Everyone has, at one point or another, been faced with the prospect of sitting down and speaking with one or more individuals who will decide whether or not you have the skills and abilities to become their newest employee.
The thought alone is enough to make the strongest among us tremble and break into a cold sweat. "It's not fair," you theorize. "One mistake or misplaced adjective during the interview and I'm back on the street, back at the end of the line, searching for the one intangible which will bring me job security and a financial well being. What did I do wrong?"
In an effort to give you that one intangible, we sat down with three professionals who make those hiring decisions on a daily basis. In return for their anonymity, they have agreed to give us their insights on how to master the interview.
"I hate to say it, but I will develop either a positive or negative attitude about an applicant within the first minute of the interview", comments Julia, a human resource manager with a large IT consulting company. "The way an applicant addresses me and how they introduce themselves leaves a lasting impression on me. I'm looking for confidence and a quiet sense of determination. I want to see a firm handshake and I want them to look me straight in the eyes."
"Don't forget their attire," comments Robert, a businessman who owns four rental car establishments and two restaurants in a busy metropolitan area. "If an applicant, even one for an entry-level position, does not come to the interview properly attired, I will not consider them. If they can't take the time or the consideration to be dressed correctly for something as important as an interview, I can only imagine what they would do on a daily basis."
All three professionals agree that first impressions are important. Dressing properly, displaying a subtle confidence and maintaining eye contact with each interviewer is the first step.
"I realize the interview process ranks right up there with having a tooth pulled on the enjoyment scale, but it's not easy for the interviewer either," added Jonathan, a hiring professional for a large healthcare association. "If an employee that I hire does not produce, I'm the one with egg on my face. If I make a few bad choices it will be me on the other side of that table. Believe it or not, I'm not looking to turn an applicant away, I'm looking for someone who will impress the heck out of me and make my decision easy."
"I agree with Jon," added Julia. "My day is hard enough. I want someone who I will feel confident about, someone who I know can do the job I give him or her. I think any employer feels this way. I'm afraid some applicants think we enjoy watching them squirm and deciding their fate. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Preparation for an interview is vital, all three professionals agree. Exhibiting an aura of confidence will come more naturally if you are practiced in the art of the interview.
Do mock interviews with friends or family to familiarize yourself with the procedure. The more times you practice, the more relaxed and confident you will become.
"If you want to impress me, tell me something about my company or industry that shows me what you can bring to the position," comments Jonathan. "Someone who can demonstrate that this position means enough to them that they will spend time gathering information on my company, means that this person will probably stay late on a Friday if the work requires it. THAT will impress me!"
"That reminds me of the time I was hiring a general manager for one of my car rental agencies," Robert added. "This woman came in armed with industry figures that I didn't even know myself! Needless to say, she is now in charge of two of my establishments."
At the very minimum, each interviewer expects the applicant to bring extra copies of their resume and a completed job application form if required.
Emphasize the Positive
Now is not the time to be bashful about your skills and abilities. If you can't show the employer why you are the best candidate for the position, well then you won't be.
While the interviewer may claim to be an astute judge of character, they don't realize that you can manage a multi-million dollar budget, prioritize workflow to maximize production and streamline inventory to save millions of dollars, unless you can show that on your resume and reiterate that in the interview.
"The interview process is short," commented Jonathan. "I want to know what this person sitting in front of me can do for my company. Tell me your skills and provide examples of what you have done in the past. If you don't, I have 10 other applicants who will. Be confident in yourself and if you can convince me of your skills, the job is yours."
Robert went a step further. "The hiring process is part deduction and part intuition. I want to see your skills and talents laid out on a resume, but I also need to see and hear you explain to me why you are best suited for the position. I want to be impressed with your delivery. If you can't sell yourself, how can I expect you to sell my cars?"
It Starts with the Resume
"As I'm sure you understand, Jim - with you being in the industry, the entire hiring process hinges upon the resume," Julia emphasized, and both Robert and Jonathan agreed. "I see many, many resumes during the week, ranging from the barely intelligible to the professionally produced documents like your company provides. The only way you will ever see the inside of my office is if I like what I see on your resume. It may be a bit harsh, but it's a reality in today's business environment. What's on that piece of paper could mean the difference between us landing that million dollar account or not. It's no wonder my hair is turning gray already!" The people in the room laughed, with Jonathan agreeing and pointing to his thinning and graying hair.
When mailing a resume to a prospective employer, mail the document(s) in a manila envelope and do NOT fold or staple the resume. The employers also want to see a cover letter included. You may attach a cover letter to the resume with a paper clip in the upper left-hand corner.
"I will scan each resume quickly, seeing whether or not it's even worth a closer look," Robert added. "If I like the layout and looks of the resume, I will then read it in greater detail. I can't stress enough the importance of the resume."
While first impressions may last, last impressions may be the first factor on whether or not you show up for work on Monday.
"When the interview is coming to an end, I will always ask the applicant if they have any questions," remarked Jonathan. "If I had a nickel for every time the response was "No, I think I'm fine", I'd be rich. If you want to impress me, ASK QUESTIONS! Let me rephrase that - ASK INTELLIGENT QUESTIONS! Believe it or not, if you ask me what the long-range plans of the association are, I will take that positively. I recommend you go into the interview with two or three questions in mind, then ask one or two additional questions on follow-ups to the interview."
Ask the interviewer what qualities they are looking for in their next employee. Then tell them how you can best meet those needs. This is an excellent way to explain why you are the best person for the position.
At the completion of the interview, stand up, shake each interviewer's hand and thank them for taking the time to consider you for their position opening.
When each of the three hiring professionals were asked what was the most important aspect of the interviewing process they would like to convey to our visitors, they each replied with a different answer, thus validating the belief that the interview is a subjective experience requiring that each applicant utilize their talents to the fullest.
Julia: "Show me why I should hire you."
Robert: "Come prepared."
Jonathan: "Ask questions and give me intelligent answers."