What NOT to Do During the First 5 Minutes of an Interview

By Kate Rodriguez

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Photo courtesy of K2Space/Flickr

Seasoned hiring managers have seen it all when it comes to job interviews. They learn to size up candidates early in the meeting and know if they’ve got a winner. In fact, some managers say they already know within the first five minutes if the person is the right fit. This seems unfair, given that the average interview lasts 40 minutes and covers a lot more ground than a handshake and an icebreaker. Nevertheless, first impression bias is part of human nature. Don’t forget that -- the more you know how to prepare to make the first few minutes count in your favor, the better. Here are a few things to avoid at all costs if you really want the job:


1. Arriving Late

Nothing makes you look worse than showing up, in a rush, after the scheduled appointment time. It’s inconsiderate and shows you have poor time management skills. You’ve no doubt heard it before: arrive around 10 minutes before the interview. (Earlier than that and you’ll appear desperate.)

While you are waiting, do two things to prepare. First, observe the office atmosphere carefully. Are colleagues popping into each other’s offices to shoot the breeze? Or is it deathly quiet as employees hunker down over their desks? This provides clues to how you’ll handle the initial introduction with the interviewer, i.e., formally, or a bit more casually. Observing the surroundings also gives you a chance to make an icebreaker comment about the office – a great way to show off your interest in the company – by mentioning, for instance, the interesting wall art, or the good view, or the creative use of space. Second, pop into the bathroom to do a few relaxation exercises, rehearse your introduction, and remind yourself to pay attention to your body language (see number 5).


2. Being Rude to Support Staff

Rudeness will come back to haunt you. You’d be surprised how quickly word gets around if a visitor is disrespectful to support staff. Never fail to acknowledge them before and after an interview. Greet and thank the security guard at the entrance, the office manager who ushers you in, or anyone else who lends a hand during your appointment. Put the smart phone away before you arrive so that you don’t commit the modern faux pas of speaking to someone while staring at the screen. Remember, if you do get hired, you will be interacting with these people every day.


3. Forgetting to Bring the Right Material

Did you forget to bring the copy of your resume, portfolio, or the pre-interview exercise that the company gave you to complete? Bad news. You just exposed some poor organizational skills. Avoid this tragedy by preparing all materials and putting them in your briefcase or bag the night before the interview. Re-read emails from the company about the interview to make sure you are following all the directions regarding what to bring and where to go.


4. Exhibiting the Wrong Body Language

Sending the wrong signals with your body language can have a devastating effect. It might make the hiring manager mistrust you and see you as a bad fit for the organization – and that’s before you even open your mouth. The good news is that you can learn body language techniques that work in your favor. For one thing, smiling and making direct eye contact as you shake hands (firmly!) with the interviewer builds an immediate sense of trust and approachability. Another technique is keeping your body open, with your shoulders back and down. This openness boasts confidence, empowerment and authority, all things you want to project as a candidate. Avoid crossing your legs, making your body small by folding your arms, or hunching. How you walk is also important. If you’re doing an office walk-around with your potential boss, mirror her or his pace. If you are approaching the hiring manager from across a room, move with purpose, don’t meander.


5. Making Nervous Mistakes

Nervousness causes those interview tricks you’ve practiced to unravel fast. Yet most people experience jitters before an interview, even if they are well-prepared. Nervous mistakes include fidgeting, averting the interviewer’s gaze, uncontrolled hand gestures, talking too fast, nervous laughing, and simply forgetting what we want to say.

Don’t let nerves get in the way. Practice deep-breathing techniques for relaxation and listen to music on your way to the interview. Also, try to visualize a successful interview from beginning to end, and remember that the company wants to impress you just as much as you want to win them over. Just before the interview, do some power posing in the restroom for a last-minute confidence jolt. And during the interview, pay attention to your posture – the more open you are, the more at ease you’ll feel.

Avoiding these blunders during an interview offer you the best chance of success, assuming you’ve got all the pre-interview basics covered. These include researching the company, rehearsing answers to tough interview questions, and choosing an appropriate outfit. Anyone can do interviews well – it takes knowing that the first minutes count more than anything else, and practice.


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