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Get Hired: The First Five Minutes of the Interview

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During college I took what I called a "resume" building class. However, they also taught us how to act during an interview. The final exam for that class was to interview with actual companies that sent representatives on campus. Big names like Computer Associates, PeopleSoft, Oracle and the like "mock" interviewed us. I even remember the teacher for the class, she was more of a Gym teacher than a career adviser but I now thank her for her harsh words during the process. They taught me how to go into an interview and ace it.

I also have to thank my first employer for teaching me a lot about the business world. He really made an impression on me about how to dress, how to talk and how to act in front of customers. It was a very hard job for someone just out of college, but because of the difficult situations he put me through, it really catapulted my career. Speaking in front of a room full of hospital CIOs is not easy. They are the decisions makers for the purchase of your product, and they do not like to feel like their time is being wasted. The experience made me learn to react on the spot and use one of my strengths, humor, to make the time with them something they would remember. Most important is to make sure that the people that you sell something to, even it if is just services, remember the product for the right reasons.

Lately we have been looking to fill some positions at work. I am not the one making the decision or interviewing this time, but it scares me that most of the people interviewed have no clue about writing a resume or even coming to an interview. So I'm sharing some of the knowledge I have gathered. It might be all common knowledge to most, but I have been surprised lately how many people make these simple mistakes.

The way you think will affect everything about the hiring process. If you think that you have no chance at getting the job, then why are you applying to it in the first place? Do not waste anyones time, specially your own.

Once you have found an opportunity that you think you are a match for, start thinking as if you actually work for the company. You are a product and you are selling yourself. Confidence is a very important tool that used wisely can land you a job.

Most decisions are made in less than 5 minutes. You have even less with a resume. Once you are on the other side of the hiring process you see that hardly anyone reads a whole resume. I bet you money that none of you has read my whole resume and even now putting in a link to it will only make you glance at it. Think of your resume as your foot in the door, and most importantly never lie.

In an interview believe that you are the one that is interviewing the company. Consider what you would want from them, besides getting a pay check? What makes this environment conducive to either your career or your happiness? When given the opportunity ask these questions of your interviewer.

As I already mentioned, the resume is very important and I don't feel I am the best resume writer out there. However, I do have a rule for them. You have to customize your resume for every position you apply. The resume should contain what that company is seeking highlighted. Make your bullet points talk to that directly. Take their job description and see if you fit every single one of their needs or at least have experience that is good for them. Also, write your resume using a good resume-writing book, or an online source of resume information.

If, for example, the company is looking for someone that has cash register experience, and you worked at a carnival taking money. You have the skill, you know how to count money and make change. Relevant does not mean you have had the same exact experience, but rather similar. Make sure you present yourself properly by letting the company know that you can do what they need you to do.

From the first moment you come in contact with the company either by e-mail or phone, make sure you sound very eager, but not desperate. You want to work for them, but not give your services away. Make sure that they think you want to work for them, just not work for free. Also that is the time to continue gathering information from them.

Before even submitting a resume or filling out an application find out who they are and what do they do. The more familiar you are with the company, the faster you are going to find things that in your past experience should be highlighted. If a company sells bird cages and you worked at a pet store for a summer you might already know dimensions, styles, sizes and what type of birds need what type of cages. You might have not even thought of putting that summer job there for a company called Acme Metal Works if you did not research it first.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but like with every product, the way you present it to your future buyers is the key. They have to want to buy the product, or in this case hire you. I am the most excited about a product when I go to the store, I locate it very easily and it comes in a well marketed box. A clear good looking picture of the product, a good feature list and with tons of information about what is inside. You should look the same way to a potential employer, he should be excited about the product that they are about to purchase.

Plan for your interview at least the day before, preferably a week in advance. What you are going to wear, how you are going to get to the place. If you are unsure about where the place is make a dry run to see how hard the place it is to find. It is really embarrassing (it happened to me once) to have to call someone to tell them you are lost. Arrive 15 minutes early. At the very least 5 minutes early. Take a notepad with you in a nice folder with some hard copies of your resume.

If possible have a friend quiz you before you go into the interview. Not just about the company or your experience but regular interview questions. You would be surprised how many places still ask about, 5 words to describe yourself or what does responsibility means to you?

How you dress makes a huge impression on your future employer. IBM used to be all about suits, white shirts and blue ties. Very agent from the matrix type. While you don't have to go to those lengths you should investigate what the dress policy for the company is. During the pre-interview process, maybe phone interview, it is perfectly ok to ask what the dress code is.

Make sure you show up. If you miss your interview, even if you are calling before you miss it, it looks very bad. It shows that you either don't know about time management at all, or that you have other responsibilities that supersede your job. We all understand not having a babysitter, but you should already have a plan B for those situations. Missing an interview makes the employer think about your reliability or lack, thereof. Same goes for having dependable transportation. If you invest time in planning , you'll be less likely to have to make any excuses.

You should always go one notch above from what the company's dress code is. So if they are casual, go business casual. If they are business all the time, wear a suit. Never wear jeans to an interview, not even if you are going to work for a fast food restaurant. Just wearing a pair of khakis will give you the upper hand. Shoes are also very important, they should be polished and have no scuffs anywhere. Also don't wear flashy colors, or put too much make up on. Clean shaven, hair combed, pressed clothes and no overpowering perfumes are simple rules. A mint before the interview is good, but don't go in there with a mint in your mouth or gum. Cell phone should always be off. Use the bathroom before you go into the interview, even if you don't have to go go and take the time to make sure you look your best.

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  • Please don’t tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about–I already know that, and telling me so will only hurt my feelings.

    First impressions are important, not only for the person giving the interview (the interviewer), but for the person taking it (the “interviewee” e.g. you). The guide lines in general are quite good, but all interviewers are the identical. Don’t respond the same to a Human Resources professional as to the manager of a group of technical specialists. Your first action in an interview should be to assess the type of interviewer your facing, and quickly come up with a set of guidelines on how to respond.

    What are the various types of “interviewers”, and what kind of response should be emphasized for each type? I don’t know–I read this article to find this out.

    Try not to let the interview degenerate into a mechanical “he asks me a question, and I give him an answer” format. Try to form a conversational relationship with the interviewer. On the other hand, don’t talk too much, don’t obviously try to impress him, and don’t provide him with personal information about yourself for which he does not ask. I recently stopped for a cup of coffee at McDonald’s while passing through Albuqueque, NM, and the restaurant manager was interviewing a perspective employee in the next booth. The prospect told her that when things got busy, he could break four eggs in one hand onto the grill, that his wife was going to the hospital in three weeks to have and baby, and that she would return three days later to have her tubes tied. I think he got the job, but you might not be so lucky.

  • Great article – I had a similar class when I was going for an associates degree – I was blessed enough to go to a great high school which prepped me for this kind of stuff – however there were many people in my class who REALLY needed the “Professional Development” class.