Making a Great Second Impression
Blogpost by Jienan Chen
February 17, 2023
Your resume made it through the Applicant Tracking System or passed muster with an HR person. Now is the time to impress an interviewer in real life! OSP's Mack has some great tips to stand out in your interview!
There you are. That amazing moment when your resume lands, and you finally get that call for an interview. Maybe you are elated at first, and then later the nerves begin to set in. You know your resume made a first good impression, but how to keep a good thing going? First of all, don’t panic. This is exactly where OSP’s Career Advisor, Mack comes in handy. He knows a few things about how to nail that interview, and so I set out to ask him a few questions about how to make a great SECOND impression.
Jienan Chen: So, the last time I talked to you, you underlined the fact that resume preparation is, in fact, preparation for that eventual job interview.
Mack Cruikshank: Yes, I did.
JC: And you also said that a resume is like a script for a job interview. I’d like to start there if I may. How is it like a script? I know that you probably told me before, but I’d like to know now, and further in detail.
MC: Ok. Well, when you crafted your resume and cover letter, you probably closely examined the job posting and researched the company. You figured out how your skills and experiences suited the job and the organization, and you learned about what you would be getting yourself into if you worked at that place. (And if you haven’t done this, yet somehow managed to land the interview, it is not too late to do it now! You will need this background information to pull off the interview) And then you put all of that into a document that successfully convinced them that you could be a fit for them. You have set the expectations for your capabilities with your resume, and now it is time to think about how you cement that impression by using your success as a jumping off point. You stated your skills and credentials in your resume, and this is your opportunity to back those up and further demonstrate how they would fit into the organization.
JC: I did read that to prepare for a job interview, one should re-read the job description. I suppose then that if one has thoroughly understood the role that they’re applying for during the resume-preparation stage, then they wouldn’t necessarily have to do this. There’s also this notion of finding what questions might be asked and preparing answers for them. What’s that all about?
MC: Always re-read the job description. That is the roadmap that they have provided for what they are looking for. It gives you an idea of how to determine likely questions and prepare answers. If there’s industry knowledge they will require, make sure you are prepared to answer those knowledgeably. Conduct an internet search for commonly-asked interview questions, and prepare for those as well. I have a secret for you: sometimes people who are hiring also google the questions that they eventually ask in an interview.
The key takeaway is: prepare, prepare, prepare. Knowing what to say relieves stress. Flapping about like a fish searching for answers to questions on the spot can make a stressful situation worse. This is because during an interview, your recall capacity can be greatly reduced with stress. Then what happens is you start saying whatever comes to mind. And when you answer from recall, you usually talk about some big event. For example, a common interview question is, “Tell me of a time when you had a conflict with a co-worker.”
JC: Oh, yes. I’ve heard that question before.
MC: Let’s consider two hypothetical candidates. Candidate A’s answer to the question is, “oh, yeah. I had a severe disagreement with this guy over workload. We shouted a lot. Then the supervisor came and solved the problem.” Meanwhile, Candidate B answers, “I had a dispute with a co-worker which we resolved together. And out of that experience, I learned that I wasn’t completely wrong and that they weren’t completely right. We worked together to reach compromise.” You see the difference? Candidate A’s answer makes them seem extreme and difficult, whereas Candidate B’s answer does not. They seem cooperative and proactive. The story also has a positive element—the fact that they learned something out of it. Likely Candidate A did not prepare for the question and blurted out whatever was top of mind. On the other hand, Candidate B prepared for the question by taking something that happened but making sure to present it in the best way.
JC: So, when you know what to say, you feel more confident and make a better impression on the interviewer.
MC: There’s another component too, to being prepared. This involves preparing your emotions, so that some questions don’t seem threatening. Most people enter an interview feeling fear. So, when you’re asked a difficult question, that triggers emotions which can cause you to answer defensively. But if you’ve prepared yourself, then your reaction won’t be so extreme.
JC: Right. As part of the preparation, I think that one must prepare to be punctual for their interview.
MC: Yes. Be prompt, and give yourself time to settle a bit and mentally prepare. If you feel rushed when you get there, it will be hard to be in a calm mental state to field questions. But the general rule is to show up no more than 15 minutes early. You don’t want to show up to a job interview too early because you could be imagining that everyone you meet in the building will be your future co-worker. And as you engage with them, that could build this feeling. Mixed with the stress of needing to find a job to pay your bills, you’re going to feel more stressed and anxious.
JC: I’ve heard advice on how one should be nice to everyone they meet when they show up to an interview because any of them could then report their opinions on one to whoever makes hiring decisions.
MC: I mean, obviously you should be civil and polite, but that feels like a general life rule for interacting with everyone. Of course first impressions absolutely do count for interviews! But I think that most organizations trust their HR people more in having a hand with hiring because they are more skilled in evaluating applicants. For instance, they know more about designing the right kind of question to ask to get to know about this or that about you compared to a security guard.
JC: When people prepare for an interview, a lot of fuss is also made over clothing. What do you think?
MC: No doubt about it. I advise people to dress for the job. For instance, if you’re applying to work behind the counter at a fast-food place and you show up in a suit with cufflinks and a monocle, the interviewer might think that they’re hiring someone who’s going to be their boss! It doesn’t jive with their expectations, and you want them to see you seamlessly fitting into the role. You know what I mean?
JC: Sure. Been there; done that.
MC: When you go to an interview, what the interviewer is looking for are skills and a sense of commitment in the answers you provide. And also it demonstrates a level of understanding of what the job entails. Your clothes are a way of showing it. You know, imagine wearing a sweat suit to a mortgage advisor job interview. It would just feel wrong and give an impression of your professionalism.
JC: You mentioned clothes communicating attitude. But when it comes down to communication, I think that most people worry about what to say and how to say it.
MC: That’s right. The “what to say” is hopefully easier after all your preliminary research. But how do you say it? The important thing is to answer in a simple and straightforward manner. If you choose to answer using academic language—beyond the place of employment—versus practical language, you’re usually perceived as lacking confidence or having a problematic ego. Ditto for if you say too much, and you’ll also risk losing the interviewer’s attention. So don’t go on for over five minutes.
JC: Why is it that practical language is preferred to heavy academic language? Doesn’t it prove your education?
MC: Remember, it’s about using language appropriate to the job and place of employment. For instance, if you’re applying to become the cashier at a grocery store and you answer a behavioural question with, “Well, according to Maslow’s theory on…,” then the interviewer is going to say, “Well, it looks like this guy doesn’t have any concrete knowledge,” or “Gee, all this person knows is theory; can they actually do anything practical?”. Or take for instance if you’re applying to be a plumber and you start talking about the physics of flow…you know? What if all the employer wants you to do is to be able to put two pipes together, or tape on a pipe?
JC: But sometimes your nerves kind of take over, what then?
MC: For sure. It’s important to pause for a minute and think about your response. Your interviewer will not mind if you say something like “that’s a good question. Let me think about that for a minute” while you briefly craft your answer. And once you are answering, if you feel like you are rambling, they probably agree! Make sure you check yourself and bring your answer to a close, especially if you are getting non-verbal cues such as shifting in their seat, breaking eye contact with you, and clearing their throats.
JC: Right. So “brevity is the soul of wit”?
MC: Yes, and generally you’re safe keeping your theory citations at home. Now, you said that a lot of people worry about what they say. I think that some people too worry about what they do.
JC: Body language.
MC: What I tell clients is to sit with their backs straight, eyes forward looking at the interviewer, and to rest their hands on the table. That communicates a sense of confidence. But try not to be too rigid in this or it will have the opposite effect. And if you can, smile a little for at least part of it. It will show that you are approachable.
You know, interviews are about you showing that you’ve got some skills, but its also about gaining the organization’s trust. If the employers’ trust of an individual’s communication is valid, then the individual’s going to go places. And I’ve read that 70% to 93% of communication is nonverbal. So pay attention to the nonverbal cues you are giving that may demonstrate a lack of confidence.
JC: Wow! That’s a lot.
MC: It sounds like it, but we all already speak the language of nonverbal communication and it’s all about thinking about what we are able to convey verbally and nonverbally, and harnessing it to best represent you. And you can prepare ahead of time. Think about your answers so that they are simple to understand and straightforward. Don’t fill them with jargon or whatever. And in terms of communication on the whole, these things as well as body language can be practised through mock-interviews. Get a friend, neighbour or your friendly local Career Advisor to help you to practice your interview skills.
JC: I see. One of the interview techniques that I heard about is for one to mirror the interviewer’s body language. I think that the idea is to make it seem as though both individuals are kind of resonating to the same frequencies.
MC: Huh. Based on what you said, I’m not sure that mirroring is a good idea because you and the interviewer are in 2 different power dynamics. The employer probably doesn’t want to hire someone who seems cocky or equally commanding. I recommend that you use standard body language techniques because mirroring could backfire.
JC: That’s the straight back and forward gaze?
JC: I’m assuming that if mirroring is used, it can’t be obvious to the interviewer that its being employed. Otherwise, they might think that one is mocking them or something.
MC: Well, its like that imitation thing that children do, right, when one copies what the other is doing?
JC: What about active listening as a strategy?
MC: Yes! That’s a great strategy it can really make you seem engaged and will help prevent your interview from getting derailed. So, it involves paraphrasing questions to better understand what’s being said. It also helps to identify specific information requested by the interviewer. If you understand the information in a question poorly, then you will answer is poorly. This will seem to the interviewer as though you are trying to evade something. But while clarifying the questions are important, if you continually ask the interviewer to keep repeating a question on something that they just mentioned, that’s when things will become problematic for you. You need to balance your need for clarity with the need to demonstrate your competence.
JC: So, you mentioned asking questions as part of active listening. I think that one is also encouraged to ask questions that genuinely demonstrate one’s interest in the job opportunity. Is this true and how does one show “genuine interest?”
MC: I think that it’s true. For one, if you want to seem genuinely interested in the job, don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions. It makes you seem disorganized. And I would suggest not asking any questions that were answered in the job interview by the interviewer. In addition to people asking questions on items already mentioned by the interviewer, one of the most frequent things that happens is that people pose questions that aren’t related to the job. So keep your questions pertinent, and remember, you are also kind of lightly interviewing THEM to see if you would like to work there.
JC: Its great how some people can find confidence in sunshine, rain, or that spring will come again. For the rest of us, as if keeping cool in an interview is not enough, apparently one is supposed to look interested in the position and job during an interview. How…I mean, come on! How does one do that?
MC: I’d say by demonstrating active listening, asking questions, demonstrating good body posture, and to remember to maintain good eye contact. It’s what we’ve been talking about. If you want to show your understanding of the position, then you should have done some research about it. The thing is that a smart interviewer will look to see if a person has the necessary skills, but also motivation for the job. Motivation is very hard to stuff into someone. So, if you show up to the interview showing that you’re interested in the job and know a lot about the position, that conveys the sense that you’re motivated to work.
JC: I see. I’ve heard for awhile now that after an interview is over, one needs to follow up with a thank you email or a card. Is this true?
MC: Yes, that’s a good practice. Send either a card or email within 1 or 2 days of the interview. It helps you to stick in the mind of your interviewer, but it is also important for you to show gratitude for the interview opportunity. This can further demonstrate your interest in working at the company.
JC: I can see why you said a job interview is like a performance the last time. One has to prepare and rehearse for those few minutes talking in front of one or many people, then wait to hear the reviews…I mean, the results.
MC: Trust me, with practice and after you go through a few interviews, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it’ll feel more familiar.
If you found this information helpful, we have a lot more to offer you! Go to www.osp.ab.ca/peps/ for information about our PEPS program, or www.osp.ab.ca/workbridge for information about WorkBridge. If you have questions about which program is right for you, or you would like to register, contact us at 780-488-8122 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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