Make the Most of Your First Interview: Three Common Pitfalls to Avoid

There’s a lot of advice out there about how best to prepare for interviews. As a recruiter I often prepared my candidates with information that I thought would help them present at their best when meeting with a potential employer. I quickly learned that even people with extensive career experience sometimes overlooked the types of things that I considered “the basics” of a great first interview. This preparation – made better by in-depth knowledge of the client company’s expectations, values, and hiring process – can give you a real leg up when competing against less informed candidates.Now, as the first interviewer in our recruitment process for Wahl and Case, I’ve met hundreds of candidates who don’t have that recruitment partner to guide them through the preparation and follow-up processes. I’ve also realized that some of the basic elements of a good impression can be so important that there is almost no recovering when they go awry.Whether you are working with a recruitment consultant or applying to jobs directly, if you are serious about exploring an opportunity and positioning yourself to move forward in the hiring process, be sure you are avoiding these pitfalls: Asking for information plainly available on the company websiteThis has evolved to a personal pet peeve for me. It’s one thing to reconfirm the correct location of your interview and another to ask “what’s your address?” when the office details are available on the homepage.I also see candidates resort to this when they are a bit nervous or unprepared with questions to ask during the meeting. It’s reasonable to think of a few relevant questions in advance, since most interviewers will ask you at least once if you have any. Ask yourself, “what are some of the key factors that will influence my decision to join this company?” Interviews are also an opportunity for you to learn more about the role you’re considering; they should be a two-way assessment. While it’s best to save questions about compensation for later steps, first conversations can be a great time to ask about teams, working environment, training, career paths and more.Remember that your interviewers are looking for evidence that you have done your research, are thinking seriously about the opportunity to join their team, and have the ability to think critically. If you ask a superficial question like “where is your headquarters?” you may have given them reason to wonder how much value you would add. Tone-deaf clothing choicesWhile the traditional new grad suit may be the expectation for an initial job hunt in Japan, that same outfit could register as a cultural mismatch at a start-up where employees are dressed very casually. Immediate question marks in the mind of your interviewer about whether you “get” the company culture and could integrate well with the team can be difficult to overcome.The standards for dress will vary widely by, and even within, industry but you can make more informed choices by thoroughly researching the company before your meeting. Do they share photos of employees and internal events on their social media channels or corporate website? Do you know anyone at the company who can give you a better idea of what to expect?My advice would be to dress one step more formally than the person you’ll be meeting. If it’s a company where people walk around in sweatshirts and sandals, maybe you wear dark jeans and a neat top. At Wahl and Case your interviewer would probably not be wearing a full suit, but you wouldn’t be out of place in one. If in doubt, I would recommend guys to wear a suit – you can always take off your tie or jacket for a more casual look – and for women to bring a blazer that you can add to dress-up anything from jeans to a dress. Leaving your interviewer wondering if you’re interestedMost interviewers will not purposely make you feel uncomfortable, however the interview process itself can be stressful. It’s common for nervousness to set in as you head to a meeting with a potential employer, so make a conscious decision to stay positive and focused on the conversation.Sometimes candidates will allow their nerves to get the best of them, which can manifest itself as rambling answers or distracting body language. Even if you’ve prepared for the meeting by considering how you might answer typical interview questions or lined up some thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer, don’t risk going off-topic by trying to give the answer you prepared when it doesn’t suit the question you’ve been asked. Stay focused on the moment at hand and listen carefully. Show your interviewer that you’re interested in what they’re saying now, rather than planning what you’re going to say the moment they stop talking.Even though you may be a bit nervous, remember to smile, thank everyone for their time and say that you’re interested in the position. So many candidates forget this detail and companies are constantly telling recruiters, “we couldn’t see their interest” as one of the reasons they may decide not to move forward in the interview process. Companies are expecting you to take the meeting seriously, but also want to get a sense of what you would be like as a member of their team. Everyone likes to work with people who can smile and say thank you, even when they’re under a bit of stress.Showing your interest in the conversation, as well as the opportunity and the company itself can go a long way. Ask what the next step might be and go so far as to actually say “I’m very excited about this opportunity and would love the chance to proceed.” If you’ve done your research and enjoyed the meeting, this should be evident, but laying it out there with sincerity can help to minimize any doubt that might be lingering.