“I Blew It”: Biggest Interview Errors

Your résumé has opened the door. But recruiters point to the traps that candidates fall into, and offer tips for making a better impression.

Just as important: “No limp or cold-fish handshakes,” she adds. “Look the interviewer in the eye and give a firm handshake; that’s part of first impressions.” It’s OK to lose eye contact if you’re composing a thoughtful answer to a question, but be sure to reestablish eye contact when you deliver your answer.

The cold-fish warning extends to demeanor. Great credentials can be discounted quickly if candidates fail to show energy and passion when meeting with an executive from the hiring company. “You can’t hide [disinterest] during an interview; clients pick up on it,” contends Eldridge. And start right away. “The minute you walk into the building,” he says, “you have to be in the zone.”

No kidding. How you treat the lobby guard, the office receptionist, and the assistant offering you coffee is all part of the interview. Eldridge tells of one hiring company whose executives routinely talked to the receptionist and other nonmanagement employees to find out what impression potential candidates made.

Your mother was also right in reminding you always to say thank you. Hack is adamant about telling candidates, no matter what job level, to send a thank-you note to the interviewer via E-mail, even if the meeting was set up by a recruiter. Keep the note short, sweet, and relevant to the job opportunity. A note may seem rote, but it still can set apart one candidate from another if their qualifications are similar.

The Two-Minute Drill

Eldridge is amazed at how the best candidates seem able to summarize a 25-year career sharply and precisely in two minutes. They discuss what’s relevant about their experience and avoid long anecdotes or digressions. “You have to have an elevator pitch about yourself,” advises Eldridge. It’s similar to the encapsulated sales speech entrepreneurs give investors to pique their interest. “But few people master the pitch.”

Have it prepared the moment you enter the building. Eldridge tells of one candidate who actually found himself turning on the pitch while on an elevator — as a senior manager conducted him on a 40-floor ride to the interview itself. The pitch should contain, for example, names of prominent companies where a candidate has worked, and in the case of lesser-known companies, its size. A potential CFO could start with something like: “I was the controller of a $700 million manufacturing company that catered to clients who were similar to your customers.”

The flip side, of course, is that a poor two-minute drill can be costly. Don’t bring up your earliest finance job, for example, unless it pertains directly to the current job opening, warns Eldridge. Listen carefully to questions, answering them completely without drifting off target. Offering too much on a first interview by answering unasked questions can drag things out to the point where it’s hard for a candidate to recover a sharp focus. Like a résumé, an interview should illustrate clear, concise communication skills from a candidate who brings complicated issues into focus quickly.

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