Interviewing these days can be a tedious process. Sometimes it seems like employers are purposely putting you through the ringer for no reason, but this is not true: If you have even been considered for a first interview, you are one of several hundred – if not thousands. That means you’d better be prepared. But what does that mean?
In my years of recruiting, my friends and family often referred to me as a headhunter, but I found the best way to describe myself was as a matchmaker for employers and jobseekers. Thinking of the interview process in similar terms – as a courtship – is a great way to prepare.
Here are a few ways to get started:
Imagine your first interview as a first date. In this scenario, your “date” is likely as unsure as you are – and the more insecure you seem, the more uncomfortable your date will be. You don’t want to be fake, but you do want to hold back a bit: Be courteous and polite, but not stiff. Listen and observe before talking off-the-cuff. You have to feel out their personality and, to a certain extent, mirror it. Also (though I wouldn’t recommend it on an actual date) be sure to take notes; when offers come in from multiple sources, your notes will help you determine the best match.
Talk positively about yourself and your experience. Be prepared to answer questions about your past, your challenges, and your successes; why you agreed to this first date; and also, inevitably, what happened to end your last “partnership.” No matter how horrible your past relationships were, you should never bad-mouth previous partners: playing the victim isn’t attractive to anyone, and you never know who your date might know. These top-line questions are crucial: answer them incorrectly, and there’s not much else you can say to redeem yourself.
Roll with the punches. In most situations, a hiring manager will let you know the protocol: for instance, whether there is a phone screening, or how many rounds of interviewing you must tackle. But if they provide only a vague overview, or won’t inform you of their process at all, don’t blink: Every culture is different. Embarking on a first date, you may find your counterpart’s mother or another chaperone tagging along; if you’re interested in going to the next level, you’d better embrace the arrangement!
When it’s your turn to ask questions, keep it light. You wouldn’t ask a first date if they’re ready to get married and have kids. You want to demonstrate interest, but don’t go too deep. You might ask, “Is this a new position or are you replacing someone?” “How long was the previous person in this role?” “How would you describe your organizational culture?” If you aren’t offered the chance to ask questions, it is appropriate to say, “If you have time, I had a few questions I would like to ask.”
Don’t burn bridges. Sometimes, it can take just a few minutes for you to realize that you and your date aren’t a match; in those cases, the best tactic is to be polite and get through it as painlessly as possible. It’s perfectly appropriate to tell an interviewer, at the end of the conversation, that you appreciate the opportunity, but it just doesn’t seem to be a match. Being dismissive or rude can endanger future prospects. It’s a small world, and referrals are vital: Your next date may be this person’s best friend!
Take it slow. If you’re feeling good after the first round of questions, don’t feel you need to make a big move – like declaring the salary and benefits package you expect. Even if a date acts like they want you to go in for the kiss, holding back and being respectful will typically leave them wanting more. Pushing things too soon, especially if you’ve already established there will be a second date, could ruin it all.
The perfect end to a great date is establishing that you both had a great time, following up to acknowledge the chemistry between you, and finding out if there’s mutual interest in another encounter. With these tips in mind, you could be meeting the family by your second date!
Chelle Shell is senior client development manager at Work for Good.