Job interviews can be scary, intimidating, and stressful. But if you want to make the experience a little less overwhelming, you can focus on mastering the first impression. This will give you plenty of runway to work with.
Importance of the First Impression
First impressions are everything in a job interview. And, for better or worse, you have maybe 20 seconds to make that impression. After that point, your positive or negative impression will influence how the interviewers perceive you (and even your answers to specific questions).
If you form a positive impression right away, you instantly earn a more favorable audience who will be more understanding and engaged. If you swing and miss on the first impression, they’ll be looking for every little opportunity to disqualify you from the position.
Tips for a Stronger First Impression
Making a strong first impression isn’t as difficult as some might make it out to be. Here are several very important things you can do:
- Arrive Early
Feeling rushed in a job interview is terrible. Unfortunately, job candidates often do it to themselves by showing up right as the interview starts. This leads to a frazzled introduction that negatively impacts your ability to make a poised first impression.
For best results, arrive at the interview location at least 15 minutes early and walk into the waiting area with at least 10 minutes to spare. This gives you ample time to sit down, relax, and bring your heart rate down. While waiting, avoid scrolling through your phone. Instead, patiently sit down and smile/greet anyone who walks in the room.
- Be Fashionable, Yet Professional
It’s always a good idea to be fashionable, but don’t let your pursuit of fashion prevent you from coming across as professional. There’s a fine line to be walked here.
Black is always a good choice in an interview, as it makes you seem professional and put-together. Navy can be another good option if you want to soften your personality up just a bit. For men, a nice leather portfolio is a good addition. For women, a leather purse or handbag is a nice touch.
- Make Eye Contact and Do This
When your interviewer comes to get you, make eye contact, extend a strong handshake, and smile. In fact, if you don’t do these three things, you’re seriously selling yourself short.
Eye contact is important from a psychological standpoint. People trust other people who look them in the eye. A lack of eye contact makes you seem unconfident and untrustworthy.
For the handshake, you want it to be firm and full (but not overpowering). Try to match the strength of the other person and hold for two to three seconds.
As for the smile, this is a very important aspect of the initial introduction. It’s easy to forget to smile when you’re nervous, but you have to make this a priority.
“A smile can portray your enthusiasm about the job, and lack of enthusiasm in an interview is a commonly cited drawback according to interviewers,” career expert Eimear Nolan writes. “In fact, having a neutral facial expression can negatively impact your likability.”
You don’t want to overdo the smiling and make it seem like you’re just there to have a good time, but a couple of well-timed grins at the appropriate times will allow your personality to shine through.
- Ask Your Own Questions
While you’re the one being interviewed, it’s okay (and encouraged) to ask your own questions. This makes you seem well-prepared, interested, and engaged. Curiosity and initiative are marks of good employees. Your ability to form some thoughtful questions about the company will strengthen your first impression.
- Follow-Up Afterward
Most people assume that the first impression is over once an interview concludes. However, it can actually extend beyond this. One way to master the tail end of the first impression is by quickly following up after the interview is over. A handwritten note is always a classy gesture. Put one in the mail the same day.
Adding it All Up
When it’s all said and done, a first impression is just one ingredient in the process. However, it’s an important one. If you get the first impression right, you can dramatically improve your chances of being taken seriously. And if all else is equal, it could power you past the other applicants who made it to the interview round.