your interview starts NOW

I frequently see job candidates act as if only “official” contacts — like interviews and formal writing samples — count during the hiring process. They’ll send flawlessly edited cover letters and writing samples and then check on their applications with sloppily written emails with spelling errors. Or they’ll be charming and polite to me but rude to an assistant.

If you’re job-searching, remember that employers are gathering information about you at every interaction, not just in the interview itself. For instance:

* What is your response time like? I pay attention to how quickly a candidate responds to requests for writing samples and references, and even how fast he or she returns phone calls. My assumption is that you’re on your best behavior during the hiring process – so if I have to wait days for you to get back to me now, what will you be like when you’re working here?

* How reliable are you? I want candidates who take their own word seriously, not cavalierly. For example, if you tell me you’ll send references within a day, I expect them within a day – or that you’ll update me with a new timeline.

* Can you follow directions? My organization posts our job application instructions online, and we specify five points we want all cover letters to include; at least one-third of our applicants ignore these instructions. If you can’t follow directions before we’ve even hired you, I’ll assume you won’t follow them if you work for us.

* Do you have a sense of entitlement? Candidates who demand immediate interviews, balk at requests for writing samples, or generally act as if they’re the only candidate for the job send a loud message that they’ll be nightmares to work with. (These are the same candidates who will reply to a rejection notice by insisting that there couldn’t possibly have been anyone better qualified for the job.) The candidates who seem appreciative and know that the hiring process is competitive are the ones who get interviews.

Of course, I’ll notice the opposite too. If you respond quickly and professionally at every stage, do what you say you’re going to do, respect and follow instructions, and treat everyone you come into contact well, I’m going to notice it. It won’t get you the job if you’re not qualified, but if you, it could be the extra push you need.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. Kris*

    I just did a similar blog post ( You are so right. People don’t seem to realize sometimes that it’s not just what is “between the lines” that is being noticed and judged. How players behave in the dugout and the clubhouse counts too!

  2. Anonymous*

    Too true, the minute you step onto the property, you’re being judged. I make it part of my recruitment process to go ask our receptionist about a candidates behavior in the waiting area after the interview. Were they social? Quiet? Friendly? Pushy? Rude? Professional to me but ignorant to the receptionist? Very revealing sometimes. :-)

  3. Jackie Cameron*

    This is great advice.

    On the flip side how the organisation deals with the candidate from the word go will – if they are smart – give them an impression of how it would be to work there too.

    That receptionist role is therefore a very important one for both parties!

  4. Simon Cairns (Atlanta Office)*

    Very good information. I have heard of a situation where a candidate did not get a job offer because they had not washed their hands after using the bathroom. From her desk, the receptionist could hear if the faucet was used.

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