June 24, 2018

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In search of interviewing excellence – Part 2

First impressions are lasting impressions. People usually determine how they feel about you within the first two to three minutes. Your appearance and behavior do make a difference. During the early 1970’s, Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA’s psychology department, published his often quoted findings on how people communicate their feeling when conversing (an interview is a conversation.) He found that only 7% of the feeling communicated is through the actual spoken word; 38% is conveyed through how we speak – inflection, tone of voice, volume, etc.; and an amazing 55% through body language and how we appear to others.

The way you present yourself in an interview conveys what the employer can expect you to be like when you are on the job. Your self-presentation falls into three separate categories: the physical presentation – how you dress, your body language, physical characteristics, whether or not you smile, eye contact, etc; your conduct – the respect you show others, how you react to events, your demeanor and personal style, your aggressiveness, being either reserved or demonstrative, your passion; and the verbal presentation – how you express yourself in words, emotions conveyed in your speech, how loud or soft you speak, if you sound convincing and believable.

Appearance: Regardless of how relaxed the company’s dress code may be, in an interview you will be judged by your appearance. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. Method of dress, personal grooming habits and neatness, and body language are major factors in influencing the hiring authority during the selection process. Casual dress is not acceptable as interviewing attire. A suit is the required interviewing uniform (pants suits are acceptable for women.) Conservatism is the name of the game. Wear either dark blue or grey, solid color or pinstripe with appropriately matching accessories. Men’s shoes, black only. Women should wear shoes that compliment their suits.

For men, nails should be short – and clean. Hair should never be too long, and a beard or moustache should be short and properly trimmed. Stay away from French cuffs or frilly blouses and wear no jewelry except for an engagement ring, wedding band, and watch. Women should wear earrings that are tastefully conservative or no earrings at all. Stay away from colognes and perfumes. Nobody wants to smell your fragrances, and some people have allergies. Idiosyncratic behavior or being perceived as someone who flaunts authority or convention will usually serve to eliminate you. The way you should stand out as an individual is through your accomplishments and your ability to perform – not through your unique appearance or unusual behavior. A job interview is not a social occasion – it is a business meeting. Treat it as such.

Two excellent resources focusing on professional dress are Tim Meehan’s book “A Practical Guide to Men’s Attire,” and John Molloy’s book “New Women’s Dress for Success.” We also suggest Todd Lyon’s books to be released early next year “Lands’ End Business Attire for Men,” and Lands’ End Business Attire for Women.”

Conduct: Only you are responsible for your behavior. Civility, your mannerisms, how you to treat the secretary or receptionist, your smile – or lack of it, eye contact, being able to demonstrate true desire or passion to do the work, respect of others, all are important in creating a picture of who you are. If you are one of seven people being interviewed for a position, statistically you have a 14% probability of achieving an offer. You can dramatically impact your chances for success by presenting the image of a person who others would want to have around.

Questions: Focus on the requirements of the position, the types of problems you might encounter on the job, the major company or departmental objectives to be achieved, the people you will be working with, and gaining knowledge about the manager to whom you will be reporting. Find out the issues that are important to them. Good questions help you to target specific problem areas and critical issues. Once you have a more complete picture of the opportunity, you can focus the discussion on how your skills and ability to perform will help them to reach company objectives. You should be able to demonstrate an understated self-confidence in presenting your ability to do the job well.

Presenting your skills: Most employers are interested in your ability to solve problems. Tell them how you were able to increase profits or reduce costs. Talk about your skill at being able to manage projects, people, physical resources, time – and, oh yes, yourself. Concentrate on your achievements. Let them know how you have impacted critical areas such as: costs, market share, sales, profits, growth, conserving resources, leading staff to specific achievement, and reaching corporate goals. Try to link your previous responsibilities and achievements to how you can impact issues for the interviewer’s company. Remember that your previous responsibilities have merit only as long as they led to achievements, and achievements are bottom-line results of your efforts to solve problems or improve conditions. Let them see your enthusiasm, commitment to ethical principals, and your ability to work well as part of a team – or to lead a team.

Read Part 1

To Read the rest of this series, 3-5, please visit

"Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Send ideas or questions via email to: Website address:

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