How to make a great first impression at an interview

When it comes to job interviews, most of us really, really want to make a good first impression. We’ve heard it before, usually from our parents; “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Have you ever wondered why this is the case?

When it comes to deciding how we feel about each others, humans are wired in a very specific way. In the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, we’ve usually know whether or not we like or trust them. Once that’s happened, it’s incredibly hard to change what someone thinks, mostly because our brains don’t like to be proved wrong.

The Science

It’s called confirmation bias, and basically means that once we’ve made the call (good or bad), we then subconsciously look for evidence that our decision was correct. We also tend to ignore anything that might indicate we’ve made a mistake.

Most of us are susceptible to it in our daily lives. I had a housemate who struggled in a new job because everyone thought she was a snob. She was good-looking, dressed well and was quietly spoken, and, if I’m being really honest, the first time I met her I kind of thought the same thing.

It took me more than a month to realise she was the most down-to-earth person on the planet, and I lived in the same house as her! Somehow I’d managed to ignore her eating ice cream straight from the tub while watching cartoons on the couch, but always noticed how nicely dressed she was when she went out. My brain wanted to be right so badly, it made excuses for, or straight up ignored the things that didn’t fit.

Your Secret Weapon at Interviews

What this means for you as a job-seeker is that there’s a very small window for you to make the interviewer appreciate the awesome person you are (no pressure, right?). It also means that, if you can get it right, it might also save you if you stuff up later in the interview process.

So, now that we know why you should care about making a great first impression, let’s get to how we can actually do that.

Punctuality

It should go without saying, but the easiest way to get an interviewer offside is to show up late. Lateness in their mind means you don’t care enough about this job to get there on time, and motivation is a huge deal to potential employers.

Double check the address and how to get there the day before, and if you’re really worried, perhaps do a dry run. If
you’re using Google Maps to work out how long it will take to get there, remember to check for the time you’re going to be travelling; peak hour traffic moves very differently to the traffic at 8pm when you’re at home preparing for the next day.

Please give yourself extra time. If you think it’ll take half an hour to get there, give yourself an hour, just in case. I’ve had people get on the wrong train, break a high-heel and forget their paperwork at the bus stop (not all at the same time, that would be super unlucky). You just never know what’s going to happen.

By the same token, don’t get there too early either. Fifteen minutes is the earliest you want to be at the interview venue. Showing up an hour early doesn’t make them think you’re a better candidate, it normally just stresses them out because they know you’re sitting there, waiting for them. If all the stars align and you find yourself with too much time on your hands, find somewhere close by to wait and use the time to practice.

Follow the Instructions

As far in advance as possible, triple check to see what they want you to do. If they want a copy of your passport, bring a copy of your passport. Email says bring a copy of your resume? Bring a copy. Maybe even two as a backup. They want a ten-minute presentation on the history of nachos? Do that. Establishing yourself as someone who gets things done on time and as requested is a good impression to make.

Recruiters ask for these things because it makes it easier to do their jobs. And you want their jobs to be easier. Those two minutes when they’re walking back to their desk to print out your resume because your printer at home wasn’t working? Sorry to say it, but they probably aren’t thinking about how that sort of thing can happen to anyone. They’re starting to form an opinion about you.

Look great

“Dress to impress” is a real thing, especially at interview times. If you needed someone for a professional office job, and had to choose between two equally qualified candidates, would you pick the one in the clean, ironed shirt, or the one wearing a sun dress and Crocs? (I’m not even joking, that actually happened one day).

I get that some places aren’t ‘suit and tie’ kinds of employers, and that’s fine, but when in doubt, you’re better off over dressing than under dressing. It’s better to be the best-dressed person in the room than the worst.

I like to think of interview outfits as my battle armour. They are special clothes that keep me safe and feeling powerful, while also flying my own personal flag. They don’t have to be expensive; I’ve gotten some great mileage out of some very cheap shirts. It’s more about wearing something that you feel proud to be seen in, that also shows off just a little bit of your personality.

To show how far you can take this, I once hired someone who rocked up in a magenta pantsuit. Yes it was bright pink, but it was crisp, professionally tailored and suited her personality perfectly. (She also performed really well in her interviews, which helped). If hot pink suit combos are not your thing, maybe try your favourite pair of earrings with a more traditional interview outfit.

Googling ‘professional clothes’ is a great way to get some ideas, but basically, if you can see up it, down it or through it, it’s probably not something to wear to an interview.

Body language and attitude

Finally, talking about body language. There are libraries full of body language books, talking about how to read someone, how to mirror them to get them to like you subconsciously etc. Honestly, when you’re in an interview, you probably have enough to worry about without adding this extra layer.

The best way to be memorable in the right way is to start your interview with eye contact, a warm smile and a proper handshake.

After that, just try to keep your posture up and if you have to lean, lean forward rather than slouching back in your chair. A straight back helps you to look and feel confident, while leaning towards an interviewer shows you’re interested in what they have to say.

Go get ‘em!

So there you have it. Four little things you can do at the start of an interview to help swing the odds into your favour.

These may not make them love you, but at least it should prevent them from deciding they don’t like you before you get a chance to show them who you really are.

If you’re debating what to wear to an upcoming interview, why not get a second opinion? Team Grownup is a private group on facebook, full of likeminded people chasing their dream jobs. Join us and post a picture of your outfit, along with the role you’re going for and wait for the compliments to roll in.

 

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