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What really happens in the opening moments of a job interview

AUTHOR: John Lees

The idea that employers decide to hire or reject in the first 30 seconds of an interview is an urban myth. If it were true, interviews would be much shorter. What happens is that an interviewer makes initial decisions about your personality which are fairly hard to shake.

Psychologists tell us that we make snap judgements whenever we meet someone new, based on minimal amounts of information. Research reveals that interviewers don’t make a complete, decisive hiring decision in the first few seconds of an interview, but they do make strong assumptions prompted by 3 strong factors.

An interviewer makes an instinctive prediction from how personable you are – will you be easy to talk to, pleasant to work alongside, good at establishing relationships quickly? Secondly, a decision is made about how open you are. Do you readily respond to questions and volunteer information? Do you help the interview flow? Finally an interviewer makes a snap judgement about your walk-in appearance - do you look and sound the part?

You might think this opening chemistry is entirely instinctive and outside your control. That’s a great way of keeping your head in the sand. Small adjustments to your interview performance and actually practising these opening moments make a huge difference. Be open and friendly – to everyone, particularly reception staff who may be asked for their opinion after you leave.

Pace yourself – slowing down slightly helps you sound measured and confident, while nervous chatter suggests you are covering something up. Speak clearly and at a volume which matches the interviewer. Practise small talk, but also rehearse what you will say in the opening moments of the interview when someone asks one of the two classic questions: ‘tell us about yourself’ or ‘why are you interested in this role?’. Do your homework and show real interest in the organisation.

When it comes to your walk-in appearance, planning is much easier. Check out the dress code of the organisation and try to look as if you already work there. Dress slightly conservatively (so you are remembered for more than your outfit), and a touch more formally than employees already in post. Break in new clothes and shoes beforehand to avoid looking stiff. When you arrive, de-clutter – leave your coat, umbrella and bag in reception. Just take in a slim folder containing the documents you need, and you will look like an employee rather than a visitor.

See for free career tips and details of John’s workshops.

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