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In a recent study at the University of Toledo, researchers concluded that people have thirty seconds to make-or-break a first impression. Does that mean that, in an interview, your fate is sealed within the opening minute?

No. Interviews are, in fact, much more than "love at first sight" meetings. They are complex and involved interactions where many factors may influence the outcome.

Many readers send questions regarding the first few minutes of an interview, but all share the same basic ideas: How do I start an interview in a positive manner? How do I answer that first question properly?

The following overview of an interview will provide an understanding of the dynamics and normal progression of the interview process. Visualize a pie chart with three parts. FIRST PART: they ask questions. SECOND PART: you ask questions. THIRD PART: you ask for the job. These three parts may seem overly simplified, but once you understand the process, you will value this overview. You can relax somewhat and just let the interview happen once you understand how it should unfold.


After the handshake, the employer’s first goal is to verify the information on your resume. Are the dates correct or are there any gaps in employment? The leading, open-ended question, "Tell me about yourself" applies to your education and work experience only. Don’t start your answer with, "I was born…" This is not the time to discuss overcoming a rough childhood or growing up in a broken home.

This open-ended question is not intended to reveal personal information. The goal of this question is to get you talking. You should start with your education and bring it forward in time to your current situation. The interviewer wants to hear about your skills that fit the job. This question is also a means to evaluate your verbal skills, eye contact, posture, energy level, anxiety level, sense of humor, etc… While you’re talking, the interviewer can coast and take notes on your image while you blab. Some of your answers are not even recorded. More importantly, are you dressed properly? Is your suit or dress clean and pressed? Do you have a proper level of personal hygiene and grooming? Don’t worry if you miss explaining any part of your resume, the interviewer will ask for more information about your education or why you left a prior job. These answers are important, but your ability to communicate in a precise and orderly manner is even more important. Don’t ramble and limit your opening answer to 2-3 minutes.


There is no clear-cut line dividing parts one and two. However, when the interviewer asks, "Do you have any questions?" that signals you that part two has begun. You may bounce back and forth between answering and asking questions. This is part of the interview is where you must take control and ask the right questions. The only questions you should ask are about the job opening and it’s duties or responsibilities. Do not ask about salary, benefits, vacation time, 401K, or sick leave. Are you more interested in the compensation than the company? These questions will usually derail an interview. The best opening questions for you to ask are: "Can you define the heartbeat of this job? What will I be doing 70 percent of the time? What are the ‘must have’ skills for this job? What would be the major focus of my responsibilities during the first 3-6 months? What are the short-term goals or problems to be solved? How would you describe the best candidate for this position?" By getting the answers to these questions, it will automatically lead you into part three about asking for the job. You can’t say "I want the job," unless you’ve asked good questions.


The answers from part two will give you a natural lead-in to part three: selling your skills and closing the interview by asking for the job. For example, if one of the answers in part two is, "We really need someone to upgrade our sales operations," you can sell yourself with your transferable skills by answering, "Recently, I led a team to restructure our sales and marketing groups with great results." Instead of saying I can do this job, you’re saying, "I’ve done this job successfully for my current company and I can do it for you." You create more believability when you answer with real-life examples.

The final minutes of the interview can be the most relevant. No matter how well the interview has progressed or if you feel you have not done your best, this is your opportunity to save the interview. The employer must know you want the job and you are more excited now than when the interview started. Some people may feel uncomfortable stating, "I want this job, when do I start." This statement may seem overly aggressive but you need to communicate this kind of statement in your own words and at your level of assertiveness.

Many people stumble when asking for the job because they think it commits them to accepting the job. What you are really asking for is the job offer, which can always be turned down if it’s not the right money or responsibility. Ask and you shall receive.

RECAP: Sometimes, job-seekers say it was magic…love at first sight. They insist that they got the job without even trying. They are mistaken, though, because the steps I have listed must be completed. Before you will receive a job offer, there is a period of time where information is exchanged. The interviewer must verify your background, feel that you understand the job responsibilities and possess the skills to do it. Communicating your energy and desire for the job is the magic that seals the deal. Closing the interview and asking for the job comes only after the first two parts are accomplished.

PLEASE NOTE: emails received become the property of "Dear Headhunter" and may be published unless otherwise requested. Questions may be edited for content and length. All questions will be reviewed, some without a reply.

George Gurney has been a leader in the employment industry since 1976. He founded an executive search firm that conducts domestic and international assignments.  He has won numerous awards for recruiting excellence.  He has been a guest speaker at national conventions and seminars.