First impressions are critical in interviews. Many interviewers claim (with pride!) that they can judge a candidate's suitability for a job within the first minute or two of conversation and that they rarely alter their original judgments based on subsequent interactions. People who make this claim generally attribute their speediness in evaluating others to a highly developed sense of human nature. A far more plausible reason for their failure to alter initial judgments is their inability to process any subsequent information that might call into question their first impressions. Psychologists have shown that once a human has formulated a hypothesis, he or she is likely to interpret all information in a way that supports the hypothesis or to simply disregard any information that might cast doubt on the validity of the hypothesis. We are much more likely to twist information to fit a hypothesis than to alter or discard a hypothesis in light of contradictory information. Hence the absurd but often repeated homily, "It's the exception that proves the rule." Because the first few minutes of interviews are crucial, and because interviews are crucial to selection decisions, you should prepare yourself psychologically, intellectually, and physically to make a good impression.
Preparation is key to good interview performance, in part because it helps you develop the self-confidence that will enable you to make a good first impression and to maintain it throughout a series of interviews. You cannot make biases disappear in the interviewing process, but you may have a great deal more power than you realize to affect the outcome of an interview. Unlocking your power as an interviewee requires two things: an understanding of the interview as a form of communication and diligent preparation.
Interviews as Conversations
The first point to keep in mind during your preparations is that interviews are forms of conversation. Like any form of conversation, an interview should involve a two-way flow of information. Your interviewer will gather information about you, and you, in turn, should be gathering information about the organization, the job, and the interviewer. View yourself, therefore, as being as much in control of an interview as the interviewer. Do not allow an interview to become an interrogation, which is not a form of conversation because the flow of information goes only in one direction.
Interviews are sometimes defined (with some tongue in cheek) as conversations in which two or more people are engaged for some purpose other than the enjoyment of talking with one another.
This definition focuses on the primary distinction between interviews and other forms of conversation-all interviews have a definable purpose other than getting or keeping in touch. In an organizational setting, a counseling interview has as its purpose helping someone define and work through personal problems that affect job performance. A problem-solving interview has as its purpose figuring out how to attack an organizational problem. An informational interview has as its purpose gathering information related to a particular issue or problem. A selection interview has as its purpose assessing the fit between an individual and a job.
One additional distinction generally sets interviews apart from other forms of conversational interviews are usually time limited. You will generally have to get your message across and gather the information you seek within a fairly strict time frame. Thus, having an agenda and selecting the items on it carefully is a prerequisite to top performance.