Dear Joyce: After four months of being unemployed, I'm doing something wrong. Is it true that the first 60 seconds of a job interview can mean acceptance or rejection? -- H.R.R.
Dear H.R.R.: Psychological studies say the early-decision theory is sound. The root idea is the "halo effect," which means that if you make a positive initial impression, the interviewer will be pulling for you after that. And vice versa.
Some search specialists say the die is cast within the first 30 seconds. Without splitting hairs, let's say the first five minutes is the make-or-break clock.
Even more important is a potent strategy all of us need to be reminded of from time to time: Make yourself likable within the context of the position sought before you try to sell your qualifications and potential.
But, in the heat of the moment, people often forget the one-two-three rule of first selling yourself, then selling your skills and the contributions you can make in the future. They zero in on competence before they have laid the foundation for success. They overlook the need to prepare interviewers to identify with and to root for them.
Small talk with open-ended questions is a simple part of a likability effort: "What an interesting choice of wall hangings. Were they chosen by a designer?"
"I hear good things about this company and I appreciate the time you're giving me. Are you snowed under with work?"
"Your plants are thriving. You must have a green thumb, or does a professional come in to tend the plants?"
The more sophisticated selling of yourself also begins in the opening few minutes. A winning game plan encourages the selection interviewer to gain ownership in your success.
You can do this in a selection interview by showing that although you are a consummate professional, you are not arrogant. You realize there's always more to learn and the interviewer can be the teacher.
A good example of ownership psychology appears in super marketer Norman King's book, "The First Five Minutes: The Successful Opening Moves in Business, Sales and Interviews" (Prentice Hall, 1987).
Rick, a would-be screenwriter, is interviewed by a trio of established screenwriters. When asked if he likes to write, Rick puffs up and says he loves it: "I'm not one of those people who has to be inspired to write."
One of the old pros then tells Rick his short-story material won't work as screenplays and is derivative. Rick gets defensive, says even Shakespeare is derivative, and after that it is all downhill.
Upon reflection, Rick realizes his original answer should have been: "I hate to write. But I like to capture what makes people tick in story form -- to get it down on paper for others to read."
Then the interviewers might have asked Rick if he thought he was able to write stories in screenplay form, to which his answer would be yes but he had to learn how.
"They would have seen that I wanted to learn, that I was potential clay for their molding," Rick realized.
Sell yourself, perhaps by using ownership psychology. After laying the groundwork, move to sell your qualifications and future benefits to the employer.
If you reverse the order, the employer may not be listening.