A good first impression Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

According to a recent survey, hiring managers know fairly quickly in the interview process whether they will hire a candidate. Executives polled said it takes them on average just 10 minutes to form an opinion of a candidate, even though interviews for staff-level applicants last an average of 55 minutes and those of management-level candidates are an average of 86 minutes.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Finance & Accounting, the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. It was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 150 senior executives with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

“The interviewer tends to make a judgment of a candidate within the first 10 minutes,” says Steve Kass, president of the Great Plains District of Robert Half International. “That doesn’t mean the interview takes only 10 minutes, just the time to form an opinion.”

Smart Business talked to Kass about what candidates should and shouldn’t do to improve their chances of getting the job.

What do the results from your survey mean to job-seekers?

It’s critical during an interview to get off to a good start because you’re making an impression right from the beginning. From the moment you walk into the office, everything you do makes an impact. It’s really important to make that first impression a positive one. This means interviewees must project enthusiasm and a professional demeanor from the outset of the discussion.

What are hiring managers looking for during that first 10 minutes?

Hiring managers want to see that interviewees are confident and enthusiastic about the opportunity and the company. They want candidates to quickly describe why they’re right for the role and show an understanding of the organization and its objectives. Also, they are looking for somebody who really wants to be there and communicates that desire to the hiring manager.

If judgment is made so quickly, why does the interview go on for so much longer?

Employers may be able to form an initial impression of a candidate in a matter of minutes, but it’s much harder to gain a full understanding of a person’s skills and expertise in that amount of time. Once the manager has a good first impression, it’s important to delve into that person’s background to make sure he or she has the right knowledge and experience to do the job properly. More time with the interviewee will allow the hiring manager’s judgment to evolve even further. Hiring decisions are expensive decisions. They can make a lot of money if you make the correct one and they can cost a lot of money if you make the wrong one.

If it’s clear that a person is the wrong candidate, is it all right to end the interview early?

Yes. The most important thing to do is treat interviewees with dignity and respect and let them know specifically why they’d not be a good fit. A candidate gets fired up for a job interview, so you don’t want to put him or her through the unnecessary stress of the interview process if you know for certain that the person is not the right match.

How can hiring managers enhance the process?

First, managers should evaluate candidate resumes thoroughly and conduct phone interviews before inviting people for in-person discussions. During the interview process, hiring managers should conduct a structured interview and know exactly what they're looking for in a candidate. Be prepared with specific questions you want to ask and allow room for follow-up questions based on how the candidate responds. Know that you will control the action most of the time, but allow the applicant to do so for a period of time as well.

What advice can you give potential applicants?

Arrive on time, look sharp, be enthusiastic and have a good energy level. Research the employer and understand what value you can add to the company. Rehearse the answers to common questions. When appropriate, ask questions of the interviewer. Lastly, always follow up the meeting with a thank you note to each person who interviewed you. This is an opportunity to restate how you can contribute to the company’s success and express your enthusiasm for the position.

Things you want to avoid include not knowing enough about the employer, having a bad attitude or appearing arrogant. And whatever you do, don’t make a claim that you can’t back up. Don’t say you’re good at something specific without being able to give an example to make your point. Also, don’t lack confidence or ask about compensation prematurely. In other words, be prepared. It’s the most important part of any interview.

STEVE KASS is president of the Great Plains District of Robert Half International. Reach him at (312) 616-8200 or steve.kass@rhi.com.