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The First Minute May Be the Most Important Part of Your Job Interview

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 10/14/2011

A recruiter forms an opinion of a job seeker before the question and answer session even begins. Is it possible to lose the position within the first minute of walking into the interview room? Yes! At the same time, you can take steps to make an excellent first impression at your job interview.

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    What Turns YOU Off?

    “Community help” by Everaldo Coelho/Wikimedia Commons via GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1 When you meet someone for the first time, what are some of the turn-offs? Granted, meeting a friend’s buddy over beer at the bar is quite different from a formal job interview, but the gut-level reaction to meeting the new person is surprisingly similar. Examples of immediate turn-offs include:

    • Cigarette smell (for a non smoker)
    • Bad breath
    • Dirty finger nails
    • A handshake that is too soft or too firm (bordering on painful); moist hands are another turn-off
    • Lack of eye contact or a piercing stare
    • Invasion of personal space

    These are just some examples of what may make you quite uncomfortable with a friend’s friend; while you may still take the time to get to know the person over time, an interviewer does not have to extend this same courtesy to you, as a job applicant. Avoiding the types of appearances or behaviors that bother you is a good first step for eliminating possible ways of making a bad first impression at a job interview yourself.

    In fact, there are four other easily identifiable mistakes to avoid.

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    1. Watch Your Mouth

    Do not come into the interview chewing gum. Do not wait in the reception area chewing on your nails, a pencil or your lip. Smile (don’t scowl) and modulate your voice to be appropriate for the setting. You do not want to be difficult to hear -- the interviewer may take this as an inability to assert yourself -- or too boisterous and loud. Unless you have already spoken to the interviewer by phone and have progressed to a first name basis, address the person by the appropriate title.

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    2. Watch Your Poise

    Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. highlights the importance of nonverbal communication during your job interview. In particular, he emphasizes "savoir-faire" or the ability to be in control of oneself. This means an appearance of relaxed but attentive confidence; nervous behaviors or tics destroy the presentation of poise. Avoid them at all costs. Another misstep to avoid is the false perma-grin; while you should smile and come across as friendly, it is not appropriate to keep a grin on your face the entire time.

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    3. Watch Your Phraseology

    Do you talk like a “valley girl” and insert “like” into every other sentence (whether it needs it or not)? Do you tend to overuse “you know” when you run out of things to say? Do you refer to tasks as “stuff like that” and say “yeah” instead of “yes?” In a conversation, these little idiosyncrasies can be annoying; in a professional setting, they may signal to the interviewer that you do not fit into a corporate environment that thrives on a high-brow mode of speaking or cultivates formality.

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    4. Watch Your Activity

    What are you doing while you are waiting for the interviewer? Are you reading a magazine, checking your Twitter feed or posting to your Facebook page? Leafing through an industry publication makes a good first impression at the architect’s office; being so engrossed in the “Twilight” saga that the receptionist has to call you twice -- not so much. Avoid the use of the iPhone or iPad to update your social networks; doing so signals to an interviewer that you are perhaps too active on these sites to actually get any work done during the day.

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    Make the First Minute Count

    Most anyone will tell you to just be yourself and act “natural” during an interview. So what do you do it you are naturally obnoxious, introverted or quiet? Since a personality transplant has not yet been invented, a check list of dos counteracts this enumeration of four don’ts.

    • Do your research on the company. Nervous tics and gestures become less likely if you know your stuff, have a lot of company background committed to memory and feel confident that you and the company are a good fit.
    • Participate in interview prep. Friends or family members -- or placement workers in the local college’s job search office -- make good guinea pigs when it comes to honing your interviewing prowess. They can help you identify weak spots, such as phraseology, and also gauge process when you are trying actively to not fall into these habits.
    • Gauge your presence. It sounds silly, but mounting a video camera and filming yourself entering a room can do a world of good. Take a good look at your posture and clothes. Do you look ill at ease in your suit and tie? Does the dress cling in the wrong places?
    • Observe and imitate. Whenever possible, research the corporate culture of the company where you will interview. Try to fall in line with the atmosphere. Interviewing for Google is a lot different than interviewing for an old estate law firm in the chic part of town. Know the impression the company is trying to create with clients and customers, and fit the bill.
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    There is no guarantee that even the most careful attention to body language and business attire will make a good first impression with each and every interviewer. Most any hiring manager, over an after-dinner drink, will readily admit that interviews and hiring decisions between equally capable candidates are frequently subjectively based on impressions and vibes. Making that first minute count -- before you even get down to the interview questions and carefully prepared answers -- may tilt the scales in your favor.

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