The economy is humming along and the stock market has set a string of record highs. That's helping to fuel a strong job market, meaning college graduates should have ample choices as they begin their careers. Part of the process, of course, is enduring job interviews. We've all been through them. You would think most people believe that making a good first impression is critical when it comes to interviewing for employment. However, as I've discovered over the years I've been conducting interviews, that isn't always the case. Time-honored advice like being adequately prepared and well groomed often goes unheeded.
I remember the stress I felt the first few times I was interviewed. My heart seemed to beat faster and faster. I did everything I could to make sure the interviewer came away with a positive feeling about me. Having a firm handshake, a ready smile and not talking too much were some of the things I kept in mind. The interview process is tricky and full of potential pitfalls. Some very talented people make stupid mistakes.
First impressions are indeed key. A candidate needs to make a positive mark if he or she wants to be invited back. During my career, as I've talked to job candidates, I've had plenty of negative experiences. I'd like to share a few.
I had heard glowing reports about one candidate. According to my sources, this fellow had a terrific track record in sales and had all the attributes of a top-notch manager. But when I met the man, my first impression was of a person who was a little too casual. He said the right things but lacked passion in his voice. Furthermore, the tie he wore wasn't adjusted to the top button of his shirt. I also noticed the top button was open. The guy seemed to be dressed for his own comfort and apparently didn't care how others viewed him. Lack of discipline was the impression he gave me.
Then there was another candidate whose reputation preceded her. Everyone I talked to said she was a superior sales performer and that she was well liked and respected. She talked a good game and wasn't shy about touting her accomplishments. One thing bothered me, however. All through the interview she kept chewing gum. In my book, you just don't do that. It's simply poor manners. Envision a salesperson making a call on a client and smacking gum the whole time. It isn't a pretty picture.
In another case I was told by a "headhunter" that a candidate was "an answer to my dreams." Throughout our brief interview, however, the candidate looked everywhere but in my eyes. The fellow didn't seem to understand the importance of eye contact, which to me meant he was lacking fundamental skills for the sales profession.
My point is that selling others on our capabilities is the most important sale any of us will ever make. A little faux pas is often enough to blind the interviewer to a candidate's exceptional skills. At the same time, maybe some of us who consider ourselves real pros also have forgotten a few of the basics of our profession. The "little things" can make the difference between winning and losing, no matter what the situation.
Look and act like a professional,
Charles S. Lauer