Gabriel, a job candidate's make-or-break moment comes in the company
lobby, before anyone sits in an interview chair. If the candidate's
handshake is weak or eye contact is poor, "I can tell right away it's
not going to be a good interview."
Snap judgment? Hardly. Gabriel interviews 20 to 25 people a month
in her role as corporate recruiter for ImageRight, a Conyers, GA-based
document management system for the insurance industry and the trademark
of Advanced Solutions Inc. Before ImageRight, she worked for six
years as an executive search consultant -- meaning Gabriel has earned
her interviewing chops.
Indeed, not projecting a professional image is one of the top five
mistakes job candidates routinely make, according to recruiters
and interview experts. The other big no-nos that drive interviewers
wild include candidates who:
Can't talk about themselves
Haven't researched the company
Don't know what they want to do
That's the bad news. But here's the good: You can avoid these traps
and wow your way into a new job if you take the time to prepare
and polish. Following, advice the experts wish everyone would take.
Challenge: A weak professional demeanor
When you go to an interview, you never know who's watching you,
when they're watching, or where.
"The way you comport yourself, starting from the time you step
out of that cab or car, is really important," says Sharon Keys Seal,
an executive coach and founder of the Baltimore-based Coaching Concepts
So get to your interview on time. Dress appropriately. Turn the
cell phone off. And when the recruiter or hiring manager comes to
greet you, look them in the eye and offer a firm handshake.
Challenge: Not listening during the interview.
Hiring managers often ask questions with multiple layers, says
Katherine Burik, president of The Interview Doctor (www.interviewdoc.com)
in Canton, OH. They ask two-part questions. And while they're interested
in your answers, they also want to see if you're really listening.
Will you answer all parts of the question directly and succinctly,
or are you going to blather on and on?
If it's the latter, "you kind of figure out that's the way they
live," she says.
Besides, adds Seal, listening lets you discover what the company
is really looking for and what its key issues are.
"There are so many clues," she says. "When you're really listening,
you can pick up clues from the interviewer about what they seem
to be interested in, what they're emphasizing, what the hot buttons
are for the company."
So listen carefully. Be sure you answer the question that is asked.
Don't repeat yourself. And if a question flusters you, repeat it
to be sure you're hearing it correctly, Seal says.
Challenge: Not being prepared to talk about yourself.
People think they can wing a conversation about themselves, Burik
says. They can't. And if you're not prepared to answer a soft opener
like "tell me about yourself," you've missed a valuable opportunity
to get to the guts of what you'd bring to a position.
To compensate, Burik says, prepare. Write down five words that
describe yourself. Write down your strengths and weaknesses. Collect
five to six anecdotes that illustrate your accomplishments. And
write down your answer to that "tell me about yourself" question,
including some facts about you, your strengths and the experiences
you've had that will translate to this new job.
Then practice, practice, practice your answers. You might think
it's overkill, but what it's really doing is giving you confidence
"When my clients go into an interview, they're so calm," Burik
says. "They're not winging the whole thing."
Challenge: Forgetting to research the company.
When Gabriel corresponds with job candidates, her signature includes
ImageRight's website. When candidates come in for an interview,
one manager always asks what they know about the company. It's immediately
obvious who has taken time to visit that site.
"They'll just spill it out, and it's great," Gabriel says. "Others
will come in and not even know we're a software company. You really
do want that person to have done the research and know what you're
Challenge: Not knowing what you want to do.
Hiring managers don't want to hear that you can do anything, Burik
says. Because "no, you can't."
Instead, they want to know your passion. What position do you want
with their company? Why?
"I want a candidate to be prepared to say, 'I want to do this,'"
she says. "A hiring manager can't work with someone who doesn't
know what they want."
So prepare. Prepare your look. Your listening skills. Your responses
to frequently asked questions. Your company research. And your vision
for the work you want to do. It will pay off in spades.
"Being relaxed and confident," Burik says, "comes from preparation."
Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC.
She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today,
USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and
The Palm Beach Post.