8 Snap Interview Decisions Every Boss Makes

You might interview a job candidate for an hour, but sometimes it's over in minutes.

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Everyone does it: We all make decisions based on a little data and a lot of experience.

Other people might call that acting on a hunch or going by gut feel–especially if they disagree with your decisions–but if you have a wealth of experience to draw from, often those quick decisions turn out to be correct.

Like where hiring employees is concerned: Over time you’ve learned to quickly size up a candidate, sometimes within a few minutes, based on one or two actions or comments. (If you’re a job seeker and feel that’s unfair, you might be right, but it’s also a fact of hiring life. Complaining about the injustice of it all doesn’t help; accept that interviewers often make snap decisions, and use that fact to your advantage.)

That’s because as interviewers people are naturally influenced by first impressions. And they’re definitely influenced by what experience indicates are key or pivotal moments.

Here are some of my snap judgments, both positive and negative:

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When the candidate says she’s excited about the opportunity:

You should be happy to get an interview. You should be excited about the job. You’re in the pre-hiring honeymoon phase: If you’re not excited now, you definitely won’t be six months later.

Plus a candidate that pushes too hard into the land of “let me see if this job is a good fit” makes the interview painful for the interviewer. Even if by the end you decide you really want the job, you probably already lost me.

Bottom line, if you haven’t tried to know enough about the job to know whether you’re excited about the opportunity, I’m not impressed.

When the candidate complains:

Some people complain, totally unprompted: About their present employer, their current salary, their commute….

Complaints about being micro-managed are a downer; I’d much rather you say you’re eager to earn more responsibility and authority. I know you want to switch jobs for a reason… but tell me why you want my job instead of why you want to escape your job.

When the candidate needs to make “car payments”:

Years ago I was in charge of part-time employees at a manufacturing plant. Full-time employees were required to work heavy overtime but part-time employees were not. That made covering open slots–and, selfishly, my job–a lot harder.

When I asked part-time candidates about their willingness to work overtime, I loved the ones who said, “I want all the overtime I can get. I bought a new car and the payments are killing me.”

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Every job, no matter how high-level, has at least one major requirement: a particular skill, a key attribute, a specific quality, etc. Understand and meet that requirement and as a candidate you’re 80% home.

When the candidate takes over:

Everyone appreciates a leader. Except in an interview.

I want you to be self-assured. I want you to be confident. I don’t want you to try to take over. That’s irritating at best, insulting at worst.

Subtly shape the interview and lead the conversation into areas that showcase your strengths and I’m impressed. Railroad me and I’m not.

When the candidate owns a problem:

Say you’re late for the interview. I don’t want to hear a long story about traffic and bad directions and no parking.

Instead, own it and then try to solve the problem.  Say, “I’m sorry I’m late. I ran into traffic. I know that throws off your schedule, so if you don’t have time now, I’ll be glad to reschedule whenever it is convenient for you.”

Take ownership, don’t make excuses, and offer ways to make things better.

Nothing ever goes perfectly, so knowing you will take responsibility and work to fix problems is a major positive.

When the candidate isn’t ready:

One of my pet peeves is standing in a grocery store line and the person in front of me waits until all the items have been scanned and bagged before he starts searching for his wallet.

The same is true in an interview. Don’t sit down and start sifting through your briefcase. Don’t spend five minutes laying out your materials.

(MORE: Why the Economy Depends Most on Our Moods)

When the candidate asks throw-away questions:

When you’re asked if you have any questions, don’t make up a couple to try to impress me. If you have no questions, say so.

And don’t ask about something you could have easily learned on your own. And don’t ask questions designed to make you look good.

In short, don’t ask what you think I want to hear. It leaves a terrible last impression.

When the candidate asks for the job:

Salespeople ask for the sale. Candidates should ask for the job.

I definitely appreciate when a candidate says, “Thanks for the interview. I really enjoyed speaking with you. And I would really love to work here.”

Why should I offer you something you are not willing to ask for?

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden
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