Interview Series: The First 60 Seconds

Someone once told me hiring managers spend the first minute of the interview making their hiring decision, and the next twenty-nine minutes of the interview justifying their decision. Interviewers go through all kinds of training, but their gut feeling is hard to ignore, and that first impression sets the tone for your entire interview.

Here is a collection of tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way as both interviewee and interviewer to win the first few and most important seconds of a job interview.

Dress and Grooming

Appropriate dress for men is a two-button navy suit, pressed white shirt with collar stays and the top button buttoned, conservative tie tied in a half-Windsor knot, high navy socks, and a matching shoes-belt-watch combo. Men should be clean-shaven, or with neatly groomed facial hair (no growing beards/stashes and no Hollywood scruff). Comb your hair neatly – no faux-hawks or fresh-out-of-bed looks. Try to look like this:

This guy's getting the job every time.
This guy’s getting the job every time.

For women, it’s a navy or charcoal suit, white or light-colored blouse, close-toed shoes with low heals, and hosiery. Women who normally wear makeup should keep it light for the interview. Try to look like this.

Hired!
Hired! CEO of Pepsi Indra Nooyi.

For both: No exposed tattoos or unprofessional piercings. Easy on the jewelry. Neutral scent, which means no perfume or cologne.

If you don’t already have an interview suit, don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune. Just remember that the fit is most important, so that’s where you should spend your money. Save at least $50 of your budget for tailoring. K&G and Savers are great options for very inexpensive suits for guys. Indochino.com is a good option for an affordable custom-looking suit for men.

Attitude

I get excited about candidates who project an image of confidence, optimism, and the enthusiasm. You can project this attitude if you are prepared. Fail to prepare and you will be a sweaty nervous mess.

Practice practice practice your answers. Be prepared with great, “Tell me about a time…” stories for the following big four interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Describe your style.
  • Tell me about a significant accomplishment.

Practice your answers out loud at least ten times each question.

Research the company by doing much more than just reading through their website. Memorize the mission statement. Go to seekingalpha.com and read their most recent 10k or listen to the latest earnings conference call. Go to glassdoor.com and read what employees had to say about working at the company. Read customer reviews. The more you know the more confident you will look and feel.

Handshake

Ah, the art of the unisex corporate American handshake. Big smile. Good eye contact. Step in with your right foot and lean forward. Hand exactly perpendicular to the ground. Bury the webbing between your thumb and pointer finger directly into the webbing between their thumb and pointer finger. Be firm, regardless of gender, but don’t be obnoxiously firm. One good pump then drop the hand.

What to Bring

Always bring a résumé to both internal (promotions) and external interviews. If you don’t have a résumé, make one now, and from now on update it every three months even if you’re not looking for a job or being considered for a promotion at the moment. Bring ten copies. Fancy interview paper is a nice touch, but it’s not a requirement, not like everyone says.

Bring two pens, tucked away in your interior jacket pocket, and something to write on. You can bring some notes if you want, and it’s a good idea to write the questions you’re going to ask at the end of the interview on your pad ahead of time. You can also bring a couple of supporting documents backing up the claims to fame on your résumé like scorecards or praise letters.

Timing

Arrive exactly fifteen minutes early. If you’re late and you’re interviewing with me, you’ll be starting with two and a half strikes. If you show up a half an hour or more early, you’ll be interrupting the interviewer’s work schedule, and that’s not good either.

Greeting and Small Talk

Preparation is the key here also. Step one: Read the local paper, and the Wall Street Journal websites the morning of the interview. USA Today is a good substitute for the WSJ, with much more free access.

Step two: LinkedIn-stalk and Google the interviewer(s). Where did they go to school? How did they get to where they are? What are their interests? Find some common ground.

Step three: Combine your new-found expertise in current affairs with your interlocutor’s interests, and say, “Hello. Nice to meet you. How are you today? I noticed you are a Sox fan. What do you think, going all the way this year?” or, “I noticed you went to Tulane. I had the best vacation in New Orleans once. Did you love it there?” or “How about this government shutdown down?” Whatever. The point is to show them you are a nice normal person like they are who can actually carry a conversation and won’t embarrass them in front of their boss if they hire you.

Once the small talk subsides, you’ll get your first real question, and you’ll be in it. The next twenty-nine minutes are up to you.

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