As a job applicant, you have probably given considerable thought as to what you will say when asked, "Tell me your strengths and weaknesses." While it's essential to plan your talking points for a successful interview, it's equally important to pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Your interviewer is making judgments based on what they see throughout the interview. It's your responsibility to minimize negative distractions and let your skills and personality shine.
- Extend your hand first. A confident person is someone who stands up for an introduction, looks the other person squarely in the eyes and reaches out their hand confidently for a handshake. The gesture is polite, assertive, and sends the message you have been properly groomed. Practice your introduction with a friend or colleague prior to your interview.
- Clothes freshly pressed and a mirror check. Walking into an interview with a wrinkled collar or ill-fitting slacks could be interpreted as lacking attention to small but important details. This is the only opportunity you will have to make a powerful first impression. Don't wait until the last minute to determine if your suit still fits or whether you should buy a new shirt. Men, keep your suit jacket on during the interview, and women, if your skirt hits the middle of your thigh, in most work environments the length is too short.
- Select a purse or briefcase -- not both. Women appear more prepared when they arrive with fewer leather bags and men appear more professional when they aren't toting a backpack. Even if you are just out of college, carrying a quality (yet inexpensive) leather portfolio will help you look put together.
- Take notes. Bring a simple notepad and indiscriminate pen -- not a scrap of paper and a pencil you took from the bank. If you are interviewing for a job in technology, a tablet device may also be a good option. Avoid setting up a laptop in the interview; the distraction and physical barrier it creates will outweigh any benefits it may have over a small tablet or notepad.
- Keep an eye on your nails. Even men can benefit from a good manicure before an important event. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "No one will be looking at my hands." Nails should be clean and trimmed, and hands reasonably smooth when shaking another person's hand. Women, opt for a neutral color polish, not chipped or wearing away.
- Be on your best behavior in the company parking lot. As soon as you arrive on company property, you are "on." Don't think you will not be noticed as you speed through the parking garage, or swoop in front of a waiting vehicle for the closest parking spot. Never park in a reserved spot. It may be designated for the person interviewing you, or the owner of the company. Your movements can easily be traced by a parking lot camera.
- Put your game face on. Men, even though today's fashion is accepting of a full beard, or varying levels of facial hair, your best option when applying for a job is a clean shave. If you refuse to cut the beard, get rid of the chops or soul patch and make sure you are neatly trimmed. Don't forget to check the hair situation in the eyebrows, nose and ear area.
- Don't be afraid to ask. When you have something to ask or add to the conversation, holding back can appear tentative or nervous. Speak up with a confident, assertive (not aggressive) tone, and show your interviewer you are putting thought into the conversation.
- Be aware that your emotions are contagious. According to Steve Gutzler, a leading expert in Emotional Intelligence, equally important to information exchanged in the interview is your mood, attitude, and emotions which directly influence the interviewer's opinion. Appear engaged by sitting alert, nodding your head when appropriate, asking thoughtful questions and being an active listener and communicator.
- Turn off your phone. The last thing your potential employer wants to hear is the sound of an incoming call. Your interviewer will be influenced, and even a bit annoyed, to hear your phone buzz from your bag, brief case, or pant pocket. Eliminate the urge to text or check your email during a quick break by powering down until the interview is completely over and you are out of the building.
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