Nailing the Interview Process, Part 5: First Impressions Count

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I’m sure you were told as a child to look the person with whom you were talking in the eyes. You may have also been instructed to deliver a firm, yet gentle handshake, not a limp one. I bet you were told to smile, too. Your guardians wanted you to come across as likable, because being likable would get you far in this world.

All of these lessons you were taught as a child apply today. Now that you’re an adult, you still need to maintain consistent eye contact, deliver a great handshake, smile, and do even more.

And when you’re interviewing, your first impressions count more than ever.

It is commonly held that 33 percent of employers will make a decision about whether or not they will hire you within 90 seconds of meeting you.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is how important first impressions are, so don’t take them lightly. Let’s look at some interviewers’ pet peeves to make sure you don’t commit them in the interview.

1. Bad Eye Contact

Making the appropriate amount of eye contact doesn’t mean you have to stare at the person for many minutes at a time. That’s just creepy. You can look away occasionally, as this shows you’re reflecting.

Good eye contact shows engagement and implies trust. Bad eye contact may imply you’re avoiding a question, you’re disinterested, or you’re lying. People who are shy need to make a concerted effort to make eye contact with interviewers.

2. Not Knowing Enough About the Company

This suggests you didn’t prepare for the interview. If you are asked what you know about the company and you answer, “I was hoping to learn about the company in the interview,” you’ve failed at this very first important first impression. Employers want to know that you have done your research on their company, the position, and even the competition.

3. A Lousy Handshake

To me, the handshake is one of the most important first impressions you can make. It says something about your character. Your handshake should be firm, yet gentle. Don’t crush the hand of the person you’re greeting.

On the flip side, do not deliver a limp handshake, as this indicates indifference. The sweaty palm handshake is an immediate turnoff. Also annoying is the early grab, where you grab the interviewer’s fingers. The crooks of your hands should nicely fit together.

shake4. Fidgeting, Crossing Your Arms, Playing With Facial Hair, Etc.

All of these are body language tics that imply nervousness. You may not know you’re committing any of these faux pas, but interviewers will spot them.

Fidgeting and playing with your facial hair can easily be corrected by holding a pen or interlocking you fingers and placing your hands on the table. Crossing your arms can imply defensiveness or aloofness. You may simply feel comfortable talking with your arms crossed, but interviewers may see it as a negative stance.

5. Monotone Voice

Talking in a monotone voice implies indifference, boredom, or even pretentiousness. You sound robotic when there’s no inflection or pitch in your voice. You lack enthusiasm.

Monotone voices can be particularly damaging during telephone interviews, as the interviewer can’t see the enthusiasm on your face. In this case, you need to “show” your excitement through your voice.

6. Not Smiling

Even candidates with killer smiles often forget to smile during the interview. We can be so intent on delivering the best answers that we totally forget about our facial expressions. Try to smile at least occasionally.

Smiling shows interviewers you are friendly, welcoming, and happy to be in their presence. This is important, because interviewers want to know that you are enthusiastic about working for their company.

7. Being Poorly Dressed

There is much debate as to how a candidate should dress for an interview. The general rule is one or two notches above the company’s dress code.

Company dress codes can vary, but here are some basic suggestions for various occupations:

Sales/Finance/Banking: You’ll want to look formal and contemporary, which may include a gray or black suit with a colored tie, or perhaps a silk blouse beneath a suite jacket paired with a skirt.

Education, IT, and Public Sectors: No suit, but a pressed shirt and nice slacks works. So would a silk blouse with a skirt or trousers.

Engineers, Construction Workers, and Warehouse Workers: A simple button-down shirt with slacks should suffice. Maybe a tie.

In all cases, refrain from heavy perfume and cologne. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry. There are no situations when you should wear jeans, unless you’re specifically told to.

The first impression you make can be your last, so start off on the right track. Enter the room and shake each person’s hand, make eye contact, and smile. Show the interviewers that you’re happy to be there.

Check out part six, where we discuss how to answer difficult questions.

Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.

By Bob McIntosh