First Impressions DO Count

Preparing for a job interview can be just as nerve-racking as the interview itself. You run through all the possible scenarios (good and bad) through your mind and you start to panic. What if you draw a blank when it comes to small talk? What if you forget your résumé? If you don't get the job, do you still write a thank you note?

Stop right there. Before you panic, check out Mary Crane's* expert etiquette tips. She has advice on everything from the handshake to the crucial follow-up.

Q: How should you greet your prospective employer? (i.e., handshake, certain greeting or opening statement)

A: Greet any prospective employer by immediately standing as they approach and extending your right hand for a nice, firm handshake. Smile. Make eye contact. (By the way, eye contact is HUGE. Prospective employers notice candidates who don't look them straight in the eye.) After the prospective employer introduces himself or herself, for example, "Hi, I'm Mary Crane. Welcome to our offices." Reply by stating your name and then adding, "Thank you for making time to meet with me today."

Q: What type of behavior should you avoid / must do?

A: Let's start with what you should do. As soon as your interview begins, everything about you—your language, your facial expressions, and your body language—should communicate an absolute interest in the position, company and industry. Make sure you bring to the interview a handful of questions that demonstrate your interest and knowledge. Use facial expressions and other non-verbal cues (head nods, inquisitive glances) that communicate you understand the interests and concerns of your prospective employer. Employ extremely good posture. Sit up straight. (Special hint: To avoid slouching, sit on the front half of any seat you are offered.)

What do you absolutely avoid? Bad-mouthing anyone or anything. No employer wishes to hire a candidate who is critical of a prior employer or a previous job. Even if you hated everything about your most recent employment experience, find something positive to say about it.

Q: How do you present your résumé?

A: When going to an interview, I recommend that gentlemen and ladies carry a nice portfolio. In that portfolio, make sure you have a fresh pad of paper and a pen that writes. Throughout the interview, take notes. Again, this helps communicate that you are interested in the details of a particular position. Also, carry a copy of your résumé, printed on quality white or off-white paper. Although most interviewers will already have a copy of your résumé on hand, the fact that you have brought a "just in case" back-up helps demonstrate your preparedness.

Ladies, you may also wish to carry a handbag in which you may store car keys and other paraphernalia.

Everyone, before the interview begins, make sure you turn off your cell phone and BlackBerry.

By the way, if you have listed your cell phone on your résumé, make sure your voicemail greeting is office appropriate. (Heard the one about the candidate, who provided a cell phone number as the appropriate contact number on his résumé? When the head of recruiting phoned the number, she heard, "John is f*!*ing his girlfriend. Don't leave a message.")

Q: Thank you note — do you thank them even if you don't receive the job?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. In fact, think about it a minute: How can it possibly hurt to thank a prospective employer for taking time in their otherwise busy day to meet with you. Following the interview, make sure you send a thank you note. I prefer handwritten notes over e-mail. If the employer has communicated the intent to make a decision within 48 hours, however, send the thank you electronically. Then, if you are offered a job, follow-up with a note that communicates, "I look forward to joining you and your team in the upcoming weeks." If you receive a rejection notice, don't burn the bridge that you've created. Write to that prospective employer and state, "While I regret I will not be joining you and your team now, I hope you will keep my name in mind should another position open in the near future."

Q: Do you make small talk? (i.e., comment on objects on their desk)

A: Your question demonstrates that you understand the importance of connecting with a prospective employer during what may be a very short 30-minute interview. Long before the scheduled interview, I would prefer that you research the prospective employer, identify some commonalities (you know, six degrees of separation), and come to the interview prepared to connect. Long ago, during one of my law school interviews, for example, I connected with a prospective employer by noting that the interviewer and I had attended the same high school, undergraduate school and law school.

Minus that foreknowledge, use anything in the interviewer's office — photos, memorabilia, artwork — to establish a connection. For example, if you happen to notice photos of the family sail boating in what appears to be a New England setting, you might try, "Is that a picture of you sail boating? I just sailed the Chesapeake Bay for the first time last summer."

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**The above content is given to us and solely owned by Mary Crane of Mary Crane & Associates LLC.

A graduate of George Washington Law School, Mary Crane lobbied in Washington, D.C. for nearly 10 years before pursuing her life-long interests in food and wine. Crane enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and, upon graduation, worked at the White House as an assistant chef. During this time, Crane discovered the important relationships between food, wine and business. Her desire to share this unique knowledge yielded Mary Crane & Associates. Today, Crane travels North America delivering high-impact, high-energy programs to Fortune 500 companies and more than 50% of the AmLaw100. She supports new employees by explaining how to quickly assimilate in today's fast-paced work environment. Crane also helps managers understand how to best recruit, motivate, and retain today's newest workers. • Visit her Web site