Your attitude and demeanor during the job interview are among the most important channels of communication with the interviewer. Such things as your poise, reasonableness, apparent self-confidence and pleasant manner all help to create and reinforce the impression that you are a professional.
A basic requirement for any interview might sound very simple but is something that many job seekers tend to overlook: smile! Employers want to hire pleasant people who appear able to get along well with others in the workplace. If you show a long face or seem to be steeped in gloom, the employer might conclude tat you have personality problems and are not the one for his or her company.
You should make it a point to be yourself. Do not attempt to play a role. You will be more comfortable and make the interviewer feel more comfortable if you are not exaggerating things or trying to make yourself out to be something that you are not.
Be easy to talk to, but do not think that you have to be humorous. Save the comedy routines or the flip answers for the next party. They have no place in most job interviews.
Show a definite interest in the company and also in the interviewer as an individual. But be careful; interests can get you in trouble if they do not coincide with the employer's interests. For example, you might be interviewing on a bright, sunny winter day and make the remark that this would be a great day for the ski slopes. If the interviewer has no interest in skiing, you have made an inappropriate remark if he or she envisions you taking off early to hit the ski lift. The problem is that you have no way of knowing if you have made a mistake until it is too late.
As a general rule, the best procedure is to volunteer nothing about any subjects of personal interest. If the interviewer raises one, take your cue from him or her. However, you need to take care not to misrepresent yourself as having an interest in something in the hopes of impressing the interviewer. A pertinent question or two from the interviewer will indicate immediately whether you know anything about the subject raised or have any real interest in it.
Be successful. It is possible to come across as too businesslike. Try to judge the person you are with. Your objective is to fit yourself into the company's plans and be what the employer is looking for. You want to be natural. Most employers consciously or unconsciously tend to hire in their own self-images, so if you can fulfill the desired image within the boundaries of truthfulness, you are on your way to getting a job offer.
The next recommendation is difficult for many job seekers but should be observe without exception. It requires a different mindset for many people. You should forget about the benefits to you of the position in which you are interested. Do not ask about vacations, holidays, benefits, pensions, hours, seniority or salary! If you do, you are sending a message to the employer that you are not interested in the company or the job but are interested in yourself. If you can go through the entire first interview without mentioning any of those things, you usually will be better off. Before you are hired, you eventually will learn these things anyway, if the employer decide he or she likes you and wants to make a job offer.
You might ask yourself, "Doesn't the fact that I ask about those matters show that I am interested in the job, what it pays and so forth?" Or you might say, "Both the employer and I know that I am looking for money; that is why I am here. Shouldn't I find out about those matters up front, so I can decide whether I really want to pursue this job?" The answer, in all cases, is no. Forget yourself and think first about the interviewer. You can always reject an offer you do not like, but not until you get it.
Another important point: Praise ex-employers. That might be the last thing you feel like doing, but do not criticize your former company, no matter what you might think of it. Give the impression that to you, everyone in the world is lovely. Every person you ever met was nice. No one likes a complainer, and if you start criticizing your old boss, the prospective employer will not think ill of the old boss. He or she will just think you are a whiner. Keep your negative thoughts about old bosses to yourself. Have sound reasons for leaving your last position and all previous positions.
A mistake that job seekers frequently make is to talk too much in the interview, monopolizing the conversation. Because they talk so much, they often fail to answer an interviewer's questions to his or her satisfaction. One of the surest ways to rule yourself out of a job is to be overbearing in the interview and come across as an egotist or a know-it-all.
James E. Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., is in his fourth decade of job search counseling after pioneering outplacement as an employer-paid benefit in the 1960s. His second book, Secrets of the Job Hunt: What You Must Know to Find a Job Quickly, can be purchased for $17.95 (checks only) by writing to Secrets of the Job Hunt, Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. 150 S. Wacker, Suite 2700, Chicago 60606.