Why the First Five Minutes of Your Job Interview Matter So Much

No matter what you know or how great your job skills are, getting yourself to an actual job offer relies heavily on the total impression you make from first contact throughout the entire interview/hiring process.  And one of the most important moments – if not THE most important moment – happens when they finally get to see you live and in person.

Companies in hiring mode are on full alert for anything that might provide clues to what kind of an employee you would be – and those first few minutes can make or break your chances since impressions form quickly. So don’t think your interview hasn’t started even if you haven’t been asked any questions yet!

On that point, I am reminded of a reader who was frustrated that a company she really wanted to work for – and for which she felt she was such a good match – wouldn’t give her a chance at a second interview. In telling us about the “unfair” company, she mentioned almost as an aside that she brought her parents with her to the interview site…because they had driven her there!  But she couldn’t understand why she got so much flack from the receptionist for simply asking if they could wait in the lobby while she interviewed. She tried to explain that it was hot out and their car didn’t have good air-conditioning. She even got into a small argument with the receptionist when, although told it’s against policy, she wouldn’t give up.

But she brushed all that off, and went into the interview room excited by the opportunity and ready to wow her interviewer, who was still wrapping things up with the prior candidate.  Funny enough…according to her…the interviewer who seemed so warm and friendly to the other candidate and even to her when he first shook her hand, now seemed to be cool with her – and definitely didn’t give her much of a chance, even though she turned on the charm full blast.

The interview barely lasted 10 minutes. Interviewers can be so rude, she told us. What had she done to deserve such treatment? She had great skills and yet she never got past some boring initial questions. How could she show how much she had to offer when he was barely making eye contact with her? Clearly, as she saw it, the company and especially this interviewer had their priorities all screwed up!

Cut to reality…

In that one short job interview story, we see at least 10 direct and indirect messages she communicated to the company that did NOT work in her favor. Here’s my list. Feel free to add your own!

  • I am still child-like and attached to my parents.
  • I don’t respect your rules.
  • I don’t respect what a receptionist tells me.
  • I think this is all about me and my needs.
  • I am high maintenance.
  • This is me on my best behavior!
  • I will sweat the small stuff when I work for you.
  • I will blame others if things go wrong for me.
  • I am limited in my ability to see the whole picture.
  • I don’t get that the interview process (translated to workplace relationships & performance in general) is not just about what happens behind closed doors.

Wow! That’s a lot. And yet the job seeker felt she hadn’t been given a chance to really show who she is. But, of course, she did get a chance. And sadly, this job seeker showed she was disconnected from the idea that, in the end, job interviews are about the company’s needs and not her own special needs…no matter how unfair that may seem at times. And she seemed genuinely surprised that the impression she made with the receptionist would have (1) been communicated, even sought out by the interviewer; and (2) totally affected her chances.

Every single contact you have with a potential employer, no matter how small it might seem to you, is evidence they examine carefully. Interviewers are looking to see how well you’d fit into the company and what you’d be like to work with on a daily basis.  It’s your job to show them you get AND respect that!

More Interview Help from Work Coach Cafe

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

10 Impressions You Leave Behind After a Job Interview

What Goes On Behind the Scenes After a Job Interview?

Who the Heck is Screening Your Resume?

Career Topics

Career Dictionary


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. How about this:

    1. I’m close to my family
    2. I care about my family.
    3. I’m independent. I have a backbone. I won’t cave into silly rules.

    You didn’t make it clear why she went into the interview room while the other candidate was leaving. Was she barging in or invited to take her place as the other person left?

  2. Great article! Job seekers fail to realize how powerful the receptionist truly is. The interview process really is about the employer. And, unfortunately, the job seeker in this story made it more about herself. Too many red flags with this one. It’s not surprising that the company decided not to advance her to the next stage of the interview process either.

    • I am really enjoying this site!!! I just found it yesterday and ist really been easing my anxiety as I await the decisions of few interviews I have been on…waiting sucks LOL
      Well as for this article…LOVE IT! One of the jobs I am waiting to hear back from proves that you are 100% correct. You are being interviewed from the time you approach that receptionist desk. I had a very nontraditional panel interview at a casino. You actually had to interview to get the interview. That started with how you approached and inteacted with receptionist and then how well you interacted with the other candidates (some were my competition for the same position) and then ho you interacted with recruiters. If you passed all that then you got interview with your department! Intense BUT it was actually fun. I made it all the way through. The ones that didn’t make it were the ones that came late ( I noticed that people had different times to show up BUT we all went in at the same time), did not put their best foot forward when they introduced themselves, and those that did not interact with the rest of the candidates (you know the “I’m to cute to participate” and the “I’m here to beat you for a job so don’t talk to me” type)
      I hope that the young lady learned that she has to leave the parentals at home and be nicer to the gate keeper…aka the receptionist 🙂

  3. Thanks everyone for the great comments! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Had to wrestle a virus first. 😉

    Recruiting Animal: Welcome! I love your comment. So true. What an employer may get from what they see is THEIR perception only. And it may be a clue to whether you even want to work for them. In the case of the woman in my story – she found a place that wanted her as she is and not as they wished she would be. And it’s a great fit.

    That said…I wrote this just to remind readers that it all can count. I was floored the first few times I sat in post-interview wrap-up sessions and heard the stuff people were mentioning.

    And in this particular case, the woman asked me why the interviewer’s attitude might have changed. It never even occurred to her the minor fight she had with the receptionist might count against her. BTW…to add a few more details, there was an air-conditioned coffee shop downstairs where the parents wound up sitting comfortably. The receptionist had suggested it right off.

    Oh…and she went to the interview room to wait as the recruiter walked out the other candidate. She was invited.

    Khalilah Starks : Thanks for your kind words. You’re so right about the receptionist. They can spill dirt, but also pass on when someone shows something extra – even simply politeness.

    NikkiP: Thank you so much for adding your story and first-hand reminders of the power of each action and interaction! Wow. I never had an interview quite this open. Fascinating. Good luck, Nikki! Please let us know if you get it.

  4. Hi Ronnie!
    Well after I sent the email follow up I got a call from the recruiter saying I should expect a call from the hiring manager this week. I am going to be positive and say this is a good sign. I figure that the recruiter could have told me himself that I didn’t make the “final cut.”

  5. We’re rooting for you Nikki! Please let us know what happens. And if you don’t hear by today, it is NOT strange for it to take a little longer than they expected. So many things go on behind the curtain that we will never know – and they even the employer can’t anticipate. 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

    • Well I got the call this morning and it was NOT good news. They went with an internal candidate but she wanted to tell me personally how impressed she was with me and that she would like to consider me for a future opening. She said that the recruiter would be in touch as soon as the posting is approved. I thanked her and I told her I really do respect a company that hires and promotes from within. I left my job of almost 7 years because of the lack of advancement and the contract position I just left didn’t allow me to apply after 6 months of successful work (I have that in writing LOL). So companies that provide advancement opps to the internal people already in there doing the work are awesome in my book.
      Well it looks like I am back to the temp work but I am sure God has something for me 🙂

  6. Oh Nikki!

    I’m so sorry. Gotta say you have a GREAT attitude and handled it really well. You already have me wanting to hire you and I don’t even have a job to offer. 😉

    Although all employers may not be this way, I can tell you that when we see someone we like that we can’t offer the current position to, we go out of our way to look for something now or later. And it’s sincere.

    What I get from this is they think you’d be a good fit for the company, which is a big hurdle to get past in the interview process….which in effect you are still in. So just keep being yourself. Looks like it’s working. Sometimes an even better job fit gets sent your way.

    Glad you have temp work in the meantime. Good for money and for spirit.

    Please keep us posted. And all the best of luck, Nikki!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

    • Thanks Ronnie!

      You know I do get down sometimes and play the “what if” game because of all the years I remained at the union job out of fear. I even cried so many nights feeling like a loser because I am over 30 with 2 degrees, published work, and many letters of recommendation but can’t find a my dream job (or my dream jobs don’t want me). I am just at a point after being rejected by the last contract assignment (when the new VP wanted me out based solely on my past as a union rep you would think I was an ex Manson family member LOL) where I am over begging for a spot. I apply. Put my very best forward. I get it or I don’t. I have opened my search to include other cities and states AND I plan on doing some consulting. I made some career mistakes (ie my fear of leaving the union job) but I am not damaged goods and I have a lot to offer so I don’t get down on myself too much anymore. Its the loss of the company and EVERY job seeker should feel like that 🙂 Don’t let your employer (current or potential) destroy your sense of self.

  7. You really do sound great Nikki. My next post (probably this Monday) will be for you. Meanwhile…here’s something I wrote a while back:

    The Non-Linear Path to Happiness at Work

    • Thanks Ronnie and YES I do feel like Fatima LOL! I just wonder if she had a mortgage ROTFL! I will check you out Monday. I am going to put me and this job drama on the back burner for the weekend. A good friend just graduated from the police academy (of the few places that would touch her here in Louisiana after working for the union) and we are going to celebrate :-). Have a wonderful weekend

  8. To add to your story about the receptionist:

    I worked as an administrative assistant covering both my regular departmental duties in addition to trading off shifts (with other admins) at the reception desk. HR would routinely come to me after an interview and ask a laundry list of questions about each candidate’s behavior, demeanor, etc. immediately after the candidate left. I once asked them about it, and the particular rep I asked said that she learned a lot more from how a candidate acts outside an interview in a professional setting than the actual interview much of the time, and that she valued my honest input, whether it was positive or critical.

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