Old clichés ring true in interviews

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

It may seem hackneyed, but this axiom continues to stand the test of time, particularly when it comes to interviewing for a job, or interviewing for college admission.

And when you consider the Labor Department statistic from as recently as 2010 that showed there were at least five people for every job, it’s worth considering how one can separate him/herself from the pack through the time-honored tradition of interviewing.

Whether it’s trying to land a job or a seat in the school of your dreams, there are some critical steps you must observe to maximize your effectiveness.

Once the opportunity to interview has been extended, it is vital that candidates spend the appropriate amount of time preparing for the interview. A logical and very appropriate inclination is to spend some time online taking notes on the company or school that has extended the invitation. But don’t stop there.

Learn everything you can about the business or school that will be interviewing you and the responsibilities that come with it. Among the most important items you should be able to speak to include the entity’s mission statement, history, vision, key leaders, important niches, its goals for the future — and your ability to advance those goals.

If you know the name of the individual performing the interview, spend some time learning about him/her. And if you can find someone who has a link to the business/school, however broad a connection, spend some time with that person learning about the importance nuances of the place. In this information age there is no excuse for not doing your homework.

Keep in mind, though, that the right information is effectively useless unless it can be integrated into the conversation in a compelling and timely way. And the best way to ensure this is to practice.

“Saying your answers out loud over and over — or even writing them down, which might ingrain them more deeply in your brain — will significantly improve how well you perform when you’re sitting in that interview chair,” says business writer Allison Green of the US News & World Report.

So now that we’ve spent some time focused on proper research and practice, let’s address the various elements that comprise the art of salesmanship, beginning with how to dress.

Forbes magazine writer Laura Sinberg cites a study by Frank Bernieri, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, which states that “within the first 10 seconds of meeting your interviewer has decided whether or not you’re right for the job. Those who come across as polished and pulled together are quite simply more likely to be hired than those who are seen as putting in less effort.”

Though it may seem superficial, perception is, as they say, reality. And if you come off as either unkempt or unconcerned about your appearance, you start the conversation behind the proverbial eight ball. The best approach is a conservative one.

“Dressing conservatively means you care on a couple of different dimensions,” notes Bernieri. “One, you’re making an effort; two, you’re making an effort not to offend; three you’re polite and respectful.”

Interviews take place in all sorts of locations, but if you’re fortunate enough to have your interview conducted in the office of the person interviewing you, try to become a quick study of how the room is decorated.

This will likely give you some insight to the person’s passions, which can create the potential for developing rapport based upon things you might have in common. Even if it doesn’t, it gives you possible opening for conversation while you’re getting acquainted.

And yet, when all the research, practice, primping, and idle conversation is over, your ability to convey enthusiasm and likeability will perhaps be the biggest determinants in your success.

Not everyone is wired to be the “life of the party” type, but being cognizant of your interpersonal skills and the ability to adequately communicate passion for the opportunity is critical. Enthusiasm can compensate for a multitude of sins.

Non-verbal basics such as a warm smile, strong eye contact, good posture, and a firm handshake should be automatics. Additionally, don’t hesitate to verbally communicate your excitement for an opportunity, as possible. In your own authentic voice, at the right moment(s), let the interviewer know just how pleased or excited you are to be visiting about the position and what it would mean to you to be a part of their organization.

Perhaps the trickiest part of any interview is understanding how to go about communicating one’s strengths, but with humility.

“You can get across your enthusiasm in many ways,” says Susan Adams of Forbes magazine. One way, she says, is to “prepare an arsenal of stories illustrating your skills, strengths and accomplishments.

“Rather than bragging in a general way about your abilities, describe specific experiences that show you putting those skills to use. You can speak animatedly about the pleasure and pride you took in overcoming obstacles. One advantage of storytelling over plain boasting, the interviewer draws the conclusion.”

There are numerous other important tips and points of etiquette to observe, but at the end of it all, it’s critical to remember to not walk out of the room without telling your interviewer how much you want the opportunity for which the institution is considering you.

Remember, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take.

Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at underwood@slhs.com.


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