Ever heard the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression?” According to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology,employers often make assumptions about you within the first minutes of meeting you. The majority of employers (60 percent) in the study said they made their decision about a candidate within the first 15 minutes of the interview.
Scary? Sure. But rather than let your nerves get the best of you, use the rapid-fire setting of an interview to your advantage. By using the tips below before and during your next job interview, you’ll be better equipped to handle tough questions head-on and make a winning first impression.
1. Role play your smile and handshake.
It may sound odd, but practicing the flow of the initial meeting can take the pressure off when the actual moment comes. Recruit a friend or family member to stand in as the interviewer, and go through the entire meeting process together. Practice walking into the room and making direct eye contact, smiling, and offering a firm (but not soul-gripping) handshake. Say, “It’s nice to meet you, [interviewer’s name].” Be open to feedback on your body language or general vibe, and adjust as needed until you can go through the motions in your sleep.
2. Prepare thoughtful questions.
Try to imagine the all-too-common dream about showing up for the test without having studied or gone to class, come to life in an interview situation. (Shudder.) Preparing a list of go-to interview questions and reviewing them before your interview will prevent “day of the test” panic. You will be able to answer questions in a more informed way, and if the conversation is stalling, you’ll have questions to pull out of your back pocket. Even if the interviewer doesn’t ask if you have questions, be sure to say, “Could I ask you a couple of questions?” before the interview wraps up. This gives you more face time, and the conversation may give you an opportunity to share more about your value as a potential employee.
Can’t think of any questions? Check out the employer’s website, blog posts, and press releases. Do Google searches for the company name to get acquainted with any important news. Consider asking questions that will help you better understand the company culture, and keep the tone of your questions positive. Find out more about how to formulate good interview questions (and which ones to avoid).
3. Try your interview outfit on the day before.
The worst thing is scrambling to put on the interview outfit you’ve painstakingly ironed and set out the night before, only to find you have a rip in your skirt or a stain on your tie. Try it on at least a day before to make sure it fits, you’re comfortable, and you have time to run to the store for reinforcements if necessary.
4. Mind your manners.
Manners are an important reflection of how you treat others around you, and in an interview situation, your manners, or lack thereof, are often under a microscope. While you’re waiting in the lobby, avoid checking your phone, eating or drinking (unless the receptionist offers you water). Use the restroom before you arrive if at all possible. Be polite in your words and actions: Say “please” and “thank you,” and hold the door for others. Treat everyone with respect. Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih, has shared that recruiters will ask Zappos shuttle drivers who have transported candidates that day how they were treated. If the driver was treated poorly by a candidate, that person won’t be offered a job, regardless of how amazing their interviews might have been.
5. Show up a little early.
Showing up a bit early gives you ample time in case of scenarios out of your control: you run into traffic; there’s a route detour; or the building elevator is out of order. It also gives you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with your surroundings; get a sip of water or wash your hands; and catch your breath, de-stress, and collect your thoughts before your name is called.
6. Lights, camera, action.
This is the time to put that winning smile and handshake you practiced in #1 into action.When you meet your interviewer, smile, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and say, “It’s nice to meet you, [interviewer’s name].” This is the first in-person impression your interviewer has of you, so make it count.
7. Be conversational, but professional.
Friendly small talk can be a great way for you and your interviewer to connect. There is a difference, however, between conversational and casual, and you must draw a line in the sand. You are interviewing for a job with the company, and your objective is to show the employer why you are the best candidate (not talk about your date the night before). Remember that even if the person interviewing you is treating you like a friend, they are also judging your comments, reactions, and suitability for the job at hand with every word you say, so keep things professional.
8. Stay cool, calm, and collected.
Though your stomach may be in knots on the inside, do your best to maintain an outward air of calm. Be present, maintain good posture, and keep your attention and interest on your interviewer. Remind yourself to smile, and avoid looking at the time or fiddling with your hair, earrings, or tie. Avoid nervous behaviors such as tapping your foot or bouncing your knee, and keep arms relaxed at your side or folded in your lap (crossed arms can come off as defensive).
9. Thank your interviewer and follow up.
After the interview is over, regardless of how you think it went, smile, thank your interviewer for their time, and shake their hand. The success of an interview doesn’t determine your worth, but your actions reflect your character. End things on a positive note and be sure to send a thank-you note within 24 hours of the interview. Email is often the best medium for this as far as expedience, but delivering a handwritten note could be a good way to separate you from the pack.
Try these tips out for your next interview, and make a memorable first impression!
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