By Cheryl Levick
After 25 years of hiring and managing professional staffs, I have seen everything during an interview, from wannabe comedians to buttons popping off a woman’s suit to a young man throwing up. You name it, I’ve experienced it!
Based on that experience, I can attest that the classic cliché of “you only get one chance at a first impression” proves most important when interviewing for a job. Preparing your professional resume and supporting credentials are important aspects of job hunting, but it is the interview – and that first impression – that will make or break you.
You have a maximum of 30 seconds to make that initial impression and, more than likely, the fate of your interview will be determined within the first five minutes. However, don’t panic: “winning the interview” doesn’t have to be painful or complicated. To do so, you must commit to three things prior to the interview: preparation, presentation and practice.
Preparing to enter the job market is exciting, but the process must start by asking yourself two questions:
– Are you qualified for the job you are seeking?
– Is the timing right to seek a new job?
The qualifications question is easy to evaluate – just look at your education, credentials, and experience and determine if you meet the job specifications. The question of timing is harder. You need to ask yourself if you are personally ready for the challenge a new job; are physically and emotionally prepared; and whether or not your spouse/significant other/family is willing to move and/or accept the changes that come with a new job. Too many times, I find a fabulous candidate and s/he has not yet talked to their spouse or family about a move or the new job requirements. Please have a family meeting before you jump into the job market.
The presentation requirement for an interview is the fun part. Usually, you have plenty of time to organize yourself and look professional in the interview setting. Start with making sure your resume and credentials are up to date, professionally presented, and contain no errors. One of my pet peeves is not using SPELL CHECK – don’t make that mistake. Have at least one other person review your credentials to make sure they are perfect.
Next, work on your professional attire. Remember, you have 30 seconds to make that first impression, so you need to look your best. Your clothes should be comfortable in fit, conservative in color and modest in style. Stay away from bright colors, flashy ties or super high heels. Guys, get your hair cut, have your nails done and make sure all facial hair is groomed professionally. Gals, keep your jewelry simple, colors conservative and no cleavage – ever! In my 25 years of hiring, I have seen more wild hair (both on heads and in noses) and inhaled more overzealously-applied cologne than any person should. Learn from those applicants’ mistakes and be thoughtful when it comes to grooming and attire.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. I recommend that you think of an interview like a basketball game, i.e., a competition. To win the game, you have to practice a lot. At least a week prior to an interview, put on your interview outfit, stand in front of a mirror, and evaluate how you look. Have a trusted friend or professional also take a look. Fix any problem you see. Then, work on your eye contact and handshake by practicing greeting people. Finally, practice your answers to questions that you know will be asked in the interview. The first question will always be about your background, experience or why you want the job, so develop your answers in advance and practice them out loud. Rehearse in front of a mirror or with a friend. It may feel slightly silly, but trust me, it works.
Interviewing well takes discipline, but learning the right way to showcase your strengths and weaknesses will lead to more opportunities in the future. Good luck with your job hunting and I hope you win every interview!