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Strategizing First Impressions for First Round Interviews

Have you ever had a friend who constantly talked about another friend and said if you ever met him/her the two of you would get along really well? Then, finally when you get the chance to meet this mystery friend, you realize within minutes of meeting them that you’d never actually want to be friends with this person? If so, you’re not the only person who believes 1st impressions are important; hiring managers treat the interview process the same way.

In fact, a study done by CareerBuilder showed that approximately 48% of hiring managers knew within the first five minutes of an interview whether a candidate would be a good fit, while 87% knew within the first 15 minutes. What could you possibly do in your first fifteen minutes to completely scathe the perfect candidate picture you created on paper? Here are some blunders that interviewers pick up on immediately that can cause some major red flags.

  1. Arriving late or far too early. As a jobseeker, two of the most important things you are responsible for are to find your location and arrive on time. So, setting an alarm clock—two if you must—or taking a timed test run to the job site are two steps you could take beforehand to avoid these issues. If you do arrive late, it’s important to be honest and address your mistake directly without making an excuse. This will demonstrate that although you made an egregious error, you are still a poised candidate that is willing to acknowledge your mistakes, so you can constructively deal with the consequences.  Similarly, arriving too early (20 minutes or more) to your interview can show a lack of respect for your interviewer’s time as they may feel rushed to finish any current tasks to make up for your early arrival.
  2. Dressing inappropriately. Your appearance can set the stage for how well the rest of the interview goes. If you can’t look the part, the employer may think that you don’t care enough about the role. Remember, before an interviewer shakes your hand, they have a 20 second window to assess your look. A messy appearance, strong perfume/cologne, or improper attire are just three possible things that could distract your interviewer from your responses, which in turn could hurt your chances of landing the job.
  3. Speaking negatively about past employers. Many interviewers may ask, “Why you are unhappy at your current employer or why you did you leave your last job?” in order to measure your working relationships and your ability to critique those relationships. If you had a positive experience at ABC Company and you are simply looking for a new opportunity, this should be simple to convey to your interviewer. However, if your last employer was less than pleasant, a rule of thumb is to never talk negatively about them. Nothing can come off as more unprofessional to an interviewer than a candidate speaking ill of the last place they worked. If you can do it now, what will prevent you from doing the same thing in the future? Instead of going down this route, try your best to turn your negative experience into a positive one. For example, focus not on the manager or company, but on the technical/professional skills you were able to master. You should stress that you utilized all resources from your current employer to learn everything you could and are now looking for the opportunity to grow with another company.    
  4. Appearing arrogant, not confident. We all know it’s important to showcase your personality and professional traits strongly throughout the interview process; but what happens when your strongest personality traits cloud your professional accomplishments? You can only say “I” so many times in an interview before you start to depict yourself as an anti-team player. Confidence is usually an asset companies look for in their employees, but arrogance is detrimental to any team environment, especially in the workplace. Therefore, our suggestion is to try to find the balance between highlighting your individual strengths confidently and giving examples of collaborating with others. For example, describe a project where you learned how to use a new system or program specifically with intent to improve team productivity. This will show your willingness to learn new skills in order to contribute to the “big picture” to help the team’s efforts.    
  5. Stretching the truth or lying. Whether you are applying for a job that you possess all of the qualifications for, or are hoping to transition into a new role or industry, the application process can be nerve-wracking. However, don’t let your nerves get the best of you, and most importantly, never lie about your qualifications or experience.  To avoid this, do your research on the responsibilities of the job, then explain how your skills (i.e., project management, time management, interpersonal communication, etc.) are transferable to the new role and stress your willingness to learn the skills you don’t have. Regardless of how small or large your lie is, the employer will always find out the truth in the end. Getting caught in a lie can not only cost you the job, but your professional reputation and credibility.

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