6 Simple Ways to Make a Good First Impression on Candidates

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As the US economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and the unemployment rate drops, things are looking up for the job market. More job opportunities are opening up, and Americans are eagerly applying. And they know that, if they want to land a new gig, they need to make a good first impression during the interview.

According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 52 percent of interviewers make a decision about a candidate’s fit for the job within 5-15 minutes of starting the interview. Of course, this works both ways: Candidates also make decisions about potential employers very quickly.

So it’s not just candidates who need to make great first impressions — recruiters need to make a positive mark, too. That can be particularly tough in the age of virtual interviews.

According to a 2019 survey by Yoh, most Americans (62 percent) prefer in-person interviews over virtual interviews. While only a minority of survey respondents  (38 percent) prefer virtual interviews, remote hiring is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Job interviews are already nerve-wracking; it doesn’t help that many interviews now take place in a medium that many candidates don’t prefer. Candidates are primed to have a negative experience during virtual interviews, which could affect how they feel about your organization.

Fortunately, there are six things recruiters and interviewers can do to ease a candidate’s nerves and leave a great, lasting impression:

1. Be Approachable

The goal of an interview is to vet whether a candidate is a good fit for a company and vice versa. This is best achieved when both sides are comfortable enough to be their genuine selves. Getting to that level of comfort requires building some rapport.

From a body language standpoint — for in-person and video interviews — maintaining an open posture can make an interviewer feel much more inviting to candidates. Try to face the camera, leaving your hands open. Lean forward slightly to indicate interest in the candidate’s answers.

Consider your background as well. You want your environment to be fairly clean. Too much clutter gives off a disorganized first impression, and bare walls can hinder the candidate’s ability to connect with you.

2. Smile

Smiling shows you enjoy a person’s company. People who smile are seen as kinder and warmer, and a smile can be one of the most memorable things about meeting a new professional contact — even over video!

However, make sure your smile is sincere. Refer to tip No. 4 if you need help getting in an authentically positive mindset before an interview.

3. Don’t Jump Right to Business

Small talk is a powerful tool for building rapport. It is the gel that connects people and fosters trust. Remember, you can always follow up with an email after the interview to ask additional questions, further probe an idea you discussed, etc. Use the time on video to get to know the candidate as a person first and foremost.

4. Get Yourself in a Positive Mindset

As mentioned above, most people prefer in-person meetings to video, but video does have its advantages, cost and time being two of the biggest. But making the most of video calls requires a positive mindset.

Before an interview or meeting, do an activity you enjoy. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite music, etc. Try this next time you have to complete an important interview. You may be surprised by how much of an effect your positive mindset has on the meeting!

5. Always Have an Agenda and Questions Prepared

An agenda gives the candidate the impression that you’re organized, and it helps keep the meetings on track. That gives you more time for personal rapport-building at the beginning! It always helps to jot down questions you’d like to ask ahead of time, including some personal questions (that are acceptable in an interview) to help fuel the small talk. Having your questions ready to go will show the candidate you’re interested and engaged.

6. Make Sure Your Online Brand Is in Order

Recruiters look up candidates on LinkedIn before speaking with them for the first time — but candidates also look up their interviewers. Make sure you have a strong, positive online presence.

In addition to the minimum of having a professional headshot and complete profile, consider showcasing a few of your favorite posts and articles on your social profile as well. Help your candidate see you as a real person with whom they can easily connect.

Andres Lares is the managing partner at SNI and the coauthor of Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions (July 2021).

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Andres is the managing partner at SNI. He previously served in the role of chief innovation officer. His multidisciplinary and lingual skills broaden SNI's ability to effectively teach and consult in a wide range of industries, languages, and cultures. Andres' expertise is in deal-coaching live negotiations for sports clients such as the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Milwaukee Brewers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Brooklyn Nets. He also works in several capacities with clients across a wide range of industries, from developing online content to facilitating programs in real estate (Ryland, Heritage Properties), advisory (PwC), media (ESPN, Hearst), banking (M&T Bank), and pharmaceutical (Novo Nordisk, Roche). Andres managed the development of SNI's Advanced Negotiations Program, which includes videotaped role-play of customized simulations and real-time coaching, available both in the classroom and online. He also managed the development of SNI's negotiation mobile application and its implementation within clients' organizations. Andres recently completed the development of SNI's new interactive online negotiation training program.