Your first interview? What the Hiring Manager Needs to See and Hear: A Quick Summary.

At your first interview you must make a good first impression to stand out from the crowd.

At your first interview you must make a good first impression to stand out from the crowd.

This is a summary of a recent set of articles by Julian Smith which covered 4 key areas you need to pass to impress the hiring manager at your first interview.

One: Make a Good First Impression

Little things do count.

  • First impressions start before the actual interview: This starts with any contact (active or passive) you have with the hiring company prior to the first interview.  Written communications must be well crafted, grammatically correct and succinct.  Always be ‘on message’ with the hiring managers needs.
  • Call the hiring manager: Yes – you may have to be a detective to find out who and how to make contact.  When you do hit the jackpot ask a series of questions to see if you are a good fit. Qualify your assumptions.
  • Make sure your own social media channels (facebook etc) pass muster:  Is there anything showing up that may negatively impact on you before you meet with the hiring manager.  Linkedin should be current and accurate.
  • Be on time for the interview. This means arriving at least 5 minutes before your interview time.  Ideally you want the person interviewing you to be informed of your arrival BEFORE the scheduled time.
  • Appearances matter.  Research the company dress code (as simple as ringing the main contact number and asking about the office dress codes).  It’s better to be overdressed than under dressed.
  • Personal Hygiene: Yes – you’d be surprised at how many candidates forget to use antiperspirant!
  •  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.
  • Eye contact: Smile and make sure you look the interviewer(s) in the eye when you meet them.  Be ready to shake hands. If no handshake is offered to you within 3 seconds of meeting the interviewer – offer one yourself.
  • Energy: Be aware of your energy levels, you want to come across as bright, alert and positive.
  • Be authentic. 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 going to fail this test (and the Culture Fit hurdle as well).


Two: Build Effective Rapport

Building rapport is a real skill and possibly the hardest hurdle to pass well. Here’s where to start:

  • Appropriate small talk:  You want to make a ‘connection’ as soon as possible.  Be approachable and easy to chat with in the first minute and you’re already ahead of the pack.  Read up extensively on the company and industry before the interview.  Small talk is light, bright and breezy – avoid any heavy topics or anything controversial.
  • Research the interviewer: Make sure you get the full name of all the people you’ll be meeting with and check out their profiles on LinkedIn. Know their background, how long they have been working for the company, ‘functional specialty’, primary skill set.  Demonstrate your knowledge early.  “I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve worked in New York, how did you find living there?”.
  • Be ready to answer that tricky first question “tell me about yourself”:  In less than a minute you need to communicate who you are and why your background makes you a suitable candidate for the job.
  • Common ground: Try and include some common ground with the interviewer in your answer (which you can only do through research).

Three: Fit The Culture

All throughout the interview, you’ll be assessed for culture fit.  The interviewer(s) will be asking themselves “will this person fit in with the way we do things around here?

Legally, employers aren’t able to generally pick and choose candidates based on age, appearance or gender – but the fact is, they do.  They’ll be considering; “how will this person fit into the team, are they too old, the wrong gender, the wrong personality, too quiet, too passive, too much of an extravert, too dowdy, even too attractive”.  Some of these are hard to take – but these judgements are real.

  • Do your homework upfront. Passing the “culture fit” test is all about applying for roles, where you have strong evidence that the work / company culture will work for you – and you for them.  Remember a job application is a 2-way street, you should be assessing whether or not you want to work for this company.
  • Square peg.  Round hole? There is no point trying to position yourself to fit a culture that doesn’t suit you.  You’re likely to come across as inauthentic and if you do get the job, chances are, you’re not going to love it.
  • Research the Culture. The best way to get a handle on the work culture is to ask around before applying for the job.  If that proves tricky, then make sure you ask a few relevant questions in the screening process.  To learn more about the culture try asking “I know that culture fit is very important for your company, are you able to give me a little detail on the dynamics and work approach of the team I would be working in?”
  • Ask relevant questions during the actual interview The perfect candidate will not respond “I don’t really have any questions”  Great questions and the resulting dialogue will demonstrate your mental agility, hunger for the role and set you apart.   The answers also help you assess whether or not you actually want the job.  i.e. is the environment challenging enough for you?

Four: Prove Your Skill Set

If you’re offered an interview, it’ll be because your CV or initial screening indicated you’re likely to have the necessary skills.  You must prove you can deliver the core skills and, if not, have the ability to learn.

  • Demonstrate you have the required skill set:  Consider what skills the perfect candidate needs for the job and assess yourself against these.  The best way to do this is to review the position description and review the key outcomes and competencies the role specifies.  It’s best to chat with the recruiter or hiring manager on the phone and ask them to give you a rundown on the key deliverables, key skill sets and experience required.
  • Behavioral Questions: During the actual interview, it’s likely that you’ll experience behavioral questioning techniques that are designed to uncover how you have performed in the past in a range of key areas.  Often they’ll start with “Tell me about a time when you had to use X”.
  • Competencies: The best way to prepare for these questions is to establish the key competencies required (which is why access to the job description is critical) and to learn the STAR technique for answering.  The STAR method gives the interviewer all the information they need in a format that makes it easy for them to evaluate you.
  • Assess your skills & experience against the key competencies in advance: By determining the key competencies in advance you can prepare a series of stock examples of where you have demonstrated that skill set.  The key here is to practice, practice and practice. If possible, bring the situation you have used back to how this may apply to the role you’re being interviewed for.
  • Align your skills and experience to the key competencies: You might find it helpful to get a soft copy of the job description from the recruiter and under each of the key competencies, type out your example that proves you have the necessary skills – don’t forget you need to have a “meaty” result that resonates with the interviewer.  Business is about achieving outcomes.
  • Listen actively. During the interview itself, the skill you need to master is not just talking, but listening.  Make sure you truly understand a question before you start answering it.  If it’s not clear to you, ask the interviewer to clarify it for you.
  • Look out for visual indicators: Listening is done by the eyes as well as the ears.  Look for non verbal cues. Are the interviewers engaged, do they seem rushed, are they making eye contact (when not writing)?  If you get the sense that you’re not being listened to – ask yourself why?  Are my examples too long, am I speaking in a monotone voice, have I moved off topic?

Recruitment is not an exact science and can be a very subjective processes – but you can ensure you position yourself for success by being aware of these 4 “tests” and preparing well for each one.

For the full articles click on the links below:

  1. Make a Good First Impression
  2. Build Effective Rapport
  3. Fit the Culture
  4. Prove Your Skill Set

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.

At your first interview you must make a good first impression to stand out from the crowd.

At your first interview you must make a good first impression to stand out from the crowd.

Visit for more helpful tips on winning interviews

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Contact: Phone: +64 21 666 807, +64 9 5222802 e-mail: Craig McAlpine's Linked In profile: 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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