What Employers Can Deduce About You 30 Seconds into the Job Interview

Photo: ThinkstockBy Candace Braun Davison

Whether You Value Your Time More Than Anyone Else's

You think you'll show how eager and prepared you are by arriving 15 or more minutes early, but the manager--who's usually notified of your arrival shortly after you check in with the front desk--suddenly feels pressured to meet with you, and the receptionist has to figure out what to do with you in the meantime, explains Jenny Blake, Life After College author and former career development manager at Google. Most hiring managers are overworked, overstressed and overscheduled. By showing up five to 10 minutes before the interview, you're demonstrating not only that you understand that, but also that you're doing your part to be one less thing for him or her to worry about.

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Whether You Know How to Pass the Test

You've scanned the company's mission statement and "About" page on the website, but have you translated those vague messages about the importance of "teamwork" and "creativity" into clues that can define your interview, especially how you'll demonstrate those values? In This Is How to Get Your Next Job, author Andrea Kay quotes VonChurch CEO Alex Churchill, who says that every interviewee is offered a glass of water as soon as he or she walks in the door: "If you don't say thank you after being offered the water, you've failed the interview right there." Politeness is among the company's core values, and like many managers, he wants to see candidates who display those values from the start.

Whether You Think Like a Sidekick
Most candidates have a checklist of things they want to convey in an interview: (a) where they've worked, (b) how much they want the job, (c) how productive they are, and (d) a reiteration of all of the above. Too bad managers don't hire based only on these things, says Kay. "They're going to hire you because you can solve their problems." Go back to the job description and draft a new checklist, with a focus on how you'll be able to handle each responsibility on it, as well as support your boss in whatever way she needs.

Whether You'll Be the Next Office Troll
Two seemingly nonchalant questions most employers ask before the interview even starts carry a lot more weight than you'd think: "How about this weather?" and "Did you have a hard time finding us?" Although it might seem like an easy way to commiserate--and bond--with strangers, bringing up the temperature or traffic tends to backfire here, even if you've had to navigate an unfamiliar office complex on a massively humid day. "The interviewer knows very little about you, so she's soaking up every little thing to assess who you are," says Allison Green of AskAManager.com. When you gripe about the small stuff, you might as well be saying, "If you hire me, I will respond to every request with an eye-roll and a heavy sigh."

Whether You Know How to Pack a Bag
While it's always good to have work samples on hand to illustrate a point, "when you take out your portfolio right away, you're hijacking the interview, and it sends a strong signal that you're going to be a management problem down the road," says Martin Yate, author of Knock 'Em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for First-Time Job Seekers. Save it for later in the interview, when you're answering a question that can be best explained using the visuals. Beyond that, copies of your resume, pens and a notepad are critical to have on hand--though they come with a caveat as well. Take notes only if there's something you'll need to follow up on, or if the interviewer has to answer a call mid-conversation--that way you can remind him where you left off, Yate recommends. Otherwise, keep the pen out of your hands (especially if you're prone to absent-mindedly clicking, chewing or twirling it).

Whether You Know How to Put on the Right Shoes
One final note: You've heard before how important it is to dress appropriately. But in the era of business casual, trendy business and startup casual, every office has its own unwritten rules about how people dress at work, and no two offices are quite the same. Have lunch just outside the office a few days before the interview, and pay attention to what people are wearing as they enter and exit the building, recommends Yate. The sharpest-dressed person there is your new style icon.

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