What is the key to a good first impression?

We all know that the ultimate aim of every interviewee is to make a good impression on the person interviewing them, an impression that will end up landing them the job. So the most important thing in making this great first impression will always be giving appropriate answers to questions asked, asking imaginative and appropriate questions yourself and explaining your suitability to the role, right?

Arguably, the above are not the most important considerations at all. Research shows that one person will form an initial impression of another within 20 to 30 seconds of meeting them. In one study, untrained subjects were shown the first 20 seconds of interview videos and asked to comment on the candidates. On the whole, their reviews were very similar to those given by the actual interviewer, who had spent a whole 20 minute interview with the candidate. This example shows that a first impression really does last.

Before thinking about the day of the interview, it cannot be forgotten that your interviewer will in fact have an impression of you before they even meet you; the one they gain from your CV and cover letter. An impeccably written, clearly structured CV and cover letter are vital. They will give you the opportunity to clearly demonstrate the manner in which you approach work and are your gateway to the real opportunity to give a good impression – the interview.

So now onto the big day. What exactly does an interviewer take into consideration in those first 20 seconds?

The answer to this question can be found by thinking about what exactly happens in the first 20 seconds of meeting an interviewer. Punctuality is of course vital and a lack of it is a sure-fire way to make a bad impression before you’ve even made it through the door. The next step in the process is the way in which you present yourself. The first thing that anyone sees upon meeting you is your overall looks and psychologists say that humans actually make a snap judgement of another person based upon just a quick glance. That is to say; your interviewer may well have formed their very first opinion based entirely on the physical in around two or three seconds. Just what is appropriate attire varies a little depending on the nature of the company where you are interviewing, so make sure to tailor your outfit to suit your interview. As a rule of thumb, a well fitted, tailored business suit does the job nicely. Don’t forget the details; clean and polished shoes, neat hair and personal hygiene are all essential. As much as we might like to think otherwise, books often are judged by their covers, so impeccable presentation is a must.

“The physical” describes much more than just how we present ourselves and the body speaks volumes about how we conduct ourselves. Psychologists claim in fact that 30-40% of human communication is non-verbal, leaving the rest up to the body. Throughout your 20 second opportunity to impress therefore, you should also consider body language, demeanour and mannerisms. Eye contact is important, showing you to be engaged and interested in what your interviewer has to say. Looking away from the interviewer or – even worse – towards the exit, shows your eagerness to escape! If maintaining eye contact makes you nervous, try looking at the bridge of your interviewer’s nose instead to ease the nerves. Posture can also say a lot about a person and slouching or leaning back imply disinterest. Crossing your arms while talking to the interviewer can also make you appear defensive. By nodding occasionally and leaving your hands rested in your lap or on the arms of the chair, you come across as open, interested and at ease.

It might seem that not an awful lot can be done to show your demeanour within 20 seconds of meeting somebody, but that is not the case at all. A smile will help you come across positively both as a person and regarding the job and a good handshake will show your confidence. A good goal in terms of demeanour is to show an air of relaxed (but of course not too relaxed!) professionalism. Relaxation is a difficult thing to fake, so the best tactic is to practice relaxation techniques in advance of the interview and of course to BREATHE!

Another easy way to show your employer how nervous you are is to fidget. Try to avoid playing with your hair, scratching, or shifting in your seat. As well as revealing your nerves, these things will all distract your interviewer from what should be the focus – you!

If you can teach yourself to employ all these techniques for the first 20 seconds, they are also valuable things to consider for the entire interview. So all in all, the aim in the first seconds of your interview should be to start as you mean to go on. Keep calm and above all be yourself and you will set yourself off on the right foot with your employer for the rest of your time with them.

Good Luck!

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