First Impressions – 5 Ways to Improve them

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Making good first impressions is a lot of pressure, especially when the stakes are high.  There are few scenarios where this is more important than a job interview.  We can all relate to an interview moment when our nerves or emotions have gotten the best of us, resulting in a terrible first impression.  Here are some tips to help circumvent first impression disasters during your interview.

Eliminate physical signs of nerves

Physical signs of nerves are a sure-fire way to start an interview off awkwardly. Everyone has different tells when it comes to nervousness, but you can minimize a lot of these.  Put a little antiperspirant on sweaty palms; skip the coffee if you get shaky hands; tie your hair back or lose a piece of jewelry if it will temp you to fidget.  Speech is a big part of first impressions. If you struggle with pitch or speech speed, work to regulate your breath and bring your voice down.  Your tone should be lower, even, and without shakiness, rather than high pitched and frenzied.  Also, the pace of your speech should be conversational.  Speaking too slowly can imply a lack of intelligence and quick speech indicates nervousness.  It is also good to practice looking comfortable in facial expression and posture – not casual, arrogant, or indifferent, but confidently comfortable.  One way to help your frame of mind is to imagine that you are meeting your boss, not an interviewer. For more help in on how to dress for an interview and improve your first impressions also read our post .


Begin the conversation on the way to the interview room

If you are already nervous, a long and quite walk from the lobby to the interview room can quickly become an uncomfortable silence.  Try to strike up a light conversation on the way in to alleviate some tension and to warm up for the upcoming interview.  With any luck, by the time you get to the interview space, you’ll have established a bit of a rapport with your interviewer.

Have an icebreaker ready

Don’t assume your interviewer will be very experience or good at his job.  In the event your interviewer doesn’t break the silence in the first few seconds of the interview, have an ice breaker ready to go to break the silence.  We seldom think of interviewers as the nervous ones in these scenarios, but it’s often the case. Your ice breaker should be light and offer a segue for the interviewer to resume the lead as soon as they feel ready. Remember, the interviewer worries about first impressions on you as well.

Be personable

Standing out in an interview is all about letting the interviewer get to know you as a person and understand what unique qualities you bring to the table.  Be sure to smile and give genuine responses.  No one likes cookie cutter or cliché answers.  Pay attention to the interviewer’s name when introduced and address them by name throughout the interview.

Remember the first impression doesn’t have to be the last impression

One of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever sat through involved a complete collapse of confidence.  It was one of my first roles as an interviewer and I was pretty young.  Most people mistook me for an intern, rather than the boss.  I was in the mens room just before the interview, where I meet a very nice and personable young man who complemented my shoes.  Several minutes later, he was being brought into my office for an interview.  You could tell he was surprised and embarrassed about our encounter in the mens’ room, but I couldn’t tell you why.  It really flustered him at the beginning and he didn’t answer the first few questions so well. First impressions can happen sometimes anywhere!

The further the interview went on, the worse it got and her face just showed how badly she felt about the whole thing.  Gone was the confident women I’d met just a few minutes earlier, and in her place sat a defeated and disappointed girl who could barely hold eye contact. I knew exactly what happened. She got inside her own head and completely lost her composure.  Despite my best efforts to bring her back, she continued to get lost in her own thoughts until she looked like she was moments away from tearing up.  I cut the interview short, so as not to embarrass her and she muttered some apology and fled the room.  The interesting thing was that I probably would have hired her if she had been able to turn her interview around.  My reluctance to hire her was not her terrible start, but her terrible finish.  She gave up.

If you know your interview is headed south, don’t give up.  If you can turn it around and show some grit and determination you can actually finish stronger than someone who had a flawless interview.  If you need more clarification on a question, just ask.  If you would like another pass at a question you don’t feel you answered completely, ask for a mulligan.


Other resources on first impressions can be found at Forbes and at the Harvard Business Review.


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