Don't Make This One, Epic Job Interview Mistake

By Robert Half on July 12, 2016 at 6:00pm

Tick tock. When it comes to first impressions, you never get a second chance, so if you don't want to make the classic job interview mistake, do your impressing in the first 15 minutes, according to an Accountemps survey of CFOs.

The survey found that most hiring managers size up job candidates — positive or negative — very quickly in every job interview. If you're saving your best for last, consider that an interview mistake that could cost you the job interview. Why? Twenty percent of CFOs who responded said they have an idea of whether a candidate should move forward in the review process in five minutes or less. A larger number (60 percent) allowed a grace period of 15 minutes to form their opinion.

“A first impression starts with the initial handshake,” said Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps. “What you wear, your demeanor and body language, are details that interviewers assess within the first few minutes of meeting someone.”

View an infographic, below, of the survey findings, Timing's Impact on Job Interviews.

So don’t make the epic interview mistake of thinking you have plenty of time in the job interview to work up a good impression. You don’t. Think 15 minutes or less, and follow these six tips to buy yourself the perfect timing — and keep the yawning at bay.

1. Calm your nerves in advance

The best way to overcome anxiety about job interview mistakes is to walk into the room well-prepared.

Learn beforehand as much as you can about the requirements of the position, and arrive having done your homework on the company. Not only will that set you apart from those who didn’t take the time to prepare, but it will provide you a cloak of composure and provide you with background to ask good questions.

Inquire about the name and title of the manager, or interview panel members you’ll be meeting with. That way you can learn as much as possible about them and respond insightfully during the job interview.

Wondering what kinds of questions you might ask? Check out our blog post, Turning the Tables: 8 Questions to Ask in an Interview.

2. Plan what to wear well ahead of time

Sure, you want to be yourself, but if you’re interviewing, you really should dress in business-professional attire. A suit or blazer projects professionalism and shows you take the interview seriously. Think classic, comfortable and clean.

If budget is an issue, look for sales or online coupons at your local department store, visit a local consignment, borrow from a friend or check out what Goodwill or other charitable organizations have to offer. Be sure to factor the cost of having your suit professionally cleaned (and altered if necessary) before the job interview. And remember to polish your shoes.

Learn about what-not-to-wear the day of the job interview in our blog post, Looks That Kill (Your Chances).

3. Have a job interview checklist

Consider putting together a to-do list as you prepare for the job interview. Here’s an example:

  • Five printouts of resume
  • Calendar or appointment book (digital or otherwise) for scheduling follow-up interviews or phone calls
  • Note pad and pen or pencil
  • Portfolio of relevant work, presented neatly in a folder (with resume and cover letter)
  • Printed list of three to five references with contact information
  • Directions to the interview. If you’ve never been there, consider a trial run at the same time as your scheduled interview so you can get a sense of traffic, parking and locating the reception area where you’ll be greeted. Confirm the address and suite or office number ahead of time, if it isn’t provided.
  • Best time to leave for the interview (arrive 10 minutes early, and give yourself an extra 30 minutes to account for unanticipated delays)
  • A reminder to turn off your cellphone and silence your tablet or laptop notifications.

Need more help in the job search?

4. Be prepared to answer common (and unexpected) questions

What is it the interviewer wants to know? Basically, it’s this: Can you do the job, do you really want the job, and will you fit in? Here are some examples of common accounting and finance interview questions, but be prepared to answer general questions, too, such as, “Can you tell me a little about yourself?” and “What interests you about this position?” Practice answering these questions with a friend, out loud, and have them gauge your confidence level.

Companies are increasingly asking behavioral-based questions, according to another Accountemps survey. Here's an example: “Tell me about a time you faced a conflict while working on an accounting team, and how did you handle it?” Be prepared with a succinct story or anecdote highlighting a specific accomplishment. Aim to give your response to a question in about 60 seconds.

5. Consider that initial handshake

Use a professional grasp that conveys genuineness and confidence, but don’t make it last more than three seconds, and making it bone-crushing would classify as an interview mistake. Fingers together, thumb up, and while you’re at it, make positive eye contact, smile, then let go. Pop a breath mint (sight unseen), and make sure your personal hygiene is perfect.

6. Answer the interview questions with poise

When you get your first questions, breathe.

Be calm, knowing you’ve prepared, knowing your background and that you’re the best qualified candidate for the position. Keep your responses short and on point, and if you need clarification on a question, by all means ask for it. You could say, “Do I understand correctly that you’re asking X?” or “Could you please explain what you mean by Y?” Pause and allow the interviewer to clarify.

Pay attention to the importance of your body language. Smile, sit up straight, uncross your arms, maintain eye contact and ignore the urge to fidget, check your phone or let your mind wander.

These job interview tips are just as important when asked to do a video interview via Skype, FaceTime or a similar video service.

The bottom line? Be engaging and enthusiastic during the job interview. Don't make the interview mistake of waiting to long to make your impression. If you want this job, don't wait to show it!

Timing's Impact on Job Interviews infographic


Perfect timing could be a deciding factor

11% Before 9 a.m.
61% 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
11% 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
9% 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
5% 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
2% After 5 p.m.
1% Don’t know

Three in five CFOs conduct interviews 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

CFOs were also asked, “How long does it typically take you to form an opinion of a candidate during an initial interview?”

4% Less than 5 minutes
16% Five minutes
23% Six to 10 minutes
17% 11 to 15 minutes
14% 16 to 20 minutes
15% 21 to 30 minutes
6% More than 30 minutes

60% of CFOs form positive or negative opinions of candidates in 15 minutes or less.

Source: Accountemps survey of more than 2,200 CFOs in the United States.

© 2016 Accountemps. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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