The first and most important lesson is this: first impressions matter. More than you can ever imagine.
Try as they might, people simply are not logical creatures - they're inherently emotional and judgmental. And while some prejudices we form when meeting someone for the first time are way off base, especially if they're based on unfair ethnicity, age, gender or socioeconomic biases, some of the traits people intuit from one another end up being right on target down the line. Making snap judgments is an instinctual reaction that helps people judge who is an ally, who is a threat, and who isn't worth a second glance. We may not be running away from lions and hunting dodos anymore, but doing business in this world is still fast-paced and high stakes.
Aside from circumstances beyond your control, such as outright prejudice, you have a huge say in how people perceive you. The first step in making that perception favorable is looking sharp and professional. That means wearing a full suit, to every interview. It doesn't matter if you're interviewing to be a bus boy or a junior executive - every interviewer wants to see that you regard him/her, the workplace, and the position being offered as important enough to dress your best.
|You can still be you in an interview -
just the best version of yourself
Let me give you an example: I was in desperate need of a summer job and didn't yet have a bachelor's degree, meaning I was barred from just about every interview I actually wanted to go to. I know all too well how miserable it is to work at the mall, so I opted instead for general labor positions and got an interview at Drury Inn for a housekeeper. When my interviewer saw me in my freshly ironed Tien Son suit and white shirt, his face lit up. I could hear the voice in his head saying, "Finally, a human adult."
After a very cordial and surprisingly long interview, he confessed that my appearance had turned his day around, and that he was deeply impressed by my manners and professionalism, especially in contrast to the five other people he had interviewed that day. I had zero professional cleaning experience, and maybe those other applicants had lots, but in the end, experience is something that can be gained on the job. The good work ethic and professionalism my appearance reflected was something rare and exceptional.
The second lesson is about weaknesses. Remember that pro/con list you made about yourself during step one? Examine the con side. It's important to know where you can improve, and employers/interviewers want to see that you know your own limitations. Trust me, they are sick of hearing, "My greatest weakness is that I work too hard/I'm too competitive." Instead of giving them a fake weakness that no one actually believes, try a real one that you have genuinely improved upon.
|Don't necessarily let it all hang out in an interview,
but it's okay to be open and honest
Finally, it is incredibly, monumentally important that you have questions at the end. Asking questions indicates that you were listening carefully, that you are genuinely interested in the job and the interviewer, and that you did your homework. Some of my favorite questions are, "How would you describe your ideal employee?" or "What are some of the traits of your most successful employees?" An obvious one is, "What is a typical day like for someone in this position?" or "Who would I report to?" Ask if you can take notes! You may need this information. And don't be shy about asking about the interviewer's job. People feel most fulfilled after a conversation if they've had ample opportunity to talk about themselves.
If you fail to get the job, you're either under-qualified, not listening to me, or interviewing with someone who simply doesn't like you for whatever reason. Or maybe you're being interviewed right after me. If so, I apologize. But for the most part, if you integrate these tips into your interview bible, you will have a remarkable interview that leaves you smiling at the receptionist and whistling as you leave.
Next time, we'll talk about following up. Tell me about your interview experiences in the comments! What worked best for you?
Missed part one about our resume tips? Check it out here.
Read part three to learn how to be remembered after the interview is over. Read Part Three.