How To Make Perfect First Impressions At Job Interviews

  • Sean Croon
  • May 31, 2017
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  • Career Coaching Services
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Job interviews challenge your mastery of etiquette in a high-stakes situation.  Fortunately the rules aren’t complex.

We are given 7 seconds for a first impression, however scientists believe that traits such as likeability, trustworthiness and attractiveness are assessed in as little as 1/10th of a second.  While we can’t change the shape of our faces, we can use psychology to gain an advantage in job interviews.  You’re in the room because you have what it takes (or at least your CV says so!) – make a brilliant first impression and the job is yours to lose.

Check out our interview training tips around the science of the first impression and interview etiquette, compiled by our career coaching experts.

Arriving in Style

Dress well. Clothes are clean, pressed and fit well.  Corporate dress codes are predictable, but do your research if you think the dress code could be more trendy or casual, such as in creative industries or a smaller, start-up company – the goal is to dress in a similar way to your interviewer.

Be well groomed. Hair neat, nails short and clean.  The obvious stuff.  Breath should be fresh and teeth clean; avoid food, coffee and cigarettes right before the meeting.  Dental hygiene is a significant factor in how people see you; if your teeth aren’t looking the best, visit a dentist prior to any important job interviews.

Be early. 5-10 mins is the guideline – any earlier you risk creating anxiety for the interviewer, who may not want to keep you waiting.  Plan travel and if necessary scout out the location the day before.  Being late is unforgivable.  Allow spare time after the interview just in case the conversation is flowing – you shouldn’t ever end the meeting because you have somewhere to be.

Be ready. Your phone is off and paperwork is in a neat portfolio (smartphones and tablets are risky in interviews – avoid).  Allow time for one final check in the bathroom mirror.

Your Grand Entrance

Be mindful of body language. Chin up, head high, shoulders back and don’t slouch when you’re sitting. Try to keep an “open posture”, with your arms by your sides. Don’t cross your arms and sit where you can comfortably face everyone.

Shake hands well. Not too weak (the dreaded “limp fish”), not too strong (the macho “bone-crusher”), it must be just right.  The recipe is firm, dry and warm with about 2-3 seconds of contact.  Make eye contact, smile and use the person’s name.  Repeat for everyone in the room.

Smile.  If your cheeks aren’t hurting in the first 5 minutes you’re not smiling enough.

Greet everyone. Use the same warmth and vigour, from the car park attendant, to the receptionist, to the CEO.  It’s great practice and creating a good impression with everyone you meet is simply good sense. People talk.

Learn names.  Memorise the names of people you’re meeting.  With difficult names, find the correct pronunciation and practice.  They’ll love that you made the effort.  Repeat people’s names when answering questions and use association techniques (e.g. “blue shirt Mark”).

The Conversation

Eye contact. Strong eye contact is a sign of intelligence, confidence and respect.  Like the perfect handshake, it’s the Goldilocks principle again; not too little, and definitely not too much! Holding someone’s gaze too long makes you look weird, and even aggressive.  Make eye contact with everyone in the room and when responding to a question, address your answer predominantly to the questioner, but be inclusive of others – they are just as interested in your answer and might be the final decision maker.

Ask thoughtful, well-researched questions. Besides showing off your understanding of the company/role/industry and allowing you to make intelligent insights, it demonstrates that you really care, this isn’t just another job, and you are genuinely interested (or great at faking it!). Read our post for the best 10 questions to ask here.  

Listen.  Show genuine interest, through eye contact, nodding your head and using positive responses such as “I understand”.  You really care about what they’re saying.  Being a great listener shows sincerity and quickly builds rapport.

Talk clearly and don’t interrupt. Avoid slang (industry jargon is OK), use appropriate grammar and avoid interrupting at all costs. It is good practice to speak a little more slowly than usual and take pauses before answering to give yourself the best possible response. Two minutes is about the right amount of time when responding to a question.

Your Graceful Exit

End the interview well with a firm handshake.  Look them in the eyes and tell them you want the job. Ask them what the next steps are. The most enthusiastic person tends to get the job much more often than someone highly skilled but apathetic. Motivation and attitude are high on any employer’s wish list. Always follow up with a thank-you email and LinkedIn invitations.

Practice makes perfect.  Every interview is an opportunity to improve your skills – approach each one like it’s a dream job and the offers will roll in.

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