One of the most surprising questions I have received came from a young man who was having trouble landing a job. “I was 20 minutes late for one job interview but only five minutes late for another,” he said. “I guess I can understand why I didn’t get the job when I was twenty minutes late, but not getting the job when I was only five minutes late seems unfair. What’s the problem?” What was surprising about his question was that he had no concept that “late” is not a relative term, you either are or you aren‘t.
In my seminars, I tell participants, “If I had only one piece of advice I could give it would be: Be on time.” If you’re on time, you start out on the right foot. When you’re late, you start out on the wrong foot trying to recover from your error. You know that because the first words out of your mouth are, “I’m sorry.” In the case of this young man, late is late, and if he can’t be on time for the interview can he be relied on to be on time preparing a report, meeting with a client, or simply getting his work done in general? It’s no surprise he didn’t get the job, especially if, in comparison, his competition was on time.
At a job interview your goal is to stand out from the other applicants, not just because of your job skills, but also by your polished personal skills. By concentrating on these five essentials, you’ll improve your chances for success:
Be on time.
Prepare. It’s expected that you ask questions about the company where you’re applying, so do some research ahead of time. Practice answers to anticipated interview questions. Do it out loud so you get used to hearing yourself and so your mouth gets familiar actually forming the words. The key here is practice will give you confidence, and businesses favor people who are confident.
Dress one notch up. Make an effort to check out how people at that business dress. You want to show you belong and your clothing will signal that instantly. If they dress casually, you might step it up by adding a tie or jacket to your outfit.
Smile, look them in the eye and speak clearly. Your goal is to show your interviewer that you can represent her company positively and effectively. If you mumble, if you can’t look the interviewer in the eye, if you’re sullen, she’ll wonder if that’s how you’ll interact with colleagues, clients, prospects, or suppliers, and she won’t be impressed.
Thank them twice. First at the end of the interview, and then a second time when you send a thank you note, ideally within twenty-four hours. You can start by sending an email thank you. Best practice is to follow it up with a note sent in the mail. It’s not only polite, but also proves that you know how to conclude a business interaction effectively.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.