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The Crucial Moment of Interview

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Voyages into space require thousands of hours of preparation. The spacecraft has to be designed and built. The crew has to endure months of training. The launch pad has to be meticulously selected and prepared. The timing has to be precise, down to a fraction of a second. The thinking and energy of thousands of scientists, technicians, and managers all come together in a moment of truth, the crucial moment when the button is pushed to fire the rockets and the launch is on.

For you, the job hunter, an analogous moment occurs at the beginning of an interview. Hours of thinking and planning have gone into the preparation of your written and oral presentations. Whether your interview is a success or a failure depends on the first few minutes after that moment when you walk into the interviewer's office. That is your crucial moment.

Probably, the interviewer first heard of you by means of a piece of paper with information about you. You may have answered an ad. You may have written a Broadcast Letter. A mutual friend may have written an introduction. Whatever it was, that piece of paper could not indicate whether you are pleasant, intelligent, attractive, articulate, clever, or possess any of the other characteristics that can only be ascertained in a face-to-face meeting.

After the introductory piece of paper, there may have been a telephone call. The call told the interviewer more about you. Then he knew that you spoke coherent English, that you sounded cordial, amiable and friendly. You were starting to take shape, but the interviewer was still a long way from knowing you as a complete human being. That moment when you walk into the interviewer's office is when everything comes together and the interviewer gets the total picture of the human being he had imagined from your letter and phone call. He is now ready to form his first impression of you, so what can you do to make certain you start off as favorably as possible?

Be on Time

Allow yourself sufficient time to make sure you are not delayed by busy traffic. Sometimes an address is hard to find, and where is a parking space when you need one? After you have given consideration to the distance involved and the kind of traffic you might encounter, leave your house with time to spare. If you get there early, just sit in your car and review your notes.

Five or ten minutes before your appointment you can walk in and say to the receptionist that you are a little early for your 10:30 appointment with Mr. Johnson. If he is free, he may be delighted you arrived early. If you have to wait you will usually find literature in the lobby about the company and its products.

Keep your eyes and ears open while you are sitting in the lobby. What is the attitude of employees who pass through? Are they friendly? Are they surly? Do they move briskly, or do they drag their feet? What you see and hear may give you ideas for additional questions to ask.

An excellent way to ruin an interview is to arrive late, out of breath, and offering some kind of excuse. There is no valid excuse! If you want that job, be on time!

Get the Interviewer's Name Right

A sure way to ruin an interview is to walk in, smile broadly, shake hands, and mispronounce the interviewer's name. You have heard people say, "I don't care how you pronounce my name." Don't be fooled! A person's name, to him or her is all important. When you mispronounce anyone's name, you are saying you don't consider him or her important enough to get his or her name right. You want the interviewer to like you, so start off pronouncing the name correctly.

When you explain to the receptionist that you are there for the interview with Ms. Snickelfritz, inquire, "How does she like to have the name pronounced?'' Of course, if the name is Smith, or Jones, or Sullivan, or Greenberg, you don't have to worry. But, many names are not so easy. Listen carefully to the receptionist's reply and repeat the name to yourself several times.

You might pass a secretary on the way to your meeting. Ask the same question again. Then, if there is the slightest doubt in your mind, when you finally meet the interviewer and are shaking hands, say, "Hello, Ms. Snickelfritz, it's a pleasure to meet you. By the way, have I pronounced your name correctly?" After that, try to use the person's name three or four times early in the interview. This will appeal to the person's ego, and helps prevent you forgetting or mispronouncing the person's name later on.

Dress Properly

At the interview your first impact on the interviewer is visual. Even before she hears your voice or shakes your hand, her eyes look you over and flash a message to her brain, "I like what I see," or "I don't like what I see."

Books are available on how to dress for interviews, so there is no need to go deeply into the subject here. Briefly, dress conservatively and look professional. Select wearing apparel suitable for a serious event. Almost everyone has an outfit to wear to weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs and other special occasions. These outfits make suitable interview attire. Avoid bright colors, bold patterns, and excess jewelry, anything too informal. You will not hurt yourself by leaning toward the conservative side. Informality may not hurt you, but it might, so why take chances?

For men: A dark blue, or grey, suit with a WHITE shirt and a conservative tie. Wear shoes that lace, and the less jewelry, the better. Here is a bit of advice many men will resent. Beard, mustache, long sideburns? All out! In many cases, such as in the advertising and engineering fields, beards and mustaches are common and the person interviewing you is likely to be sporting one. But why take the slightest chance? To improve your odds, shave off the beard, get the job, and then let the hair grow back. If you have worn your mustache for many years, and your girl friend thinks you look eminently more handsome and distinguished with it, then keep the decoration but be forewarned there is a chance it might hinder your search.

Do you suppose any job hunter has ever been given the following advice: "What you should do is grow a beard and then, when you get the job, shave it off?" Of course not. A beard of mustache makes you look older. That is fine when you are in your twenties and thirties, but when you are job hunting in your forties and fifties looking older is the last thing you need!

For women: A suit or a business dress. Wear minimum jewelry, a conservative, businesslike hairdo, and keep your nails well manicured. Ease up on the eye liner and the eye shadow. If the interviewer can discern the components of your make-up, you are probably wearing too much. Hair should be controlled - not fluffy, not loose or not long. Avoid bright fingernail polish... stick to neutral or natural colors. The objective is to look attractive, healthy, and well groomed.

Follow the preceding advice and show up for an interview in your "Sunday best". The interviewer meets you in a sports shirt and blue jeans. So what? You will still make the best impression by looking your best. The interviewer is not the one looking for a job. You are! Why take chances? Looking sharp and businesslike will never hurt you.


When you walk into the room, give the interviewer a big smile. And keep smiling. When you practice your interview techniques at home with your spouse, or relative, or friend, have them listen to your answers, critique the way you deliver your answers, but more importantly, have them monitor whether you are smiling enough.

Smile! Smile! Smile! Can you think of anyone who doesn't look more attractive and appealing when smiling? A smile attracts; a serious countenance repels. Many things will happen during an interview to influence the interviewer's opinion of you. But no factor will influence an interviewer more favorably than a smile on your face.

A job hunter, misunderstanding the advice to keep smiling, commented, "I can't sit through an interview grinning like a chimpanzee. If I do, I'll look like the village idiot, and that won't make a good impression."

If you look up "smile" in your dictionary you will find something along the following lines:

Smile (verb): 1. to have, produce, or exhibit a smile.

2. To appear pleasant or agreeable

Smile (noun) 1. An expression of the face involving a

brightening of the eyes and an upward curving of the corners of the mouth.

2. A pleasant or encouraging appearance.

So, Smile! Smile! Smile! If you have to choose one way or the other, it would be preferable to go to an interview in blue jeans and a T-shirt and a smile on your face, rather than all dressed up in your Sunday best, looking serious and somber.

Have a Firm Handshake

Handshakes vary from one extreme, the bone cruncher, to the other extreme, the wet dish rag. Search for the middle ground. Develop a handshake that is firm, but not so firm it distracts the recipient from the pleasure of meeting you. On the other hand you need a handshake that will not give the recipient the feeling that he has been handed a slab of raw liver. If your palms tend to get moist when you are nervous, have a handkerchief or paper tissue in your pocket or purse so you can dry your palms just before the interview.

Practice with your friends. Ask for their feedback. If several tell you your handshake is too firm, listen to them and ease up. Your friends will help you zero in on a perfect handshake.

The handshake is your first physical contact with the interviewer. It can confirm his initial favorable impression of you, or it can be the start of an ineffective and unproductive meeting.

Eye Contact

When you first meet people and are shaking hands, look them straight in the eye and hold eye contact for a second or two. Don't let go of the person's hand until you have determined the eye color of the person. If you concentrate on remembering a person's eye color, it will force you to look at him or her right in the eye. This eye contact combined with your smile goes far toward making the person think, "Hmm, I like this candidate."

Eye contact is important not only in job interviews, but also when meeting people socially. Your undivided attention says to the other person, "Right now, you are the most important person in the world to me." If you follow this simple rule, you will make it difficult for any interviewer to start off with an unfavorable impression.

Sit Properly

Shortly after your entry, the handshake, and a few preliminary niceties, invariably you are invited to sit down. Try to select a straight chair. Slide back until your rear end is pressed firmly against the back of the chair. This will make you sit straighter so you can lean forward in a posture of attentiveness and interest. This is good body language. Avoid slumping backward and crossing your legs which is bad body language which might cause the interviewer to withdraw from you.

After Your Entry

Now, the stage is set. You have made a great entry. The interviewer cannot help but like you - so far. After your first impression on the interviewer, you want to make the interviewer continue to like you by adhering to a few common sense rules you should keep in mind during the interview process.

Be Sincere

Sincerity is a wonderful attribute to have anyway, and it is particularly important when job hunting. Remember, you are under close scrutiny where every word, gesture, and facial expression is evaluated. If you say something you don't really mean the interviewer may pick it up and down-grade your candidacy. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Be Courteous

What may be considered as courteous by one person may not be acceptable behavior to another. As you approach a job interview, keep in mind you cannot possibly go wrong by being extra courteous.

Two concerns in the mind of the interviewer will usually be: "Is this person going to please my superiors?" and "Will this individual be acceptable to our company's customers?" If you make a courteous impression, both of these concerns will be laid to rest.

Don't smoke during an interview even though you feel it may not bother the interviewer. Don't smoke even if the person interviewing you is smoking, even if you are invited to light up. Why take a chance? You may meet other non-smoking associates who may think less of you because of the cigarette in your hand. The interviewer's boss may tolerate smokers already on the staff, but may prefer to hire non-smokers. Why gamble?

If one of the interviewer's superiors walks in during the interview, stand up when you greet him or her. It will be interpreted as a sign of courteous respect.

Regarding courtesy, there is one particular trap awaiting the unwary job candidate. When to start addressing the interviewer by first name? The best advice is: Stick to the interviewer's last name until the interviewer demands that you use his or her first name.

Using the interviewer's surname is a sign of respect and you can not hurt yourself by doggedly sticking to it. After a few minutes of pleasant chatting, the interviewer might start calling you by your first name. The name plaque on her desk identifies her as Barbara Hunter. How easy to fall into the trap of using her first name. It will feel comfortable to do so and, furthermore, you feel a rapport building between you and Barbara.

Unexpectedly, the boss walks in and you are introduced to Mr. Murphy who says, "Nice to meet you. I understand you're being interviewed for the credit manager's position." "Yes," you answer with enthusiasm. "I was just explaining to Barbara how on my last job I collected over $100,000 of past due accounts within 90 days through a new letter writing campaign." What have you just done? By using her first name you have put down Barbara in front of HER BOSS, making her appear less important. "Miss Hunter" would have conceded her more status.

This trap is particularly treacherous when the person interviewing you is younger than you, even young enough to be your son or daughter. Often, younger persons are sensitive about their youth. They need the ego satisfaction of being treated with respect. Using their first name is saying, "You're no better than I am. I don't have to call you by your last name, especially if you're addressing me by my first name." Often, it may not make any difference, but sometimes it may. So why take a chance? Stick to the safety of the surname until the interviewer makes an issue of the matter and demands, "Please call me Barbara."

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Never allow negative thoughts to creep into your correspondence or conversations. No negatives! No negatives! No negatives! It cannot be repeated often enough. Many of the stress (or sensitive) questions asked in interviews are "sucker traps" designed to drag you into a negative discussion.

The interviewer might ask, "What did you enjoy the least about your last position?" In no way should you want to discuss any negatives associated with your last job. You smile, think a moment, and then respond. "In my last job I had a great opportunity to develop a thorough understanding of the challenges involved in marketing a consumer product. I really can't think about any facet of the job which failed to provide knowledge and satisfaction."

You do not want to get into negatives. What are your weaknesses? What didn't you like about your last boss? Who was the worst boss you ever had? Why did you leave your last job? These kinds of questions drag you into negative responses

Maintain Control

In your correspondence, in your phone conversations, and especially in your interviews, you always want to strive for control. In tennis parlance, you always want the ball on your side of the court so the next hit is yours. You control the ball when you are hitting it. When your opponent is the hitter, all you can hope is he won't score a winner and you can get another shot at control.

In any dialogue, the person in control is the one asking the questions. Most self-styled experts on Job Search place the emphasis on having the right answers when you go into interviews. This is specious advice. The proper emphasis should be on preparing the right questions to ask. If the interviewer is busy answering your questions, not only will he feel comfortable because he is on familiar ground, but he won't have time to ask you as many difficult or embarrassing questions.

When to Try to Take Control

You should attempt to establish control as early as possible in the interview. If you allow the other person to be in control for the first ten, twenty or thirty minutes, it is not likely you will suddenly wrest control by asking some probing or penetrating question. By then the die has been cast, the pecking order has been established. The interviewer will remain in control, and you will sit there passively answering questions and making a weak impression!

Strategic Questions

These are the questions you will use as offensive weapons and are designed to encourage the employer to do more of the talking. They have the purpose of uncovering information about the employer's needs and attitudes. These questions also have the powerful effect of displaying your knowledge and your understanding of problems you would be expected to handle.

Strategic questions are generally open-ended. Open-ended questions require an expository reply. They cannot be answered in one or two words. They require longer explanations and usually uncover information. These questions start with: WHAT, HOW, WHY. They give the employer the opportunity to show off his grasp of his business, his industry. He will feel comfortable answering them and therefore he will feel more kindly toward you. Following are some examples of strategic questions:

"Why did your company decide to focus its advertising message on the low income wage earner?"

"How do you decide which geographical area present the most attractive growth potential?"

"What do you look for in selecting candidates for your foreign operations?"

Tactical Questions

These questions are defensive in nature, and are used to sidestep, shift and parry. These questions start with: WHEN, WHERE, WHO, WHICH. They require short answers and are valuable during a rapid exchange of specific detail when you are discussing the problems of the job. For example:

"Who's responsible for determining your quality standards?"

"When are your budget results reported to the responsible department heads?"

"Where have your best sales results taken place this year?"

Obviously, tactical questions develop during the interview. Those are the questions designed to put you in control of the interview and to put you in the best light in the eyes of the interviewer.

Never Ask for the Job

This rule may not agree with conventional wisdom offered in other books and magazine articles. It is said that, "A good salesman always asks for the order." Generally, that is true but, as a job hunter, you should put all your energy into making the right impression, giving the right answers and asking the right questions to influence the decision maker favorably.

When they are ready, they will offer you the job. If you press, you place the decision maker in the awkward position of having to say "No," because he is probably not quite ready to say "Yes." This may make the interviewer feel uncomfortable, which might cause his attitude toward you to turn negative. Toward the end of an interview, you might say, "What would be the next step?" or "Is there any other information that you'd like?" or "When can we meet again?" But do not openly ask for the job. As long as the rapport is good, and the interviewer appears friendly and interested, you still have a good chance. Press and you might get an answer you would rather not hear.

Don't Go to an Interview If You Are Ill

This may seem obvious, but it is an important point. If you go to an interview with a cold, you are not going to make a good impression. If you walk into the interviewer's office coughing, or blowing your nose, or with watery eyes, there is little chance you are going to be warmly received. You will probably look tired and you will be lacking in positive energy. You will waste your time and that of the interviewer.

As much as it hurts, if you have been looking forward to this interview for days or weeks, and you come down with a cold the day before the interview, the odds are in your favor if you cancel. Simply call and say, I've come down with a bad cold. Could we please reschedule the interview?

The interviewer will appreciate the courtesy of your not walking in and spewing your germs around. He will most certainly grant the extension and will appreciate your consideration. Remember, you are not going to get the job if you do not make a good impression, and you are not likely to make a favorable impression if you are ill. So be smart. Play the odds. Reschedule the interview, then go in there and make the sale.

Thirty Second Speech

You know the importance of a Thirty Second Speech. You have spent a lot of time preparing one and rehearsing it. Obviously, it would be inappropriate for you to walk into the interviewer's office and abruptly volunteer a Thirty Second Speech. You need a natural opening; usually supplied by the interviewer when he asks, "Tell me about yourself."

What if the interviewer doesn't ask the specific question, "Tell me about yourself." The interviewer may prefer a different technique to get the conversation started. She may talk a little about the company, its products, and its growth. Then, she may ask questions about your experience, and qualifications for the job. She threatens to lead the interview where you don't want it to go.

What do you do now? Simple. You introduce the question yourself. For example, suppose the interviewer starts off by asking, "Tell me, what you know about our Company?"

You think for a moment (you always want to give the impression that the interviewer has asked a good question), then you say, "Well, I understand your company is an excellent example of forward looking management which is the type of company I believe I'd fit in with well. May I tell you about myself?" What can the interviewer say? "No, I don't want to hear about you!" Of course not, the interviewer will nod affirmatively, and then you are off and running with your Thirty Second Speech and following it with one of your good questions to bring the conversation to where you want it.

Is it possible to hurt yourself with your Thirty Second Speech? Should you be spouting off about yourself without having some idea of what the interviewer is looking for?

No, you are not endangering yourself. Remember, the interviewer usually does not know how to interview. He wishes he were someplace else, doing anything except looking at your face. You are not going to offend him by talking about your strengths in a way indicating you are a very valuable human being. And remember, your speech covers thirty seconds, not five minutes.

Length of Interview

How long should a job interview last? That will, of course, depend upon such things as the nature of the interview and the personality of the interviewer. If you can control the meeting, usually between 30 and 50 minutes would be the ideal length.

If you make a favorable first impression, and reinforce that during the first four or five minutes, then you are on sound emotional ground. The employer likes you, and now he needs convincing of your managerial strengths and technical proficiency.

In the next 20 to 30 minutes the interviewer will have ample time to determine your intelligence, to appraise your attitude, to evaluate your competence. This will also give the interviewer sufficient time to discuss job content and to develop the perception that you can help solve his problems. Certainly, even in more complicated positions, the interviewer should be able to come to an educated opinion about you in 40 to 50 minutes.

If the interview is not going well, it is very unlikely that you are going to say anything brilliant in the 53rd minute that will cause you to be hired. On the other hand, if things have been going beautifully, don't try to extend the interview. In the 51st minute you might destroy a good meeting by an inappropriate observation.

Many job hunters feel that if they just keep talking long enough, something favorable might happen. These job hunters equate longer interviews with better ones. That just is not so. Often, a meeting drags on because the interviewer doesn't know how to get rid of you. He is probably polite and doesn't want to hurt your feelings.

Shorter interviews are usually best. If you time your interviews, you will find that your best ones are those that ran no more than 45 minutes. Of course, when interviews involve a plant tour they will run longer of necessity. Also, some interviews require that you meet several people which will take more time.

These are generalizations. The length of an interview depends on the nature of the job, the technicalities involved, and the level of the position. Also, you cannot control the garrulousness of the interviewer. If the inter-viewer insists on dragging out a meeting, that is great. If you are the one that won't allow the meeting to end, it could be damaging to your cause.
  • Your ability to handle Sensitive Questions.
This means no matter what question you hear, whether it be irrelevant, threatening or embarrassing, even if it induces stress or discomfort, you will answer it politely, briefly, and in a positive manner. Then follow up immediately with a question of your own.
  • Eighty ten or twelve questions designed to communicate to someone else in your field that you are an expert.
These questions identify you as a professional and gain your acceptance from another pro. These are the questions that will help you control the interview.
  • Six or ten or a dozen good open-ended questions prepared for that specific interview.
These are the questions you thought out while re-searching the job, the company, the industry. These are more questions designed to put you in control of the interview.
  • Your Thirty Second Speech.
You use this to tell the interviewer about the qualities that make you special, and then follow the speech with a strategic open-ended question.
  • If you are armed with the above, and remember to SMILE, SMILE, SMILE, you will become an early winner in the job search battle.

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