There is a common misconception that the interview begins the moment you shake an interviewer’s hand and start answering questions. But the interview actually begins much sooner than that.
Employers often form an opinion of you before they actually see you in person. That opinion will sometimes determine whether or not you even get an interview in the first place. At the very least, it can impact how you are perceived during your interview.
Here are four instances where an employer evaluates you before the interview starts:
When you answer the phone.
If you are putting your resume out into the universe, it is likely that you will someday receive a call from a number you don’t recognize.
And since that call could come from a potential employer, make sure that you are always answering the phone as professionally as possible – After all, it’ll likely be the first time a hiring manager interacts with you outside of your resume.
With that in mind, avoid answering your phone in any way that might embarrass you when you find out who’s on the other end. A casual, “hey what’s up” is fine for a friend, but it’s not how you want to greet your potential boss. Instead, a simple greeting such as “This is Jane” goes a long way.
The idea is to show a hiring manager, from the first moment they interact with you, that you are ready to act professional under any circumstance. This is especially important if you’re seeking a customer-facing position, or any kind of phone-based work.
Remember that an employer may determine from that first brief conversation if they feel you’d be a good fit for, or a good representation of, their company, so make even your first words count!
After an employer hears your voicemail.
If a potential employer calls you about a resume you submitted and can’t reach you right away, they will almost certainly leave you a voicemail. This will be the first time they hear your voice, get an impression of who you are, and speculate on how you would behave yourself in their workplace.
So stop and ask yourself, what does your voicemail message say about you? Is it an accurate representation of who you are? And are you comfortable with the type of impression it may give an employer? If not, you might want to consider redoing your message.
When in doubt, record a simple voicemail with a quick message letting the caller know who they’ve reached and that you’ll call them back. You can’t go wrong with something like “Hi you’ve reached NAME, I’m sorry I missed your call, but if you leave your name, number and a brief message, I will get back to you as soon as I can.”
When you record your voicemail, make sure to be in a quiet place with no background noise. You want your potential employer to hear and understand your message.
And do remember to clean out your voicemail regularly. A full mailbox could be frustrating to a hiring manager trying to get in touch with you. Hiring managers are often really busy and you don’t want to give them any reason to feel like they might be wasting their time trying to reach you.
When you answer an email.
While employers will often call first, they will sometimes choose to email you to set up an interview. In which case, they will also instantly form an opinion of you based on how you answer.
The first thing a hiring manager will care about is the speed of your response. If you want to make a good impression, make sure to answer any interview request within 24 hours. If you take longer to reply, you risk conveying either that you’re uninterested in the job or, simply, that you’re unprofessional.
Next is how you reply. Start by thanking the sender for their consideration. If you’re interested in the interview, provide your availability and phone number. Then, try to answer every question or element of the email you’ve received. You don’t want your contact to have to repeat themselves.
And even if you don’t want the job, whatever the reason may be, do still answer politely to avoid closing any doors. You never know, you may wish to work for that company in the future.
On Social Media.
You might think your social media has nothing to do with your job search but the truth is, it’s very likely that hiring managers will look at it before they decide to interview you. In fact, most hiring managers screen candidates through social media. And that’s not limited to LinkedIn. They will also check your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Of course, the first place an employer will look at is LinkedIn. They might check to see that your profile is up to date and matches your resume. And if you have testimonials, skill endorsements and references on your profile, that could nudge them to form a positive opinion of you.
As far as other social media platforms go, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t post anything controversial, inappropriate or offensive. That might put an employer off and lead them to dismiss you before even having a conversation with you. Consider deleting anything you wouldn’t want an interviewer to see, or set your profiles to private.
Even if you set your profile to private, do remember that nothing on the internet is completely secret, and an inappropriate post might still make its way to a potential employer’s eyes. The best thing you can do if you’re unsure about a post, is simply to avoid posting.
Keeping your social media clean will go a long way to leaving a good first impression on a hiring manager. At the very least, you’ll avoid making a negative impression that could cost you an interview.
All in all, your first impression is a lasting one, and it is often made long before the interview starts. So remember to always put your best foot forward. You never know when you’ll be evaluated by a potential employer and a positive impression will go a long way towards landing you the job of your dreams!
And if you need more tips on how to present yourself before and during an interview, we have some great blog posts for you:
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(Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.)