They do say that you only get one chance to make a good impression – it may be trite but it’s true. And whether you’re going for an interview or trying to clinch a big sale it’s this first impact that you make that can lead to success or failure.
Now I don’t need to tell you about the obvious points like wearing the appropriate “uniform” and making sure that your shoes are shiny, it’s more about the subtle, and not so subtle, cues that your behaviour and demeanour give out.
There’s a lot talked about body language and for good reason. We all do it, before another person has opened their mouths or even made themselves known to us we have already made certain assumptions based on how they hold themselves. Arrogant, shy, unfriendly, uninterested – these are all character traits that we can inadvertently give off just by the way we present ourselves. So consciously keep that body language open. Make neutral eye contact, don’t cross your legs or fold your arms when you’re in an interview situation and lean in to the person who’s speaking to you. Another golden rule is to avoid touching your face – it give the impression that you’re trying to conceal the truth.
Next, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Research carried out at Brigham Young University found that people who speak quickly appear to be more confident but if that speech is high pitched it has the opposite effect. So the most effective technique will be to speak fast and at as low a pitch as is comfortable for you.
Your use of language is equally as important, of course, and will help to leave a lasting impression of what you’re really like. Using positive, concrete words and avoiding fillers like “umms” and “errs” help to get your message across in a forceful but not overbearing way. Also, if you’re asked a question that needs some thought before you answer don’t be afraid to take your time and to choose your words carefully. It’s far better to give a carefully modulated response than rushing in with garbled thoughts.
Another critical aspect of making a solid first impression is to show that you’ve done your homework whether this means learning all you can about the company that you hope to work for or even about the person who will be interviewing you. Since the advent of the internet and sites like LinkedIn this has become increasingly easy and just a few minutes spent looking into relevant backgrounds can pay dividends in so many ways.
In the case of getting to know the person then use what you learn to try to establish a connection. Maybe you know an ex-colleague of theirs from a company they’ve worked for in the past or you may even have gone to the same university. It is quite a delicate balance though – you don’t want to make it look like you’re a cyber-stalker.
But, above all, the single most important thing to remember about making a good first impression is to be yourself. By putting on an act or trying to be what you believe your interviewer wants you to be it’s asking for trouble. That’s because if you do get the job it’s an act you’ll have to keep up forever, or risk revealing the real you further down the line. Either way, it’s not a great strategy for career advancement.