In job interviews and on the job, first impressions matter because they last. In fact, they often take effect in an instant but can be difficult to change, if not impossible (depending on how strong they were to begin with).
I’m not talking about something like “is my tie straight?” (if you wear one). I’m referring to more subtle examples, such as the way you greet someone (the interviewer, maybe a new boss or colleague). Do you come across as friendly but professional, interested in others but not nosy, and so on? Job seekers are often told to “act natural” or “be yourself,” but cautioned to be wary of missteps which can cause them to stumble.
If you’re well up in the ranks, you might be thinking you already know basic stuff like this. But bear with me, because even the best of us can sometimes overlook things that could put us at a disadvantage when meeting someone who’s important to our long-term career success–whether it’s during the job interview phase or after we’ve landed our new job.
Basics You Might Need a Refresher On
Over-confidence can be every bit as damaging as lack of confidence, sometimes even more so. For example, if your body language or your words suggest an arrogant sense of superiority, you just might rub someone the wrong way, only to discover that the person has a say in whether or not you land the position.
Briefly, these are key aspects to consider when you’re getting ready for an important interview, because they’re what interviewers are likely to notice about you (found in an article titled “The 7 Things Interviewers Notice First“–they were listed in reverse order in the article):
- Communication style
- Body language
- Attire (clothing, etc.)
- Arrival time
I’d like to add a side note on the item about arrival time–which is something that’s very important but can be difficult to judge on occasion. As the article indicates, you definitely don’t want to be late. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up in the lobby 30 minutes ahead of time either.
In these days of cell phones being everywhere, there’s not much excuse for failing to notify someone if you’ve been unavoidably delayed; however, it would be much better, in my opinion, to build in a generous cushion of time and then find something to do with yourself during any “left over” time you might have–while staying near the location you need to be at for the interview.
First Impressions On the Job
Regardless of your rank in the organization, you’ll undoubtedly be meeting new people a lot–co-workers, subordinates, key customers or vendors, and more. To the extent possible, you’d be smart to bone up ahead of time on those you’ll be meeting, so you’re well prepared to achieve a positive first impression. Then all you have to do is maintain that positive impression in subsequent meetings!
Sometimes, of course, you won’t have an opportunity to prepare for a first meeting. It can happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. However, if you’ve been making the right kind of effort all along, you’ll probably come out of the encounter satisfactorily. By that, I mean that you’ve prepared yourself to make a first impression that will present you favorably in diverse circumstances–and will create a long-lasting impression you’ll be happy to be associated with.
If you’re in or contemplating a serious job search, you might find it hard to imagine that you could have an opportunity for interviews you don’t want–or interviews for jobs you realize you don’t want. However, stranger things have happened.
Interviews You Don’t Want
Sometimes a situation is doomed from the outset, but you don’t always know it ahead of time. However, there are some signals you can watch for that might suggest a “pass on this one” would be smart. For instance, if you learn that the company is in the midst of a potentially major change (possible merger or acquisition, etc.), that might not be the best time for interviewing there. By the same token, if some other kind of upheaval is going on (such as the abrupt departure of one or more key people on the executive team), you might want to hold off on interviewing with that organization.
You can, of course, decide the risk is worth taking because the potential payoff outweighs it. Only you can decide if you want to move forward to the interview in such a situation. One sample scenario would be if you’ll have the chance to interview with an influential person that could be a good future contact.
Interviews for Jobs You Don’t Want
Although it might be unlikely that you’ll go to multiple job interviews where you have awareness of high risk in advance, it’s not uncommon to go into one thinking you’re genuinely interested in the position and realizing partway through that it’s not a good fit for you–either the job itself or the company or both. What do you do in a case like that?
As others have said before me, you don’t necessarily want to bail from that interview prematurely, which could leave a bad impression on (burn bridges with) someone who could later be in a position to help or hurt your career. At the same time, you probably shouldn’t go full-speed-ahead with a high level of enthusiasm if you already know you wouldn’t accept an offer if they made one. You’ll want to see the interview through to a polite conclusion and, if appropriate, indicate that although you appreciate the time spent, you’ve realized you and the position aren’t a good fit right now.
Recently I read an article titled “How to Decline a Job Interview and Make It a Win/Win” that suggested ways you can also make a really favorable impression by offering information about potential candidates who might be a good fit (if you know one) or indicating other things you would be happy to do that might be helpful to the interviewer and his/her company. That’s certainly something to think about. It would undoubtedly make you more memorable to the interviewer after the interview is over and done.
A Final Word
Of course, this is all assuming you’ve done your due diligence before signing up for any interviews that might put you on the spot. If you have, you should at least minimize the likelihood of having it happen.
Job interviews can be stressful enough without having them go sour because you didn’t ask the right questions–resulting either in no job offer or in being offered and accepting a job that turns out to be a serious miss-fit. You owe it to yourself to go in prepared to ask questions and make them the “right” questions. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, so I’d like to share a few thoughts about how you can do it.
Questions to Ask in a Job Interview
Questions can touch on a variety of areas, including things you need or want to know that you didn’t uncover in your pre-interview research online or elsewhere. Sometimes, for instance, a company’s future plans aren’t yet widely known outside the company, but they could well have a direct bearing on what your job would be and on the potential for reasonably long-term employment with the company. Asking questions to elicit information on such a topic is a valid approach in a job interview. How else can you make an informed decision if they offer you the position?
Another good question involves why the position is open in the first place. Is it new? If not, why is it open now? How long ago did the previous incumbent leave? You might also want to know why the person left (was it involuntarily, for instance?), although that information can be hard to pry out of the interviewer.
Ask questions that will give you insight into the most critical job requirements or expectations–what your performance would need to be in order for the company to consider you a valuable addition to their team. This could give you an edge in completing a successful interview (that is, one that leads to a satisfying job offer and subsequent period of employment).
Be sure you don’t shy away from asking questions that will help you find out about present or upcoming challenges the company (and/or your potential new department) is facing. If the interviewer doesn’t volunteer this kind of information, ask respectfully, but ask. You have a right to know before you make a decision about working there.
What Questions Should You Not Ask?
It’s okay to be a realist and know that you can’t expect the company to look out for your best interests ahead of its own goals. At the same time, you need to temper your eagerness to get that kind of information with a sense of balance between your interests and theirs. Any question that focuses (or seems to focus) mainly on what the company can do for you–if you haven’t already made a compelling case for what you can do for them–is fraught with potential for disaster.
Really, it comes down to the concept of timing as well as appropriate ways to ask a question. When you inquire about salary and benefits is at least as important as the words you use when asking.
Questions to Use to Assess an Employer
An article titled, “6 questions for assessing a prospective employer,” by Michael Lee Stallard and Katie Russell, poses the following questions:
- Do employees feel respected?
- Is recognition a key component of the culture?
- Can I belong here?
- Are employees given autonomy?
- Can I grow here?
- Is this work important to me?
You might want to ask the prospective employer some of those directly. Others might be questions you’ll want to ask yourself and use as a guide for the questions to ask the interviewer. Above all, you don’t want to end up saying to yourself, “I should have asked that before I took the job!”
At some time or other, many of you have probably found yourselves in a work situation that was a disaster–or close to it. When that disaster involves a boss who exhibits out-of-control or other toxic behavior, your situation becomes a waking nightmare. The question is: Could you have done something–anything–to avoid that?
Job Search Guidelines Worth Remembering
You might already know some of these, but if you haven’t been keeping them in mind while planning and conducting your job search, it’s time to rethink your approach. At any rate, here are a few points to consider if you hope to avoid disaster in your next job:
- Block desperation with observation: Even if you urgently need a new job, make a conscious effort to keep your powers of observation sharp. You don’t want to overlook signs (including subtle ones) that would suggest proceeding with caution in deciding whether to accept an offer if it comes.
- Investigate as thoroughly and as objectively as you can: Job postings can sometimes sound like dream opportunities you’d be crazy to pass up. After all, companies want to hire someone, not scare candidates away, so they’re usually trying to put their best foot forward. If you want the best available information to make a decision, you need to conduct your due diligence almost as thoroughly as a company does when considering an acquisition.
- Evaluate the elements that are most important to you and rank them in order of priority: For example, if you prize integrity and ethical behavior, you probably won’t be happy working for a company or a boss who acts as if the end justifies any means necessary. On the other hand, if you would rather not travel all the time but don’t mind traveling a fair amount if necessary, a position that’s described as needing 75% travel might not be a problem.
- Pay careful attention to not only what is said but how it’s said–and by whom: Listen and watch before, during and after job interviews to note how your would-be boss interacts with you and those around him/her that already work there. What does he/she say, what tone of voice and/or facial expressions are used, etc.? You want to be sensitive to nuances that might not be really obvious. Someone who speaks disparagingly of people he/she works with or manages might be someone who goes off the rails without provocation.
How Bad Can It Get?
The answer is, pretty bad. A classic case in point is a recent blog post by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter). A reader sent in a description of his just-left situation that was horrific. It was so bad that he quit without another job lined up. Part of Corcodillos’ response was: “Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago…: Never work with jerks. As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)” He went on to add, “I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.”
A much better alternative than struggling with a horrendous work environment, if you can manage it, is to prevent your job search from dumping you into a situation that could be hazardous to your health in more ways than one. Before you decide to accept an offer, ask yourself honestly if you’ve done everything you reasonably could to minimize your risk and maximize your opportunity.
If you think you aren’t a creative employee, you might want to think again. And if you aren’t being creative in some way, can you change that?
The tendency is to think of creative employees in terms of fields such as graphic arts, marketing communications, and such–in other words, either visual or written creativity that’s an essential aspect of the individual’s job. Those of you who don’t work in such fields might be convinced that you’re not a creative employee. Not so fast, though. Maybe there’s more to it than that.
What Marks You as a Creative Employee?
Coming up with ideas for how to do something better and faster than it’s been done before could be considered evidence of creativity–that is, you might engage in creative thinking that gets out of the every-day rut and looks at a situation differently than other employees do. More than once over the years since I started creating resumes, I’ve had a client tell me he or she had been able to solve difficult problems that others had attempted and failed to do. Those clients went on to give me concrete examples of situations where that had happened.
Look at your job performance and see if you can point to instances where you tackled something that had been tried before without success and got it to work well. It doesn’t need to be of earthshaking importance to qualify you as a creative employee. By the same token, if something hasn’t been tried before but should have been, you might be the one who sees possibilities and opportunities that have previously been overlooked.
Can You Change a “Lack” of Creativity?
If you really feel you’re not a creative employee, the odds are still pretty good that you can change that. Start by changing your concept of creativity. As I indicated above, opening up your thinking to new possibilities can lead to outcomes that benefit your company in a variety of ways. As far as the company is concerned, that makes you a creative employee–and a potentially very valuable one.
A recent article by Ashlie Turley, titled “Building a Work Environment That Inspires Creativity,” states that “Creativity impacts three aspects of business in particular. These aspects – efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability – also happen to be the areas of business that leaders are usually most concerned about.” I believe you can stretch yourself as an employee, if you’re not already contributing creatively to those critical business areas. Encourage yourself to question the status quo in your own mind first and then see if you can identify ways to suggest improvements that your employer will find worth considering.
More than likely, the only thing stopping you from functioning as a creative employee is your own self-doubt or hesitation. Once you start challenging that self-imposed limitation, you might be surprised at how much of a creative employee you can be.
By the way, you can demonstrate creativity before you even start a new job. Look at your job search with a fresh approach and see if you can come up with better ways of managing it. Also, be prepared to demonstrate creative thinking when you prepare for and engage in job interviews. You might give your interviewer a pleasant surprise.