Interviews - Party or Panic?

It is common knowledge that during an interview, employers will form opinions and assumptions based on how you look, how you present yourself and how you respond to their questions. Indeed, the purpose of an interview is to allow an employer to get a feel and understanding of you. It is also a time for you to do the same.

What this means, is that the employer is not only assessing your skills and qualifications, which are relatively simple to evaluate, they are also looking for fit. Why do employers look for fit? Well, it isn’t because they want a new friend. It is because team dynamics drastically impact everything from business performance, to job performance and company morale. Studies show that when an employer is faced with two equal candidates they tend to hire the person perceived to fit better. Can you get along with others? Can you take or follow the lead? Do you have a sense of humour or values consistent with the company?

Guaranteed, so far I’ve done nothing to calm your nerves. Yes, interviews can ellicit a range of emotions, including everything from joy to panic. At the same time, as you feel a sense of accomplishment, it can also feel like your whole world depends on this one brief interaction. Interviews, however, aren’t complicated to perfect. They just take practice, work and confidence.

According to cognitive scientists, it can take up to two hundred times the amount of information to undo a first impression as it takes to make one (see Making a good first impression depends on everything from carefully selecting your clothing and being well groomed, to arriving on time, being polite to the receptionist, mastering the handshake, making eye contact, sitting forward and generally being engaging. And yes, you should still dress slightly more formal than the person interviewing you. Don’t know the dress code? Find out! If you can’t get the dress code right now, the employer will assume this will be a constant battle, or worse, that you don’t care.

What isn’t so commonly considered is that you should use the interview to find out more about the job. This will help you not only understand what exactly it is that you will do, but it will also help you make an informed choice about taking (or not) the job. Beyond this, it will help set you up for success in your first months.

The interview should be a two-way dialogue where you ask questions about the job and what matters to you (that is work related; though, leave salary to a future conversation). Be thoughtful and creative in your questions. Some of my favorites include: what do you expect me to accomplish in the first months, what are common attributes of successful employees at your company, and what are the next steps in the hiring process?

In relation, you should be prepared to answer both common interview questions as well as those you fear the most. We all have questions we’d rather avoid. Tackle these with honesty, care and thought. Do not leave this to the last minute or roll of the dice. Figure out how to frame your “red flags” in a positive light. A lot of information is exchanged in an interview and an employer will not remember everything. Keep it positive. Prior to the interview, research, practice and reflect on where you have been and where you want to go. What do you have to offer? Know about the company, the industry and position.

Following the interview, reinforce the connection by following up. An interesting piece of information to keep in mind (and to help you remain positive) is that the average length of the entire interview process is increasing, from an average of twelve days to an average of twenty-three days (see

Regardless of the outcome, you have succeeded! It is reason to cheer! Hiring decisions are not meant to be taken personally. There are many factors (most out of your control) that impact the decision. Use the interview as an opportunity to practice, learn, network and develop.

Do you have an interview coming up? Great resources are online, talk to a mentor or your local employment centre.