What the employer is looking for during the first interview: The 4 hurdles you need to jump.

In this series of 4 articles Julian Smith provides you with some clear guidelines as to what the typical hiring manager expects of you at an interview.  The articles will be published in four parts starting today.

First impressions matter.  Ensure you create the right one.

First impressions matter. Ensure you create the right one.

Setting the Scene

In my career to date, I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing candidates for jobs – either as one of my direct reports, or someone reporting to a member of my team.  Every “first interview” has 4 key hurdles or tests you need to pass to get to the next stage of the interview process.  You’ll need to pass all 4 well, to be the preferred candidate for the job – and that should be your goal right up front.

Ask yourself, “What is the employer looking for from the perfect candidate and how can I position myself so that I am perceived as one of the front runners for the position?”

Remember perception is everything in the first interview – you may well be the most qualified or experienced, but how you come across during that first meeting carries the most weight initially.

Here are the 4 tests you’ll need to pass to progress and my tips on how to ace them.

  1. Make a good first impression
  2. Build effective rapport
  3. Fit the culture
  4. Prove your skill set

We’ll take each “test” separately in a series of 4 short articles with tips on how to ace each one.

Test One: Make a good first impression

This seems like an obvious area to start, but you’d be surprised how many folks get this wrong.  The little things do count – the last thing you want is to be “that guy with the dandruff”.   Here’s your checklist:

  • First impressions start before the actual interview – they are determined by any contact (active or passive) you have with the hiring company.  Written communication (cover letters, CV, emails) need to be well crafted, grammatically correct and succinct.  If you want to be the preferred candidate, ask yourself upfront “what is the hiring manager wanting to see in my documentation”?  “How can I get noticed and move to the top of the pile”.
  • The most efficient and painless way of getting noticed is to call the hiring manager before you apply for the role and ask a series of questions to see if you are a good fit. With this technique you’re effectively asking the hiring manager if he or she thinks at face value if you should apply (after a quick chat about your background).  You need to get a “yes”. If you’re not sure you’ll fit, or you sense any hesitation from the hiring manager, you’re facing an uphill battle in your application.  With a “yes, please apply” from the hiring manager, they’ll remember you when they review your application, Be sure to reference your phone call in your cover letter/email to refresh their memory.
  • Make sure you pass a quick “Google” of yourself – is there anything showing up that may negatively impact on you before you meet with the hiring manager.  Your LinkedIn profile should be up to date and MUST include a professional headshot.
  • Be on time for the interview. This means arriving at least 5 minutes before your interview time.  Ideally want the person interviewing you to be informed of your arrival BEFORE the scheduled time.  If you’re running late, don’t panic, things happen, but you MUST inform the person interviewing you or their assistant at least 15 minutes before your arrival time – if you think you’ll be 5 min late, say 10 minutes and give yourself time to regroup.  Try and get a contact phone number for the interviewer or their assistant when you agree to the interview time and save this to your mobile address book just in case.
  • Appearances matter.  A job interview is like a first date, except you want to be remembered for your brain, not your physique. Wear an appropriate outfit.  Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager, what do you think she or he would expect their perfect candidate to wear?  This means doing some research on the company dress code (as simple as ringing the main contact number and asking about the office dress codes).  Many offices are smart casual, so rocking up in a suit and tie to be interviewed by someone in jeans will put you at an immediate disadvantage.  But it’s better to be overdressed than under dressed.
  • If you’re a guy, wear a jacket (even a casual cotton one for those smart casual work places) – it’ll make you look more polished and will hide any sweaty armpits.  You’ll of course be wearing anti-perspirant (no excuses ever… even if that’s not your thing normally).
  • Ladies, modesty is important – less is more when it comes to jewelry.  Unless you’re applying to be a tattooist, piercings are never acceptable.  Once you get the job and know for sure what is acceptable attire, you can get more individual with your look.
  •  Introduce yourself clearly and warmly.  This starts with anyone at the reception desk, receptionists generally know everyone in the company and are surprisingly influential.  Get them onside early.
  • Smile and make sure you look the interviewer(s) in the eye when you meet them.  Be ready to shake hands (a quick wash and dry with cold water in the bathroom before the interview helps deals with sweaty palms).  If no handshake is offered to you within 3 seconds of meeting the interviewer – offer one yourself.
  • Be aware of your energy levels, you want to come across as bright, alert and positive.  Don’t let the energy levels of the interviewer bring you down – consider you might be the 6th person they have interviewed that day – that’s a lot of listening and sitting.  The interviewer could come across as tired or even slightly distracted, this is not a reflection of you, but could impact their assessment of you if you don’t give them a reason to regroup and focus on you.
  • Be authentic.  Lastly good first impressions are most powerful when they are natural.  Don’t try and be someone you’re not.  You want to come across as the “best version” of yourself, not a facsimile of someone else.  Just like you can easily tell when a politician is “Bsing” a journalist on TV, an experienced interviewer can sniff out inauthenticity is about 60 seconds.  If you think you need to act like someone you’re not to make a good first impression, then this is not the job for you and you’re almost certainly fail this test (and the Culture Fit hurdle as well).

Look out for the next step, Build Effective Rapport

Julian Smith

Julian Smith

Julian Smith is a company director, blogger and business commentator based in Auckland, New Zealand. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Visit MyCareerBrand.net for more helpful tips on winning interviews

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Contact: www.MyCareerBrand.net Phone: +64 21 666 807, +64 9 5222802 e-mail: info@mycareerbrand.net Craig McAlpine's Linked In profile: http://goo.gl/OxFOKZ MISSION Working with Job Search Candidates to build their go-to-market strategy, develop powerful marketing collateral such as their CV, LinkedIn profile and social media presence, and ultimately to secure a new role that is not only rewarding but also assists them on their career journey. EXPERTISE Career Coaching - LinkedIn Training - LinkedIn Optimisation - Personal Branding - Job Hunt: Go to Market Strategy and Collateral - CV design and preparation - Interview skills INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE - Professional Services - Information Technology - Banking and Finance - Recruitment

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