Making Your First Impression Count

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

Did you know that most employers decide within the first two minutes of an interview whether they might hire you? Research shows that that within those few brief moments, they get an impression about whether or not you’re a competent, credible person.

But you might have less time than that to make a good first impression. Much less time. Experts say that it takes as little as three seconds to make a first impression—an impression that, once made, is lasting and difficult to change.

With a potential job at stake, you have to make those fleeting first moments count for all they’re worth. Follow these tried and true tips.

Dress for success

Your appearance speaks volumes about you. Wear a conservative business suit to make the best possible impression. If you’re a woman, a skirted business suit is preferable. A pant suit is also acceptable. Stick with conservative colors like navy or grey; black or maroon are also acceptable. An exception to this rule would be if you belong to a religious or ethnic group that requires you to wear special clothing. Then, and only then, would that be acceptable. For a man, wear a conservative business suit.

Keep your hair neat and off your face and shoulders. Jewelry should be minimal, conservative, and tasteful. Women should stay away from dangling earrings, noisy jewelry, or too much glitter – whether it’s the real thing or not! Men should stick to a wristwatch only for jewelry. Avoid perfume and cologne. Impeccable grooming, including polished shoes and clean finger nails, help to round out the picture.

If you wear a coat to the interview, try to leave it in the car. Otherwise, take it off before meeting the interviewer. Hang it up if you can or carry it over your left arm if necessary so your right hand is free to shake. Try not to be bogged down with a briefcase or large purse.

Grin and grip

The handshake is another important part of your first impression and a critical part of a job interview. People will judge you based on whether you shake their hand and by the quality of that shake. Be sure not to use a “finger-tip” wiggle shake or a limp, half-hearted shake. Upon first meeting the interviewer, make direct eye contact, smile and extend your hand. Slide your hand all the way in to lock thumb webs with the other person. Use a full firm grip.

Your body language is important too. Be sure to stand and walk tall, with your shoulders back and your head upright. Make good eye contact all along.

Silence isn’t golden

As you walk to the interview room, be sure to engage in small talk with the interviewer. Small talk is that light, superficial banter we engage in with people we’ve just met. It might be about the weather, the building, or the surroundings. You might say something like, “This is a beautiful building. When was it built?” or “It’s such a lovely day out, I really enjoyed the ride over.” The point is, you don’t want to be silent. Although you don’t want to monopolize the conversation, you should initiate some of the small talk.

Be polite and courteous to everyone you encounter–the security guard, receptionist, and so on. After being hired for a job, my boss told me one deciding factor was that he heard from at least two other people how pleasant I was and how impressed they were with me.

You’ve probably heard the chestnut that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Use these tips to make sure your initial encounter leaves the impression you want.

Copyright Donna Cardillo. All rights reserved.

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