Never Let Ďem See You Sweat: Preparing for the Interview
by Laura Gassner Otting, Consultant, ExecSearches.com
Youíve heard the old expression: You never get a second chance to make
a first impression. But what you havenít heard is that most
interviewers will size you up within the first ten minutes of an interview.
If you donít impress him or her immediately, you risk spending the balance
of your interview with a person who is smiling politely but mentally
reviewing their grocery list.
Beat the draw of ďmilk, cereal, eggs, breadÖĒ by being meticulously prepared
for each phase of the interview. Wow them at the handshake and keep them
engaged until ďthis way to your new office.Ē
Phase One: Clean Up Your Act
An interview is a perfect chance to show off someone who looks better than
you do on a typical Monday morning. Besides, the red-eyed, disheveled look
went out with the last millennium anyway.
a clean suit with a pressed blouse or shirt. Donít bring stale smoke or
(does it even need to be said?) alcohol breath into an interview.
extra copies of your resume, business cards, a pad and pens. You never know
when the one-on-one interview will turn into an unannounced group hug or an
wear excessive jewelry, make-up or cologne; this isnít a date.
there early, or have the courtesy to call if you will be running late. At
best, an interviewer can move some other appointments to accommodate you. At
worst, she or he will seethe through whatever time is left in the scheduled
firm, and please, dry handshake is always accepted.
all, be friendly to the secretary when making an appointment. Candidates who
abuse my secretary never get a second interview, no matter how qualified
they are for a position. If I canít trust you to be nice to my staff, can I
really trust you to be nice to your own?
Phase Two: Above All Know Thyself, the Organization
and their Needs
If you donít already know this, slowly step away from the interviewerís
office and put your hands where I can see them. You arenít ready.
Think through how you wish to portray each job you have held, both the
positives and the negatives. Rehearse your transitions between jobs. You
will be asked about all of this, and while you shouldnít grumble about a
previous employer, fudging through an obviously tough situation will make
you look dishonest.
Research the organization and its senior management, where they have been
and where they wish to go. Before an interview, ask to see annual reports,
strategic plans, or other material that will shed more light on the
organization. Having a thorough understanding of the organization will help
you better assess, and therefore better communicate, how they will benefit
by bringing you on staff.
Phase Three: Tag, Youíre It!
At some point in the interview, usually about three quarters of the way
through, you will be asked if you have any questions. If you say no, you
will have lost a unique opportunity to learn about the organization, not to
mention have yourself labeled as having no intellectual curiosity or
enthusiasm about the position or the organization.
Bring along good questions, albeit not too many. You will be judged
both on your intellectual savvy, as well as your etiquette. Focus your
questions on the future of the organization rather than the organizational
chart or the salary range. Asking nit-picky questions will only make the
interviewer think you are a small thinker; there will be time for the
details laterÖ when you are reviewing an offer.
Be Prepared! A Pre-Interview Checklist:
interview cheat sheet with achievements and explanations organized by job
appointment book to schedule a follow-up interview on the spot.
working watch to ensure early arrival.
folder with five extra resumes, business cards and a note pad.
or a handkerchief.
portfolio of your creative work or strategic plans.
list of references with current contact information and a brief explanation
of their relationship to you.
sense of humor about yourself.
but not least, turn off your cell phone or beeper.
Your First Days
Working at a New Job:
20 Tips to Help You Make a Great Impression
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. and Katharine Hansen
The impact of first impressions. In categorizing people, we all take
shortcuts, and first impressions about people often turn into long-term
perceptions and reputations -- which are good for people who make positive
first impressions (the halo effect), but bad for people who make negative
"I think the early days are when your boss and colleagues form the most
lasting impressions about you," observes Ann Marie Russell, a program
coordinator with AmeriCorps. "This is when they make assessments about your
'typical' behavior -- the 'type' of person you are. If you have any
attendance/punctuality issues in the first few days or weeks, you've already
lost a significant battle -- their confidence in you. People will take you
as seriously as you seem to take yourself -- and your work," says Russell, a
2001 psychology grad from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
And in the workplace, during those first few early days where you are
meeting everyone -- and everyone is meeting you -- first impressions
about you and your future potential can make a major impact on your future
success with the organization.
"You have to realize that first impressions are remembered," says a 2001
general-business major, "and even if you talk to someone who isn't related
to your job . . . they may know someone who is. Watch what you say and do.
Things can come back to haunt you."
Not to worry, though; in most situations, employers donít expect you to
knock their socks off or hit homeruns during those first few weeks. Most
employers realize that there is a learning curve for most positions. So,
there is often an unofficial grace period while you settle into your job.
How can you improve your chances for making a great first impression when
youíre starting a new job? Here are 20 tips -- along with some
comments and suggestions from job-seekers who have been there -- to help you
make a great impression.
Have a Positive Attitude
Nothing works better -- in all situations -- than having and expressing a
positive attitude. Let your enthusiasm for being part of the team and the
organization show to everyone you interact with. And always leave non-work
problems at home.
Dress Professionally/Blend in With Co-Workers
You should never underestimate the importance of dressing professionally in
your new job. And in the beginning, even if your department has casual days,
you should dress professionally because you never know when youíll be called
out to meet a top manager or key client. "Dress how you want people to
perceive you because it plays a huge role in how you are initially treated,"
advises Desiree Devaney, a financial analyst with GE Capital Credit.
"Perfectly groomed means efficient and reliable in work; unkempt means
disorganized and therefore difficult to trust with different assignments.
After awhile, people realize these things do not necessarily correspond, but
initially, your looks and dress are your representation to them." (See lots
more comments from rookie workers about dressing for success in our
collection of entry-level quotes, How to Make the Best Impression in Your
First Days on the Job.)
Show Your Team Spirit
You are now part of a work team, and teams work together to solve problems
and get the job done. Show loyalty to your co-workers and focus more --
initially at least -- on sharing any recognition you get with the team.
Always give credit to the team.
Learn Co-Workersí Names Quickly
No one expects you to have everyoneís name down pat by the end of the first
day or week, but if you are bad with names, now is the time to research some
of the neat memory-aid tricks you can try to use. Certainly, as soon as
possible, learn the names of every member of your team. And if you are in a
situation in which you forget a personís name, the best solution is simply
to apologize and ask the personís name again.
Ask Questions/Ask for Help
No one expects you to solve all the organizationís problems on your first
days on the job -- nor that you know everything -- so, relax a bit, and
always ask questions or ask for help when you need it. Remember that itís
better to ask before youíve completed the task the wrong way and wasted all
that time. "Be open-minded," suggests a 2000 English language and literature
grad. "I think when you are just starting out, it is easy to feel somewhat
competitive; you may feel that you have something to prove. In effect, that
kind of thinking will probably land you in the unemployment line again. Be
co-operative, LISTEN, ask questions -- no one expects you to know everything
-- and communicate openly with colleagues and supervisors."
Take Notes/Go to Orientation
Unless you have a photographic memory -- and few of us do -- consider taking
notes on all the various systems and rules of the organization. And no
matter how boring they may sound, attend all orientation sessions. Nothing
gets old faster than someone repeatedly asking how something works; such
behavior shows a lack of attention to detail.
Be a Self-Starter; Take Initiative
In most situations, in your first days on the job, you will be given small
doses of work -- to let you get your feet wet. As you finish assignments and
are ready to handle a bigger workload, take the initiative and ask for more
assignments. Whatever you do, donít just sit there waiting for your next
project. Agrees Ali von Staudach, senior account executive for CNET
Networks, "Be proactive. Don't wait for an assignment. Stick up your hand
and ask for something to do," advises von Staudach, a 1999 communication
"Volunteer for things even though you don't know how to do it or what needs
to be done to accomplish it," suggests Stephen Magennis, whose first job out
of college was as a benefits analyst for Hewitt Associates, Orlando, FL.
"There will be people [who need] help, and they will appreciate your efforts
to start making an immediate impact. Many times, there may be some tasks
that you can accomplish with a little guidance, which will probably free up
time for someone who needs to work on more important items," Magennis
Discover Everything About Your New Employer
In theory, you should have already done your homework during the
interviewing process, but there is always more to learn now that you are on
the inside. "Get an employee handbook" exhorts a 2002 MBA grad with an
information-technology concentration. "Don't act or think you know more
about everything than your peers." In addition, gather all those reports and
company literature and read up and become an expert on your organization.
Work Full Days
"Be on time, come in early, stay a little later," suggests von Staudach.
"Even though I have a 9 to 5 job, it has been expressed to my co-workers and
me that our director expects us to be in at 8:30 and stay past 5 p.m.
because it looks like we are go-getters and into our jobs." Thereís nothing
that can affect your reputation faster than routinely coming into work late
or leaving work early. Especially in these first days/weeks on the job, be
sure you get to work early and leave no earlier than when the majority of
your co-workers leave. A 2001 engineering grad adds, "Be dedicated and
flexible. Once you have established yourself, you can leave early, go out
for lunch, shift your hours, or take work home with you. But in the
beginning, be totally dedicated to being there all the time and picking up
as much as you can possibly handle."
Establish a Good Attendance Record
Just as with working full days, itís important to show up to work every day
and establish a good attendance record. Yes, there will be emergencies, and
yes, you may get sick, but as best you can, try to make it to work every day
during those first weeks/months on the job.
Avoid Office Politics and Gossip
As with any social organization, the workplace is full of rumors and gossip.
Your mission is to keep your nose clean of all of it - and be sure not to
associate too often with the office gossips or risk having your image
associated with them. "DO NOT get involved in any trash talking around the
office," says a 2002 English education grad. "Don't -- repeat -- don't
Magennis agrees: "Stay out of the office politics for as long as possible,"
he says. "It's inevitable that you will be exposed to them sooner or later,
and you will most likely participate in them as well as it's human nature.
But stay out of the game for the first few months."
Keep Personal Business on Company Time to a Minimum
Studies show that just about everyone conducts some amount of personal
business on company time -- checking email, making dinner reservations,
buying stuff online. Your goal is to keep your personal business to a
minimum and stay focused on work.
Take Advantage of After-Hours Activities
Many organizations have formal or informal after-hour activities, such as
sports leagues. Get involved -- even if only as a cheerleader -- because
these types of activities are great ways to bond with your co-workers. Do be
on your best behavior during these outside-work activities, though. "If
attending happy hours with co-workers, never drink more than one drink,"
suggests Anne Johnson, senior corporate relations coordinator for the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce. Johnson, a 2002 economics grad from the University of
Dallas, goes on to recall, "A co-worker that started about four months after
me came to a happy hour with us and had too much to drink. Now, no one will
invite her again. You don't want to make a stupid mistake like that."
Listen More than Talk
"Listen, Listen, Listen . . . don't act like a know-it-all right off the
bat," cautions one entry-level worker. "The idea is to communicate that you
have some very marketable skills and you are here to learn and apply your
skills to help the organization achieve success." One of the hardest skills
to learn for some of us -- especially extraverts -- is that, when we are new
to the organization, itís better to listen then talk. You donít want to get
the reputation as the office know-it-all -- or worse, someone who always has
to have the limelight. If you have a legitimate contribution, make it, but
if not, do more listening and absorbing those first days on the job.
As we say repeatedly throughout Quintessential Careers, itís up to you to
track your accomplishments; no one else will do it for you. Tracking your
accomplishments is great for any number of reasons -- for your personal
satisfaction, for raise and promotion meetings, and for future job-hunting.
To ensure that you stay on top of tracking your accomplishments, read our
article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments
and use our Accomplishments Worksheet.
Nothing works like kindness and genuine appreciation. So, show your
appreciation to everyone who helps you learn the ropes during your first
days on the job -- from your co-workers to receptionists to the human
Find a Mentor
You donít need to jump on this task your first day, but as you get
introduced to senior staff, begin thinking about developing a mentoring
relationship with a member of management above you -- and outside your
department -- in the organization. Mentoring has numerous benefits, from a
simple sounding board to someone who helps direct and advance your career
within the organization.
Get and Stay Organized/Set Goals
If youíre one of those super-organized people, this tip will be easy for
you. The rest of us, however, need to develop a system for keeping track of
meetings, appointments, assignments, and projects. Get an organizer or
planner and keep on top of all your work. You certainly donít want to miss
an early key deadline or meeting. And as you look ahead, set goals for
yourself -- and then strive to achieve them. "I set goals for myself," notes
a 2001 education grad. "I wanted to appear professional in my dress,
posture, and speech. I wrote that goal on index cards and put them
Keep Your Boss Informed -- of Everything
Your boss is not a mind-reader, so keep him/her informed of how you are
doing. Especially in those early days, meet with your boss to further
establish a rapport and relationship. "Request meetings with your boss on a
consistent basis to review performance. Express interest in moving ahead and
ask what else you can be doing to get to that next step," advises von
Staudach. Be sure she/he knows you are a self-starter and hard-worker. Just
donít bring the boss every little problem; instead, for minor issues, ask
for help from co-workers.
Meet and Network with Key People in Organization &
"Network," advises von Staudach. "Join an organization outside of work. Take
additional classes to stay ahead in your field. Take advantage of every
opportunity to network with key people in your organization and profession
-- attend staff meetings, professional organization conferences, trade shows
-- every opportunity to meet colleagues in your field. Just because you have
a new job does not mean you suspend your network; constantly manage and grow
your network of contacts because you never know when a problem or
opportunity will arise. And networking with key people can also help you in
finding one or more mentors.
Similarly, a 2002 psychology grad cautions against getting too comfortable:
"Keep setting goals, networking, and keeping your ears open. Most college
grads will switch positions or companies many times before the age of 30."
Being the newest member of the organization -- the rookie -- is both
challenging and exciting. Youíll be faced with both difficulties and
opportunities, and your goal should be to make the most of all situations.
These 20 tips should help provide you with some insights and direction as
you approach that new job, but donít worry if you donít make a perfect first
impression in those early days on the job -- few of us ever do. Remember to
relax, keep your mind open, get to know your team members, and do your work
-- and you should go far in making a lasting impression and reputation.