The First 10 Minutes of the Interview Matter Most

Mark's picture

The biggest mistake interviewees make is waiting to be interviewed.  Most people sitting for an interview expect that the interview is a time for the interviewer to ask questions and the interviewee to respond.  Although it is important to respect that this is the interviewer's meeting, waiting for the interview to happen to you is a huge mistake.  Interviewers are often out of practice if they don't hire often, and are probably experts in their respective fields, but not necessarily experts in asking the perfect questions in an interview.  Do the interviewer and yourself a favor and take control of the flow of the interview as a service to both of you to make sure you share the right information effectively.

Let's take a quick look at the typical interviewer.  They are imperfect people, just like you and me, and every person comes with preconceived ideas and prejudices.  People make mistakes.  They also make quick decisions based on first impressions and limited information, usually determining in the first 5-10 minutes their decision on a candidate, so the first 10 minutes is critical.  It may not sound pretty, but it's the reality, so here's how to make sure you at handle the all-important first impression portion of the interview.

Interviewers primarily make decisions based on 3 questions:

1. Do I like this person?
2. Will my team like this person?
3. Do they have the technical skills/experience required?

The best interviewers add the 4th question:

4. Do they have the necessary interpersonal skills to be successful at our company?

These last interviewers are the most challenging to convince, but more on that in a future article, let's focus on the 90%.

There are 4 parts to a well-structured interview: Casual small talk, and Intro (the first 10 minutes), then Questions and the Close.  We'll focus on the first 2 parts as the critical part for the candidate to dictate to be successful.

Casual small talk

Each interview typically starts with small talk.  Did you have any trouble finding us?  How was the drive in?  Can I get you some water?  The most important thing during this part of the interview is to BE ENGAGING.  If you met someone at a party, you wouldn’t sit back and wait to be asked questions.  Ask a question.  How long have you been with the company?  Where did you work before?  Thank them for meeting with you. Be personable and invite the interviewer to talk about themselves in some way.

Introducing yourself thoroughly

It is critical early in the interview to get some insight from the interviewer about what is most important to them, rather than wasting talking about things that are not as important to the interviewer.  At some point during the small talk, the conversation will fade and the interviewer will ask the “get-down-to-business” question.  It could be as wide open as “So tell me about yourself,” or as direct as “What brings you here today?”  Regardless of the question, answer it of course—ideally in just 3 or 4 sentences without rambling on—but immediately follow your answer by inviting the manager to tell you what’s most important to them.  Say something like:

                “. . . and I’m very excited about this position and I’ve read the job description, but tell me what are the most important skills you need for someone to be successful in this position.”

Listen for specific technical or soft skills the interviewer mentions that are critical to success, and don’t let the interviewer get away from the question without providing a few characteristics that are important to them, such as “team-player”, “resourcefulness” or “someone with initiative.”

After getting a few skills that are important to the interviewer, offer to walk the interviewer quickly through your work history as a jumping off point for the rest of the interview.  Most interviewers will welcome the offer, and be thrilled to be released from the pressure of asking the perfect question.  See my previous article on interview preparation for what you ought to be able to do when walking through your background.  Then address the important skills the interviewer has just given you with specific examples of performance, such as:

                “So that’s why I’m here today, and as far as being a team-player [or whatever skill they mentioned], in my previous position we had a hard deadline for a deliverable, so I personally ordered food in one evening and rallied the troops to meet the deadline.  I also met with blah, blah. . . and we were able to meet the deadline.  As far as being resourceful [or skill #2 from the interviewer], I have this example from my work history with these terrific results, etc. . . . Do you have any questions about that?”

To prepare to address as many of these skills as possible with tangible, results-oriented examples, make sure to read my article on writing a great resume and create 8-10 examples to use in the Problem-Action-Result format--most of which should already be on your resume!  If you’ve walked through your background well and addressed the skills the manager needs with specific examples, you will have made that important first impression and handled the 3 primary concerns in the first 5-10 minutes of the interview.

...because who you work with matters.