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Gini Dietrich

First Impression: Eight Ways to Avoid a Bad One

By: Gini Dietrich | November 30, 2010 | 
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I’ve been curious about a phenomenon we’re seeing when we interview candidates these days. Their first impressions suck. Not everyone, but I’d venture to say 90 percent of them.Why do they suck? Because they’re not doing any research on Arment Dietrich nor are they reading Spin Sucks before they interview with us.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been using Twitter as our recruiting playground and people have gotten lazy because they feel like they know me, and I know them, so they just have to go through the process before they’re offered a job. But I’m here to tell you, that perception is wrong. It’s actually MORE disappointing to me if we interview someone I feel like I know pretty well online, just to have my team say, “Yeah, Gin. They sucked. They didn’t ask any questions and didn’t know who we work with every day. They’ve never even read the blog.”

I hear that AT LEAST once a week. I hear it so much we’re restructuring the way we interview. When you don’t do your research, you’re wasting my team’s time, you’re wasting your time, and you’re greatly disappointing me. Those first impressions you leave with my team? They’re lasting and nothing you can do will change their perception of what it would be like to work with you. And it doesn’t matter how much I like you online. If someone on my team got a really bad first impression from you, you won’t get a job here.

I’m here to help, though. Following are eight ways you can avoid a bad first impression and make it through the process to interview with the top decision maker (and hopefully get yourself a job).

1. Don’t complain about being out of work online. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. Not on your blog. Sure, you can write about what you’re looking for in a new job. You can even write about the lessons you’re learning by being out of work, but the second you moan and groan about how awful it is, we’re taking you off our potential talent list. Julie Walraven wrote a great post about that yesterday. Read it here.

2. Do your stinkin’ research. Come on, people! How hard is it to Google a company, Google the people you’re going to meet, visit the website, and read a few blog posts? Just like you like to have your ego stroked, the minute you make the people you’re interviewing with feel like you did a bit of work to find out more about them, the more likely they are to move you up the chain as a “YES! Please hire!”

3. Don’t offend the person interviewing you. I once interviewed a guy who said, “I Googled you and saw all these stories in big publications like USA Today and NY Times. But then I clicked on them and saw they’re just comments you’ve left. Don’t you have anything better to do?” Yeah. I ended the interview right then and there and, when the guy had the gall to ask me to open some doors for him at the bigger agencies, I told him in my nice Gini way to stick it.

4. Stalk the social networks. Most people, especially in PR and marketing, now have online profiles on the social platforms. See if you can find a company’s Facebook page, a Twitter profile, and Twitter profiles for the people you’ll be meeting. Look at Google profiles and Amplify and Hashable and Quora. Find ways to get to know the people you’ll be interviewing with BEFORE you actually meet them.

5. Use LinkedIn to get more information. Go into LinkedIn and look up the people you’re meeting with and see who you know in common. Then call those people to get more information on what you should know and the kinds of questions you should ask. A couple of weeks ago, a friend called me because she’s interviewing at a big agency in Chicago and she asked me a bunch of questions about the firm, such as what she should know about them, what kind of reputation they have, and what’s my outside perception of them. She also asked me what questions I would ask, if I were interviewing there. I was happy to help her and I’m pretty sure she’s well prepared for the interview now.

6. Prepare questions ahead of time. There is almost nothing more irritating to me than when a candidate has gone through a day of interviews and finishes with me and I ask if they have any questions. You’d be surprised how many times I hear, “Nope. I asked them all of the others.” Really? You don’t think the CEO might have a different perspective? You have nothing to ask me? Nope. And that’s when I end the interview. I don’t know if you asked the same questions already, but you’d better ask me something.

7. Be prepared to answer, “What change would you make on your first day?” I always ask that and, to use Megan as the example again, because she was interviewing for the chief financial officer position, she came to the interview with a spreadsheet that showed how we could generate revenue in other ways. I didn’t ask her for this. Heck, I hadn’t even asked, “What change would you make on your first day” yet. She was just prepared and between that and the amazing chemistry she and I have, she got the job. Hands down.

8. Demonstrate that you are well read. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating. We always ask what people read. This is to see a) if they are a consumer of media (which is pertinent in our line of work) and b) to determine what kind of writer they likely are before they take the writing test. If you tell us you don’t have time to read or can’t list some of the most popular, as well as some of the obscure, PR and marketing blogs, you’re not going to get a job with us. And for heaven’s sakes…if you don’t say you read Spin Sucks and can talk about, intelligently, something you read here, you lose.

And one more tip for those of you in PR or marketing? If you’re not already following Help a PR Pro Out on Twitter, do so by following #HAPPO. Also check out the LinkedIn group. There likely is also a hashtag for your city. I’m the HAPPO champion in Chicago and our hashtag is #HAPPOCHI. More information can be found on Arik Hanson’s blog about a Twitter event on December 8 and an in real life, networking event toward the end of January.

So there you have. My tips for avoiding a bad first impression. What tips do you have?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

85 comments
RandomShelly
RandomShelly

I tried to comment on this on the iPad and couldn't (no idea)- anyway - I loved the points! and I was trying to tell you my recent story...

I interviewed for a position - DId a tech interview with the CIO, who then asked if I wanted to come to their Microsoft event the following day - I went and when I walked in and said HI! - He said "You're RandomShelly, I recognize you from your picture..." so I said, "Oh you googled me!" he said, "Yep!" and believe it or not, I got called back for an interview with the CEO (who I asked lots of questions of) - I had read their site and was prepared - and that is where I work now! :)

ValerieSimon
ValerieSimon

Great post. Could not agree more regarding the importance of research... on the company, the people you my be interviewing/ potentially working with, the industry... And of course follow up afterwards. Beyond a simple thank you note/email (which I assume you will take the time to do), follow up via social networks or by passing along an article or info that may be of interest. Use your interview conversation to begin building a relationship. It is fine to say that you are "detail oriented" or always follow up, but demonstrating you are is far more impressive.

And Congratulations to both Arment Dietrich and Megan... sounds like a great addition to your team!

ValerieSimon
ValerieSimon

Great post. Could not agree more regarding the importance of research... on the company, the people you my be interviewing/ potentially working with, the industry... And of course follow up afterwards. Beyond a simple thank you note/email (which I assume you will take the time to do), follow up via social networks or by passing along an article or info that may be of interest. Use your interview conversation to begin building a relationship. It is fine to say that you are "detail oriented" or always follow up, but demonstrating you are is far more impressive.

And Congratulations to both Arment Dietrich and Megan... sounds like a great addition to your team!

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

No. 7 is smart and different. Solid way to differentiate candidates and not waste time. And you want people who aren't afraid to bring ideas to the table. We don't have time for you to wait a year until you're comfortable.

First impressions are an issue worth talking about, and I don't think it's just people applying for jobs. We need to understand we make first impressions every day, online and in person. When you start a new job, you make first impressions on the staff members you don't know. You may have been at a job five years, but the first time you meet with a new client, that's another first impression. Think your reputation buys you an ounce of credibility with people you haven't met? Well, maybe an ounce. But not much more. Be on your game or be prepared to sit on the bench.

Btw, I know you're much too kind to do this, but think about if you had outed Joe Tactless you mentioned in the post who asked if you had anything better to do than comment on blog posts and news stories. In other words, Joe, you just said you don't believe in thought leadership or building relationships. And Gini could have tied you to that comment on one of the most popular PR blogs out there and on a post with 79 comments. How would that have been for a first impression? Or should I say last impression for anyone who read it.

JohnnyBoy
JohnnyBoy

So I'm going to be that guy and point out a proofreading error; "we’re taking your off our potential talent list." Shouldn't it be we're taking YOU off our potential talent list?

SassyShenetta
SassyShenetta

Such good tips. As you know - when I was searching, I looked online and did research like I was studying for a thesis. I especially love the comment about the complaining - I HATE it when people tweet specific things about their company or how much the job (or not having a job) stinks. I might have said things in private, but you would never have known I was looking or unhappy at my old job by looking at my Twitter feed - and I definitely didn't bash anyone in my interview. I know some people who answer the question "why are you interested in this company" with "because the old company I worked for is awful and I want more money". Not good :) And ALWAYS say thank you or follow up with thank you notes regardless of the outcome. Anyway, I'm babbling. Thanks for another great post!

johnheaney
johnheaney

Gini,
You touched on one of my biggest interview FAIL moments: the candidate with no questions. I cannot understand how someone can prepare for an interview, research a company and the people they'll interview with and, after hours spent with assorted individuals, have no questions unanswered.
My guess is that they've exhausted their prepared business related questions (what are your goals in the next few years, what are your key markets, how is the organization structured, etc.) and fail entirely to discuss the most important question of any job: how will I fit into your culture?
The culture issue opens so many avenues of discussion: how would you describe your corporate culture, how did you create it, how do you maintain it, who fits in here and why, why did you create it, what were your motivations, how do you know when it's successful?
I would bet, Gini, that you could talk for hours about your motivations and goals in creating an organization that reflects your personal values and ambitions. And they have NO questions?
Sorry, but being intellectually inquisitive is one of my essential hiring requirements. It may not be in the job description, but it's there.

RichBurghgraef
RichBurghgraef

Great article Gini. Interesting spin on the research. I expect people I interview to have some understanding of what we do, but I also want them to ask questions so they can better understand. If you've done your research and act like you know everything there is to know about us, you will definitely turn me off. Heck, I started the company and like to think I have my hand in most of what we do and I don't even know everything there is to know!

I look for people who are interviewing me as much as I interview them. My biggest problem is being in sales, my job is to develop relationships for a living. It is tough sometimes to sit back and let someone develop a relationship with me; but I want to see how they build rapport. I also want them asking me questions and really listening to the answers. Too many people ask questions to sound prepared, but then get into the job and really don't have a feel if it is actually a good fit for them.

Finally, I hate being late and hate when people are late. If you are 10 minutes late for an interview, you will wait 15 for me to come out to talk to you. Of course, things happen beyond our control. I interviewed a candidate for a sales position in our Raleigh office a few weeks ago. He had a sales meeting that ran a little long so he called me to say his GPS showed that he would be arriving about 5 minutes late so he wanted to apologize for making me wait for him. I told him to take his time and that I appreciated his respect in letting me know he was going to be a bit late. What I didn't tell him was that by doing that, he started out head and shoulders above the other candidates before we had even met.

EdwardMBury
EdwardMBury

Please let me add: 1. Make sure your clothes match.2. Avoid picking your nose.
Seriously, being prepared with questions, having a positive online profile and reading the company blog (I do read Spin Sucks, by the way) are all fine. But public relations is a relationship-oriented profession, and face-to-face communications remains paramount even in today's increasingly online world.
Any candidate for a position in public relations -- or any profession for that matter -- has to look professional and have the ability to participate in a conversation that takes place across a meeting table, as well as one involving a keyboard.

Nikki Little
Nikki Little

Fabulous tips, and power to the HAPPO champs! ;)

I definitely agree with you on the not asking questions point. It drives me crazy any time I'm interviewing someone and they look at me blankly when I give them the chance to ask questions about my role or my company.

Preparation and confidence (not cockiness...big difference!) are two huge factors that can make or break a job opportunity.

JonHearty
JonHearty

Great post @ginidietrich . It's great to see your views on this subject applied to your business; it provides a clear, real-world example of what works and what does not. Because of the tools and networks available in today's social space, these tips are relevant to not only the hiring process, but also other various forms of prospecting and business development. Keep the Arment Dietrich examples flowing!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Grrr.. my comment was eaten. Anyway.. I'm a solo PR so I have not interviewed others, but had plenty of job and client interviews. Hard to believe someone would not do the research, try to fake a connection in this way. Sad that you have to call it out, it's basic job interviewing. Research, connections, prepare. DUH.

For the Q&A part, a friend of mine was getting ready to sit for her dissertation defense and I told her to think of the 3-5 questions she dreads the most. Now answer them. Being that prepared for the tough stuff will give you more confindence, maybe help you come up with your own good questions.

My tip is don't front, or once more, with Velveeta "be yourself." Doesn't mean show up in jeans and curse like a fool or in a suit you can't afford and spew jargon and name-drop when you don't know what your talking about. Just means that someone like you would be savvy enough to spot a faker faking it, so no reason to try. Keep it real, FWIW.

annebuchanan
annebuchanan

Gini --

What a great post. Thank you for taking the time to articulate what a lot of us employers are seeing.

Two thoughts: Interviewing is a contact sport that requires a candidate to make eye contact, carry the conversational ball when it's her turn, and play an active role in the exchange. I sometimes worry that the newest crop of graduates has become overly dependent on technology, at the expense of Real Life Interaction. Practice talking to others. Engage with adults. Learn how to carry and steer a conversation.

My other comment is this: It is true that we see a lot of candidates who need to strengthen their interviewing and research skills. But the flip side for me is that when I see an emerging star, they stand out like a meteor. In a perverse sort of way, it almost makes it easier to spot the good ones.

Anne

sherrilynne
sherrilynne

This post is both good and disappointing. It's good that you take your time to offer tips and advice to candidates. It's good that you remain optimistic enough to make the effort to educate supposedly bright people about the bleeding obvious. However it's disappointing that you have to. I'm afaid I'm more of a cynic than you. Here are some tips I put together out of frustration well over a year ago http://sherrilynnestarkie.com/2009/05/31/top-tips-to-get-a-job-in-pr/

JamesDBurrell2
JamesDBurrell2

Great post.
One can't underscore enough the power of asking questions in an interview. Even if it doesn't secure the job, the interview should be two-way - don't you want to know more about the business practices and culture where you're committing yourself?
It had been a few years since my last interview as I started my own business directly out of college, but I had to swallow some pride recently and apply for a part time job. After I was offered the position, the guy who hired me said that it was my initiative to engage in the interview with questions and comments that made me stand out from other qualified candidates.
The way I see it (like your CFOs revenue generation ideas), if what one has to offer isn't wanted, take those talents somewhere else where they will be appreciated, but don't be passive in expressing who you are and what value you can bring - otherwise you may be ousted as a candidate or worse, working in an environment wholly unsuited for you. I'm young, inexperienced, and often, naive, but that's my take on it.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

I love this post! Great points! I went and spoke to students at the university I graduated from to offer advice on life after graduation and suggested just about all of these points. These are all simple things you can do to stand out and land a job. If you are going to be lazy about an interview - that's a bad sign.

The not having questions prepared is a big one...at least have some written down and in a portfolio so if you are overwhelmed by the end of the interview you can glance at your notes! One tip I would add is to think of every possible question an interviewer might ask you prior to the interview. Think about your answers...talk them out aloud to yourself....or even write them down, this will only help your prepare and be ready to answer those difficult questions. AND yes please study! There is no excuse with the internet and social networks...there is a lot you can find out about a person and a company. Always bring your "A" game ;)

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

I love this post! Great points! I went and spoke to students at the university I graduated from to offer advice on life after graduation and suggested just about all of these points. These are all simple things you can do to stand out and land a job. If you are going to be lazy about an interview - that's a bad sign.

The not having questions prepared is a big one...at least have some written down and in a portfolio so if you are overwhelmed by the end of the interview you can glance at your notes! One tip I would add is to think of every possible question an interviewer might ask you prior to the interview. Think about your answers...talk them out aloud to yourself....or even write them down, this will only help your prepare and be ready to answer those difficult questions. AND yes please study! There is no excuse with the internet and social networks...there is a lot you can find out about a person and a company. Always bring your "A" game ;)

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

Great post, Gini! A colleague and I interviewed someone last week for a project management position. During the interview, the candidate stated: "I understand why you are changing your web site because I was on it the other day and it was slow and it goes all over the place, I couldn't find anything". The person interviewing with me was the designer and driver behind the web site. We didn't hire that person, but we did end up pulling a funny prank on my colleague based on that interview so all was not lost.

Also, I agree with Beth about the company doing its homework, too. Oh, and it helps to flatter the interviewer...uh, I mean, to put in the research. I had one guy go on about how much he enjoyed my book and how it helped him in his career. I asked him for examples to see if he really had any or was just sucking up, which is also cool, and it turns out that he had concrete examples. He had also commented on one of my opinion columns and I had remembered his comment (this is part of the company doing its homework).

I also expect the person to have questions for me at the end, but I usually get nothing. I wonder if people think it a sign of weakness or feel it is risky to ask something that may have been covered during the interview process. Whatever the case, it is rare to get more than the, "nope, I'm good" answer at the end.

Thanks for the post!

Marc_Luber
Marc_Luber

As a former recruiter who coached tons of attorneys on interviewing, I gotta say I love this post Gini! I was always blown away by how often 20 and 30-something attorneys from the top schools would not get it when it comes to your points above. Some tips I'd add would be to let your enthusiasm for the opportunity show and to let your personality show. If you're interviewing somewhere, it's hopefully because you have some enthusiasm for the company and/or opportunity. If the people interviewing you can't feel that, you may not be leaving a BAD impression, but you're at least leaving NO impression OR the impression that something is MISSING from you as a candidate.....and both of those may as well be a BAD impression since it will push you to the bottom of the pile. As for personality, candidates are often so concerned with getting all of these other points checked off their list that they forget that humans like to hire humans. No one wants to run to Starbucks or grab a quick lunch with a robot for a coworker. Be YOU and leave an impression behind of who YOU are because no impression is a bad impression.

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

Gini, great reminders for job seekers and anyone else who's trying to drum up business. The guy belittling your blog commenting and questioning how you spend your time takes the cake!

Being on both the hiring and applicant side of things, I'm amazed at how many people are clueless about basic research. These days, it couldn't be easier either. With all the information at our fingertips, major lost points to those who don't look into a company and its products.

As for anyone not reading Spin Sucks, well shame on them! ;-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Ricardo Bueno I can't reply to your comment so doing it here. You're right that this falls into client proposals, too. Isn't it so much better to go to a meeting with a new business prospect and have ideas you can discuss that get them excited to hire you?!

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno

Definitely love and agree with number's 1 & 6. Never, ever be negative online (or otherwise). That's my policy anyway. It just about always comes off bad. I don't like negative people so I'm sure other's feel the same way. And in regards to being prepared, whether it's for a job interview, a new client proposal, etc., there's nothing quite like being prepared and knowing that you hit it out of the ball-park so-to-speak. It's a great feeling so do your homework and knock it out on the first try.

Great post and tips Gini!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SassyShenetta And something that you did, that I've never seen before in someone looking for a new job. You came at it from the approach of learning. "How can I do this better?" and "What should I do in this case" and "How would you handle this situation?" You never once complained about your job and THAT was extremely impressive to me.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@johnheaney A-freaking-men! I have HUGE vision for where my business is going and (of course) I love to talk about it. But I never do...unless I'm asked. I figure I'm not going to tell you what we're doing behind closed doors if you don't show some interest. It's very, very rare that I expect to be asked questions and be able to talk. I'm a listener. I'm an absorber. I'm a thinker. I ask a ton of questions and form opinions and ideas later. When I meet someone for the first time. When I see friends. When I'm with clients. Even in staff meetings. I rarely do all the talking. But you had better ask me some questions and let me talk if you want to work here. #thatisall

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@RichBurghgraef LOL! I do the same thing - make someone wait for me if they're late. We're buggers, aren't we?!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JonHearty LOL! It's hard to keep them flowing, but I'll try. Most days we just do our jobs and end it with a glass of wine. :)

JamesDBurrell2
JamesDBurrell2

@3HatsComm Gum smacking merits an immediate point toward the exit. Way to show me that after 20+ years of actively participating in society, you're unable to glean the fact that chewing gum in public is considered improper manners & an annoyance. Go hide with the other dull browns in the box of crayons; you're not impressing anyone.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Gini, Hmm.. this is sorta sounding like bad blind dates, all of these obvious DON'Ts. I'm sure there are stories out there about gum smacking, flip-flop sandals and work-inappropriate jokes. Let me amend my tip: be your best PROFESSIONAL self.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@3HatsComm OMG! Such a great point about cursing. I had a final interview with a candidate everyone LOVED! She used the F word no less than 10 times in her interview with me and I thought, "I'd never her trust her alone with clients." So we didn't hire her.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@annebuchanan Sad that we have to have these reminders at all, but you're right about practicing with another human being.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@sherrilynne You're right - it IS disappointing! I guess I look at it as educating those bright, young minds coming out of school who weren't taught how to interview during college. If someone experienced interviews here and behaves this way, we just write them off. There is no education and there is tons of cynicism...which is really what got me to this spot to begin with. Off to read your post now!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JamesDBurrell2 Your point about the candidate interviewing the company is a really good one. How, on earth, can you know you want to work somewhere if you're the one who has done all the talking? I'd say you are right on track!

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

@ginidietrich @KevinVandever Geez, you two. We all know nothing before 8th grade counts. If it did, I'd win because I was named Best Baby Ever in the Entire Universe in a contest sponsored by the Best Babies Association. Man, respect the title, eh? ;-)

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

@WordsDoneWrite @ginidietrich @KevinVandever Great points! You play devil's advocate well. I agree that we shouldn't dismiss the candidate over what he said about our site. The site is slow to load so he was right with that comment. The other stuff regarding navigation and not being able to find anything is not something we've heard from others nor experienced ourselves. I think he could have done quite well if he had delivered the statements in a different manner, as you said, showing that he knows the site, but he came off too condescending and put my colleague on the defensive, which, right or wrong, didn't help him much. His condescending tone carried through the whole interview so we didn't feel he'd be a good fit for the position. That, and he failed to mention my book. He's dead to me!

Gini, I won the Best Disposition award in 3rd grade, so there!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@WordsDoneWrite @KevinVandever I'm with Amber here. I mean, she did win the 8th grade best English student award. But I also love that you are Kevin in everything you do - including a prank joke on the poor guy you work with.

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

@KevinVandever Just to play devil's advocate here, WAS the site slow and difficult to navigate? If so, the designer's wounded ego shouldn't be a deciding factor in the hire.

A candidate shouldn't just be a yes man. Showing that they know the product should be a plus. Granted, I may not have been critical unless asked to provide criticism. However, if there was truth in the comment, I find that as no good reason to terminate someone's candidacy.

In regard to the candidate who read your book, that's a great example of an applicant who's smart! Very nice!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Marc_Luber I wonder if it's because schools don't teach us how to interview? Great tips on being you and letting your enthusiasm shine through, too. This is why you're good at what you do!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ginidietrich @WordsDoneWrite I'll triple that shame and wonder if they've really thought about the job? Sure they have an airquote "relationship" with you, but given that they haven't taken the time to read the blog, research the firm.. do they REALLY understand the gig for which they're applying?

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

@ginidietrich Well, and really, DOUBLE SHAME on them. For someone who has a relationship with you to be anything but stellar when meeting your colleagues is really pretty thoughtless. Because of your prior online relationship, it kind of implies a loose recommendation from you (only because you've deemed them worthy of your time and energy). That alone should mean that the applicant will do right by you and not embarrass you.

I need to start issuing tickets to those who lack common sense. Geez.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@WordsDoneWrite Shame on them is right! LOL! It's super irritating to my staff when someone interviews with us because they have a "relationship" with me and then it's clear they haven't taken the time to do their research. I think they're likely harder on the candidate because of it, but I'm not going to stop that thinking one bit.

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