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?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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