Standing Out in the First Five Minutes

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Although most job interviews take at least an hour, hiring managers often decide how they feel about a candidate within a few minutes of shaking hands. So, it's critical that you separate yourself from the pack right away. Here's how to do it.

Impressing managers during an interview requires something of a one-two punch: Your first strike is a solid resume, and your second is a stellar in-person performance. Effectively presenting yourself is particularly important in the financial industry, says Douglas Rickart, division director for Robert Half Financial Services Group in Minneapolis, because managers there are particularly prone to making fast decisions about potential hires.

To stand out in the first few minutes of your interview, Rickart recommends:

Focus on the Match

First, tailor your discussion to highlight previous job experience that matches up with the skills your new position would require. Be prepared for questions the hiring manager may ask and be especially sure you've crafted a diplomatic response to the obvious query about why you want to leave your current job. Try to put a positive spin on it. For example, talk about how you want to expand your experience with an organization whose needs are more in line with your skill set. Also, be ready to answer questions about ethical challenges on the job, since this is a big concern for employers today.

Be Specific

When describing your experience, focus on specific projects and assignments where you can illustrate your direct contribution to your division, department, or company in a very real way. Says Rickart: "Think about process improvement, and how you turned that over to the bottom line. Everyone today is bottom-line focused."

Be Enthusiastic

Exude enthusiasm and confidence, and remember the interview starts the minute the hiring manager walks toward you. Extend your hand, give a firm handshake and be polite in your greeting. Don't let the hiring manager find you sitting on the couch slouching and reading the newspaper, as if you didn't care about the interview. Make the hiring manager feel as if this is the one place you want to work at, above all others. Don't forget to dress appropriately, and remember your hair style matters.

Be Prepared

Do your homework. You should know as much as you can about the firm, the sector of the industry it represents, and its competitors. Understand the job you're interviewing for, and be sure you can talk about the position in an educated way. There are trade and industry journals, the company Web site with press releases - and probably its financial statements, if it's public - as well as other online tools and news that can make educate you about the firm's history and recent events.

Say Thank You

Finally, there's power of the thank you. Always remember to follow up with separate hand-written notes - let's say that again: hand-written notes - to each of the individuals you spoke with about the position. Quickly reiterate the high points of the interview, and how your skill set plays into the job. And, don't forget to use the words "thank you."

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