We all know that first impressions count, right? Recent research by Day Novo Consulting has confirmed just that. Their "Interviewing In The 21st Century" survey revealed that a bad entrance is the single most important factor in interview failure. So much so that most interviewers have already made up their minds on a candidate in the first thirty seconds.
So, what can a mere mortal do to get past that first important milestone? We at Sneaky Business have sifted through our own extensive experience of interview success and failure to bring you our collective set of do's and don'ts for making a great first impression.
- Check your appearance: An unsightly piece of spinach (typically in the teeth, or more worryingly elsewhere on your person), the coffee-stained shirt or disheveled tie can go a long way to diminishing your personal capital. Always check clothes, face and shoes before entering the interview room. Even better, if the chance arises to create a slight diversion (for example by commenting on the unusually hirsute appearance of the interviewer's wife in his desk photo), you should also check once inside the interviewer's office.
- Confirm the name / role / sex of your interviewer: Always confirm basic details before entering the interview. If one of the elements is unexpected try to not appear surprised, or even shocked. "Good God, you're a man!" is a phrase that you will probably only get to use once.
- Greet the interviewer warmly but professionally: Greetings should be positive, sincere and culturally appropriate. "Pleased to meet you", "It's a pleasure to be here" and "Thanks for inviting me" are usually acceptable. It is critical to research the culture of both the company and the hiring manager before arriving. For example, Estonian investment bankers would expect a more forceful entrance along the lines of "The pleasure is all yours". Southern European marketers may accept a brief kiss to the right cheek - never to the left (a sign of the Devil). And Finnish interviewers would expect a small, personal gift (always something homemade - never, never anything from a chain store).
- Remain calm - even under a blistering opening salvo of questions: Most interviewers will be more than happy to warm up the candidate before settling in to the meat of the discussion. However some individuals, and certain professions (such as investment banking), may favor the "Rolling Thunder" approach. Be prepared for hard-nosed openers such as "So, why should I spend thirty minutes of my time with you?" or "How on earth did you get through the screening process?". Occasionally a trick question may be used to throw the candidate off balance. Leeward Stochs, an investment bank, often opens an interview by asking why the candidate is well qualified for a different role. McBainsey, a consultancy, will sometimes start questions in an foreign language such as Latvian to test the candidate's response.
- Turn Your Back On The Interviewer: During the first minute or so (and for the interview in general) it is important to maintain a forward facing composure. Resist the urge to rotate the interview chair (if it offers that capability). Never look over your shoulder, particularly if a large clock is placed behind you on the wall (the subtle use of a bicycle mirror is acceptable if done swiftly). Above all else, do not retrace your steps to the doorway under any circumstances.
(Case example - a McBainsey candidate, upon realizing he had trodden "dirt" into the hiring manager's office, panicked and turned back towards the door. Realizing this strategy would not help, he turned once more and walked back to the manager's desk. Needless to say he did not get the offer, but was presented with a $500 carpet cleaning bill.)
- Joke About The Name Of The Interviewer: As tempting as it may be, when presented with an unusually humorous name, the candidate must never seek the light hearted comment. "What were your parents thinking?" or "How did you survive childhood with that name?" are extremely high risk statements.
- Ask For Another Chair: Generally a candidate should accept the chair that is offered, even if it places the interviewer in a clear power position (for example, six inches higher or with their back to a bright window). However, there are exceptions. A chair that is clearly broken or dangerous can be refused. As can a chair that is not facing the interviewer. The "wobbly leg" is a gray area - depending upon the severity of the imbalance. A general rule of thumb is to use your thumb - if you can insert it between the leg and floor then something should be said. Asking for a wedge item from the interviewer's desk is acceptable - though never use his or her business cards.
- Bring Food or Beverages Into The Interview: In an age when Starbucks coffee cups are practically fused to our skin it can be difficult to remain without them, even for a thirty minute interview. However, it is critical to leave the latte outside of the interview room. Consumption can create facial embarrassments (e.g. foam lips, chocolate stains) and carries with it the inherent risk of a spillage catastrophe. Candidates with a severe caffeine dependency are encouraged to apply a caffeine-patch below their clothing approximately fifteen minutes before the interview begins. Always check the dosage, and never up the octane for a critical interview.
While this list is not exhaustive, it should provide an edge for candidates looking for interview inspiration.
Do you have any additional gems of insight? Sneaky Business would be keen to hear about them in the comments below.