunity for you to correct a mistake that you made or clarify something (don’t go overboard here, only address one topic, and keep it short and sweet). Make your follow up message personal, but not too long winded. Mastering a good follow up can help you solidify a position or even distinguish yourself from other candidates.