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Eight tips for acing interviews

Robert Half survey finds employers quick to form opinions of interviewees

January 24, 2013
By Robert Half International

          “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is a saying you’ve likely heard countless times. A corollary to that cliché might be, “And you get precious little time to make that positive initial impression.” In a Robert Half survey of more than 500 human resources managers, 60 percent of respondents said it takes just 10 minutes or less to form an opinion of an interviewee.
          How can you get off to a stellar start during in-person interviews? Consider the following tips:
          1. Be nice to the secretary and security guard. The employer’s assessment of you begins well before you shake hands with the interviewer. You’re under scrutiny from the moment you arrive on company grounds. Hiring managers frequently solicit the feedback of other employees during the hiring process. You never know who has the boss’s ear, so be courteous to every single person you encounter.
           2. Look the part. Leave the hoodies to Silicon Valley tech titans. Even though dress codes have relaxed in recent years at many companies, interview etiquette still dictates you dress up. A polished appearance provides instant credibility and tells the interviewer you’re a serious candidate. Even if you’re interviewing at an organization with a casual culture, play it safe and dress a step above what you think is expected. Make sure your clothes are neatly pressed, your shoes are shined, and your nails are clean and trimmed. And keep your smartphone out of sight—and turned off.
          3. Prove you did your homework. Strong interviewees are informed interviewees. Learn as much as you can about the company beforehand, and then weave your knowledge into your responses. Review the employer’s website, marketing materials, and annual report. Searching for recent news articles and following the firm on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can yield useful information. Tapping your professional network for insights is helpful, too. Thoroughly researching the employer showcases both your interest and resourcefulness.
          4. Tailor your responses. Highlight your most pertinent selling points by sharing accomplishments and anecdotes that best speak to your ability to perform the job. Mention specific keywords that appeared in the job ad, but then follow up with concrete evidence that backs up your claims. For instance, you might say something like, “I have sharp analytical abilities and problem-solving skills. In fact, I identified an issue with my firm’s accounting system and proposed a solution that ended up saving us 15 percent in overruns.”
          5. Keep calm and carry on. Interviews can be anxiety-producing experiences. But because accounting professionals must be able to perform under pressure, it’s critical to keep your composure. Remain mindful of the nonverbal messages you’re sending. Rapid foot tapping, animated gesticulations, and fidgeting in your seat are examples of distracting behaviors that signal agitation. Talking too fast or filling the void between questions with nervous chatter can also work against you. Remember to slow down, breathe, wear a relaxed smile, and maintain good eye contact.
          6. Forget the gimmicks. Some interviewees go out of their way to stand out. When managers were asked by Robert Half to recount unusual attempts job seekers had taken to land a position, anecdotes ranged from candidates singing answers to questions and bringing pets to the interview to walking in with coffee and doughnuts with a resume underneath. While it’s good to be memorable, you want to be memorable for the right reasons. Being poised, prepared, and professional is far better than employing attention-getting antics, which frequently fall flat.
           7. Strike the right tone. A fine line exists between confidence and arrogance. You have to demonstrate that you believe in yourself if you want a shot at convincing anyone else to believe in you. That said, don’t go overboard with the congratulatory self-praise. Toot your own horn, but do so tactfully. When discussing previous employers and bosses, take the high road and speak diplomatically. Even a mildly snide or critical comment (regardless of how well deserved it may be) can raise red flags.
          8. Promptly express appreciation. Continue building a positive impression after the interview wraps up. A little appreciation goes a long way, according to another recent Robert Half survey. Ninety-one percent of managers polled said sending a thank-you note after an interview is helpful. The gesture not only displays excellent manners, it also gives you an opportunity to reiterate your interest and briefly recap why you’re the perfect person for the role.

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This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance