Studies have shown that most people form an opinion about another’s ability or competence within the first two minutes, and as much as 93% of a person’s communication effectiveness is determined by style ¬ how someone comes across. In today’s tight job market making a good impression is not only desirable – it is essential.
A look at a worst and a best-case scenario illustrates the point.
Jack is nervous about his interview as he sits in the lobby. Anyone watching can see the signs ¬ his foot is tapping rapidly, he is muttering to himself (obviously rehearsing his lines). He is slouched down in his chair. When he spots the interviewer coming down the hall he begins to wipe his sweaty hand on his pant leg. He stands, but as he does the magazine on his lap falls to the floor. When he bends to pick it up, he knocks over his portfolio and papers fall out. The interviewer stands to the side observing his behavior. She is thinking to herself, “This guy is a basket case. He doesn’t look like the kind of person we want representing our product line.” When Jack does pull himself together, he holds out his hand, but his handshake is weak. This interview is already headed in the wrong direction.
Joann feels prepared and confident as she waits in the lobby for her interviewer. She knows she looks good, and, as a result, she feels good. She has practiced and prepared, and knows she can do this job. She will concentrate on selling herself as the solution to the employer’s problems. As her interviewer approaches she stands and smiles looking directly in his direction. She notices the color of his eyes as she extends her hand. She gives a firm shake and smiles. “This is a very confident woman. Someone who shows real promise,” is the thought going through the interviewer’s mind. The first impression has been made ¬ and it is a positive one.
It is important that your interview get off to a good start. The following seven steps or “two-minute drill” will guide you toward a best-case interview scenario.
1. Appearance counts. When you look good, you feel good. Make sure you look groomed and neat. If you were a book, would someone be attracted by your cover and want to pursue you further?
2. Your clothes and accessories should be conservative and neutral, rather than wild and loud. Your clothes are your packaging and should not take attention away from the product.
3. Non-Verbal Communication sometimes conveys a stronger message than verbal communication. When you slouch, whether you’re sitting or standing, you are saying volumes about you and your confidence level. Sit up straight (like your mother always told you to). When you stand make yourself as tall as possible ¬ shoulders back and head held high. Picture a successful screen star or TV announcer ¬ and mimic their carriage.
4. Eye contact and smiles can indicate a confident and upbeat attitude. You will notice that many job postings ask for “enthusiasm and energy.” This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your social and interpersonal skills, as well as your excitement about the opportunity you are interviewing for.
5. The handshake sends a strong tactile message. Whether your hands are hot and sweaty or cold and clammy, you can try some tricks to control the temperature. To cool your hands try running cold water on the insides of your wrists. Use hot water if your hands are cool. If you have particularly sweaty hands try using a deodorant gel (antiperspirant) as a lotion. Your hands will feel soft and smell good.
6. Your voice and the volume of your speech convey a strong impression. Whether it is a phone interview or a face-to-face interview, it is important that you speak with enthusiasm and energy. Use a firm voice to demonstrate your confidence. If you speak in a whisper the impact will be weak and ineffective.
7. Your vocabulary reveals your communication skills and ability to interface with people ¬ especially people you’ve not met before. The words you choose will indicate your education and training, as well as your knowledge of the industry you are applying for. It is important to use “their” words and talk “their” talk.
Practice your first impression with someone you trust to give you objective feedback. Use a checklist to remind yourself how to handle this first encounter. You are there to make a sale – an important sale – and the product you are selling is YOU. When you get off on the right foot the interview will flow easily. This is one impression you cannot leave to chance.