Making a good impression

A. Dressing the part: Appearance counts

Once you get in front of a person who has the power to hire you, it is important to make him or her feel good about you. After all, there is a lot at stake for employers in the interview process. Their reputation is on the line here, too. If they hire someone who winds up being totally incompetent or otherwise lackluster, it will be to their discredit. So, the first thing to do is to concentrate on making a good first impression. During the first 15 seconds of an interview, an employer will perceive you in two ways, one visual and the other tactile. You guessed it: Your appearance and your handshake go a long way toward making a good impression.

The first thing to realize is that there no longer exists a hard-and-fast rule as to what is and is not acceptable attire for an interview. It used to be that anyone who showed up without a coat and tie on would be immediately disqualified as a candidate for the job. But, things have changed, as they are wont to do. Now almost anything goes, but not all things “go” in all places. The rule of thumb here is to dress and groom like the employer is likely to be dressed and groomed, only neater. You might drop by the company — anonymously, if you like — and figure out what employees are wearing to work. Don’t do this on a Friday, for you might be mislead by “casual Friday” attire and look totally out of place come Monday’s interview. In all matters of interview attire, let common sense be your guide. If coat and tie just seem appropriate, don’t hesitate to wear them. Being too casual can hurt your chances of getting a job, so never worry about being too conservative when you’re getting dressed for an interview.

Here are some general guidelines with regard to dressing for an interview:

  • Management and senior technical personnel: A suit, dress shirt and tie are usually required for men. Women should wear either a suit or a dress with a complementary jacket.
  • Mid-level professionals and technical professionals: While the previous suggestions are ALWAYS acceptable, those men with more limited wardrobes should wear a nice sports coat with coordinated slacks and shirt. Women should wear a nice jacket with coordinated skirt or slacks.
  • Commercial and industrial personnel: The dress is more casual for both men and women, so it is acceptable to wear a nice shirt or blouse and pressed khakis or slacks. You should always avoid wearing athletic shoes to interviews.

At this point, you are walking through the door, dressed appropriately and impressively. The first thing an interviewer will do is offer you his or her hand in greeting. Giving a “dead fish” handshake will not help your candidacy; however, neither will an extremely firm, bone crushing handshake. Being restrained is the key to a nice, firm, honest, good-to-know-you type of handshake. Creating the right impression with your handshake is really quite easy. It consists of three steps. First, clean and manicure your hands before leaving to go on your interview. Second, make sure you hand is warm and relatively free of perspiration when you extend it. (If necessary, use a handkerchief to pat it dry before entering the room where the interview will be held.) Finally, use a firm grip and a warm smile when first making contact with a prospective employer.

B. Playing the part: Non-verbal communication skills

One thing employers like to see in job candidates is self-confidence. No one wants to hire a person who doubts him – or herself – so you definitely don’t want to look like that kind of person. Pay attention to your body language during an interview. It can make the difference in the interest you seem to have in the position and how positively or negatively you present yourself. Good body language can obscure a lot of shortcomings, and make marginal answers seem better than they really are.

Here’s what you should NOT do — namely, fold or cross your arms over your chest. This is a wonderful way to send negative messages to the interviewer. Essentially, the signal is, “I know you’re there, but I don’t want to open up to you. I’m nervous, and I tend to shut-down when I become nervous.” Sure, you may feel less than confident in this situation. That is bad enough, but it is much worse to blatantly express your discomfort.

The feet

Men should place both feet flat on the floor. Women can cross their legs, but should not nervously swing the crossed leg. Avoid compulsively jabbing at the floor, desk or chair with your heel or toes. You want the interviewer’s attention on you, not on the sound being made with your foot.

The torso

There is only one good way to sit during an interview: seated all the way in the chair with your back straight, not slouched. A slight forward-leaning posture will show interest and friendliness toward the interviewer.

The hands

Be careful not to fidget with your hands. Not only is this annoying to interviewers, it also makes you seem nervous or excessively unconfident about what you’re saying. Some employers might suspect that you’re being disingenuous with them or, worse, that you’re outright lying to them. Keep your hands under control!

You should use your hands conversationally, however. Hand gestures can be used for emphasis, and subtly exposing your palms now and then will convey the message that you’re open and honest. Used in moderation, “talking” with your hands can be an effective way of making your conversation more interesting and making yourself seem more personable.

The head & Facial expressions

Mouth: Avoid biting on your lip, “faking” a cough when confronted with a difficult question, and touching your mouth frequently. All these are considered signs of insincerity, which raise questions about your honesty and effectiveness. Delivering a pleasant smile — but not a forced grin — will camouflage your sense of insecurity, making you feel better and the interviewer feel better about you.

Eyes: Consistent eye-to-eye contact is the strongest body language that you can use. Looking at someone means showing interest in him or her, and showing interest is what you want to do. You are interested in the position, the company and the interview itself. Of course, you should avoid staring at people. This could make you seem aggressive or belligerent. Also, be wary of breaking eye contact too abruptly and of shifting your focus too frequently.

Head movement: You should nod slightly while listening to a question and answering it. This shows that you are being attentive, and that you are comfortable with what you’re saying.

Presentation style

The way you speak to an interviewer should connote high levels of energy and enthusiasm. Avoid speaking in monotone, as this conveys a sense of boredom on your part. Instead, vary the tone and speed of your speech to create interest and emphasize key points you wish to make.

C. Increasing your chances: Strategic scheduling

It is important to know when you are most likely to make a lasting impression. Research conducted by Robert Half & Associates indicates that the first person interviewed gets the job only 17% of the time, while the last person interviewed gets the job some 55% of the time. Thus, you should try to schedule your appointment so you’re not the first person being interviewed. It is also recommended that you avoid interviews on Mondays or late in the afternoon. At those times, the interviewer is less likely to take a keen interest in your discussion with him or her, and is therefore less likely to remember you when it comes time to make hiring decisions.

D. Knowing your stuff: Company research

Having advance information about the company at which you are interviewing is bound to reflect favorably on your candidacy. Besides, who wants to go into an interview without knowing even the basics about a company? The interviewer will assume that you know them, and that only makes asking for details more embarrassing. Think about it: If you were an employer, would you want to hire someone who hadn’t taken the time to become familiar with your company’s profile? Does that make him or her seem even halfway interested in working for your organization?

Not being prepared with facts about the company, its products and services, and its overall culture makes you seem uninterested in the job-even if you actually want it! Those who take time to carefully research the company in advance of the interview always stand out from those who don’t. This advance preparation is probably immediately evident to an interviewer. It reflects positively on a person’s general work habits, thoroughness, motivation and interest.

Here’s the kind of information that you will want to have before going in to an interview situation:

General company information

  1. Company products and/or services
  2. Markets and key customers
  3. General business philosophy
  4. Short- and long-term financial performance:
    • Sales trends
    • Cost trends
    • Profit trends
    • Future financial prospects
  5. Plans and strategies for growth and expansion:

    • Major growth emphasis (products, divisions, etc.)
    • Opportunities for growth (new products or expanded markets)
    • Plans for growth (e.g., merges, acquisitions, partnerships, etc.)
  6. Key problems and challenges, both internal and external

Company culture/Work environment

  1. Overall business or management philosophy of the company:
    • Principles?
    • Values?
    • Beliefs?
  2. Predominant management style
  3. Overall mission of the company