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The Best-Kept Worst Secret Of Jobhunting


August 15th, 2019

- Updated on

August 26, 2019 - 4:04pm

The Interview-First Impression

The worst, best-kept secret of job hunting is that the interview is over before you know it. 

Within 5 minutes more or less of the interview, the interviewer has essentially made up his/her mind about you. 

Why the ‘worst’ secret is because the interview is staged and usually practiced to be a rational discussion and decision to match the best skills set against the particular job requirements. Instead, it turns out to be an emotional, very subjective ‘blind date’. 
interview surprise depiction
I will share how I learned this shortly but, more importantly, you need to discover the truth yourself so you can start to manage the reality of the interview process for your next interview.
Imagine it is the day of the interview, you have already practiced your Q&As, you did your research, you dressed up, and are headed out for the interview. Once out your door, two things have been fixed (are invariable) and one remains variable. When you look in the mirror, what you see is what they see for better or worst. You can’t change anything there at least not at that moment. You are who you are. You have dressed up in your interview best. You can’t change that once out the door.

When it’s interview ‘showtime’, the only variable you can manipulate is what comes out of your mouth- your sounds, your words.

There are other nonverbal, body language factors you can manage and techniques you can practice. There is a lot of online information on body language worth looking up. We've added our recommended picks below. 
Like going on a blind date, you’ve reviewed the background of the person, have seen a photograph most likely (LinkedIn profile when it comes to the interview), and you probably spoke on the phone (i.e. phone screen) to get a sense of the person and to set up the date. That’s all good and gets you to the in-person meeting. Now face-to-face for the first time and meeting essentially a stranger in a new place (their place), the human drama begins. 

Once 25 words or so have been exchanged, both parties to the pressured meeting will sense (intuit) that this is a good beginning with promise or not.

How did I learn this; how can you discover the truth?

As a Career Consultant/Coach, I have the distinct privilege of working with numerous senior-level professionals across all industries, functions, and levels with the one goal of helping each advance in their respective careers and/or find their next job. Because of the level, virtually all of them have been hiring decision-makers at several points in their careers. I got into the habit of asking each about their hiring experience. I would ask how much time they usually allocated for the in-person interview, then ask them when into that time frame did they decide or know that they had the right candidate in front of them. Without exception and with a slight smirk or sign of embarrassment, each admitted that they “knew” within minutes anywhere as short as one minute and maybe up to 10 minutes. 
  • If it was a “yes”, they enjoyed the rest of the time and got into important details and discussed next steps. 
  • If it was a ‘no’, they would go over some routines of the interview, watch the time, and look to end it on as vague a note as possible. “We will get back you about the next step”. 

Remember this is all happening well before you get to chance to tell them how you are a good fit for the job. FYI and another secret - your resume already told them that and that’s why you are interviewing with them. 

To discover this for yourself, all you have to do, if you ever hired anyone, is go back over the ‘videotapes’ in your memory of the experience and tell yourself if I’m wrong or right. If you never hired anyone, go back to a blind date or other first-encounter of with someone, what happened, and how quickly “you knew” or decided that the other person was the right one for whatever was the reason you met for the first time.
When I discovered this ‘dark truth’ (or unspoken truth), as a Career Coach, I had to rethink and re-adjust my interview preparation strategy to help my client win the ‘two-minute’ drill or first impression challenge and not worry too much about the rest of the interview. 
Of course, we also covered the rest of the interview - the Q&A parts but more as a secondary important piece of the experience. 
In our “AJO Interview Labs” supporting candidates in career transition, we continually work on what I like to call “sound technology”- the sounds to make a difference or what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. We practice the opening moves, rehearse the first sounds that you make to beat the fast ticking clock of the interview. I tell my candidates that I’m your acting movie director and you are my Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. If they have to practice to get it right and make it believable, you would be wise to adopt a similar attitude.
interview practice/preparation
Photo by Expect Best from Pexels

Here’s an example with names changed to protect the individuals. 

There was this mild-mannered executive, Clark Kent, who was to interview for a President’s job and needed to demonstrate the intangibles of leadership. His resume got him the interview with the owner/founder (Paul Crown) who naturally would take with a grain of salt, all the great accomplishments outlined in the resume. The hiring decision-maker needed to “see it for themselves”. 
Upon eye contact signaling the start of the interview, Clark articulated “Thank you, Paul, for inviting me in to meet with you and I understand that you are the original founder of the company?” 
Paul answered, “Yes, that’s what we tell folks these days.” Paul followed with “How did you get the idea for the business since your profile doesn’t convey you as an R&D type?”  Paul went on to explain the history of the early days of the company. 
At that point, Kent backed off probing and allowed Paul to continue the interview on Paul’s terms since it was his company, his office and his interview time.
By the time Paul got to ask his first question, it was already 12 minutes into the interview. By then the intangibles of confidence, take-charge, professionalism, fearlessness, and good-on-one’s-feet attributes were all communicated subliminally from Clark to Paul. Paul experienced for himself, in the opening minutes, the leader he ultimately hired.
It is not always so simply or easy to pull off but you would be wise to anticipate and prepare for the opening moves of a job interview. Your success in moving forward will depend on it.

Recommended Reading & References

AJO Career Coach Nat CaputiNat Caputi has taken over 3000 and counting professionals through “the jungle” and drama (trauma) of job transition. He style is urgent, high-touch, energetic, and focused on results. His Ph.D. in human behavior allows him to be tuned into the subtle aspects of the search process and he is always curious as to the market feedback of actions because, if something is not working, it is his responsibility to figure out a more effective approach. His experience covers virtually all industries, functions, salary levels, and every career stage.