The Most Critical Moment in Any Job Interview

In this column and video, Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains how to prepare for the first seven seconds of a job interview.

Published: Jan 20, 2020

All it takes is the amount of time you need to read this sentence aloud.

In that incredibly short span of time—about seven seconds—an interviewer will form an opinion about you: how likable, competent, trustworthy, and aggressive or passive you are. It isn’t fair—but it’s the reality, and it usually happens unconsciously.

Knowing this fact, you must make the most of those first seven seconds. Your goal is to make a positive connection that will set the tone for the entire interview. When there’s an initial connection, your interviewer will decide (also probably unconsciously) to help you by rephrasing questions when needed, giving you helpful feedback, and assuring you with verbal and nonverbal cues.

With so much riding on this initial moment, you can’t leave it to chance. You must prepare by learning everything you can about the company and the people you’ll be meeting.

Even a benign observation—“I see that the company just made an acquisition … this must be a very exciting and busy time”—can be an effective opener and conversation starter.

Who are you meeting?

When your interview is arranged, ask for the names and titles of everyone you’re going to meet with. If you are communicating with the recruiter or HR, ask if there is anything you should know about the interviewer(s).

Do your homework.

Google every person you’re going to meet. Read their LinkedIn profiles. Where did they go to school? What companies have they worked for? Do you know some of the same people?

Look for potential commonalities.

Let’s say you share an alma mater. Or your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile mentions a personal interest in a social cause, sport, or activity in which you also have a genuine interest. Now you have an icebreaker to start the conversation. Never fake it! If you do, your lack of knowledge will become painfully clear, and you’ll label yourself a poser.

Know the company.

Read everything on the website. Pay close attention to recent news releases (they’re a crash course in what’s going on at the company). For publicly traded firms, read the annual report and what analysts have to say about them. Look for current themes: The company just announced a new product, or the CEO was recently on CNBC with positive news about the company. Even a benign observation—“I see that the company just made an acquisition … this must be a very exciting and busy time”—can be an effective opener and conversation starter.

Look around at your surroundings.

When you visit someone’s home for the first time, you probably take a moment to notice your surroundings—the view, a piece of art on the wall, or memorabilia. It’s the same when you walk into the interviewer’s office. You aren’t snooping; if it’s out and on display, it’s fair game for making a comment to break the ice. Just don’t mention anything about the interviewer’s personal life or family, at least not initially. However, if the interviewer asks you a personal question such as “where do you live?” you can ask the same question. And if he or she mentions family, you can talk about yours.

By making the most of the first seven seconds, you’ll quickly establish your A.C.T.—being authentic, making a connection, and giving others a taste of who you are. Then your interview will be far more likely to be a conversation—not an interrogation.

The ultimate career guide, from Korn Ferry CEO and New York Times best-selling author, Gary Burnison
Complimentary with every Premium subscription
It Starts With You...
How to take control, uncover your blind spots and make more money.
...But It’s Not About You
Surviving bosses and coworkers, managing, and networking success.
To Earn More, Learn More
Don't be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all with practical advice and tools.
"Advance gives you a wealth of practical and actionable advice. You'll have what you need to take control of your career, starting today."