ZoomInterviews Guide to First Impressions

How To Make The Best Impression During An Interview
You have often heard that first impressions count - and they do, particularly when that first impression is related to your job interview. In a tough job market, where opportunities to interview are rare, it is critical to fully understand what goes into making that "good impression." If that first impression isn't a good one, chances are that you won't have another opportunity to make up for it. In the Zoom Guide to First Impressions we'll cover the key areas where you need to focus on in order to make the best impression during the interview.

  Appearance and Hygiene

Your Appearance is Everything... Almost

During the job interview, your skills and experience are being formally assessed, and judgments are also being made on your appearance and behavior. The interviewer(s) will expect to see somebody who fits in with the other people working in the company. For some jobs it will help to be stylishly dressed, whereas for others a more conservative style is appropriate. An open neck shirt and chinos may be OK for some companies, but, if in doubt, opt for a suit. It is unlikely that you will ever look too smart. Although, if you are going for a job in a non-office environment, for example, you will be better off in "smart casual" attire. We all have a "look." Whether it is consciously or unconsciously created, you want this look to be accepted by your potential employer.

The clothes you wear should be appropriate to the job and organization. It's when you look out of place that people notice, but you also want to wear clothes that make you feel good, and that will increase your confidence level. When your professional attire hits the mark, it shows that you understand what is required for the industry, function, and most importantly the company that you are going to be in.

If you can find out in advance how people within the organization typically dress, you can put together the right look. It is permissible to ask the recruiter or HR professional you have been coordinating with during your interview process. It is almost always better to be overdressed for the interview rather than underdressed. So, if you're uncertain about the proper attire to wear, wearing formal business attire (i.e. a suit) is highly recommended.

Try on your interview outfit and think about how your accessories, hair, and general physical grooming will contribute to the effect. Work on this as carefully as you worked on your resume. This attention to detail on your appearance sends the subtle message that you will be equally as conscientious about your work.

You should try on your interview clothes in advance to make sure that they are comfortable and fit well (i.e. they shouldn't be too loose or too tight). Check to make sure that your clothes are crisp and don't wrinkle too much.

Below is a matching grid containing appropriate interview attire for men and women:

The Interview-ready Look for Men

Jewelry/Accessories

You may wear a watch with a silver face, steel band or leather strap. Avoid casual watches with loud colors and oversized faces. Wear no more than one ring on each hand. If you wear earrings, you may want to consider removing them for the interview. You may also have a portfolio with extra copies of your resume, a notepad and high quality pen.

Cologne

It's recommended that you avoid wearing cologne, or only apply a minimal amount.
Keep in mind that your interviewer could:
  • Be interviewing you in a small room where your cologne could be stifling and distracting
  • Be allergic to colognes
  • Negatively associate the scent of your cologne with someone they know who wears the same brand

The Interview-Ready Look for Women

Jewelry/Accessories

Select a watch with a silver face and steel band or leather strap band; avoid casual watches with loud colors and oversized faces; you can replace a watch with a simply designed bracelet, but avoid ones with dangling charms or multiple bands; also, avoid wearing a bracelet on the same wrist as your watch - a watch is considered a bracelet; wear simple, classy earrings that are no longer than the length of your ear (measured top to bottom); select a classically designed, sophisticated tote or purse to hold your belongings; traditionally your handbag color should match your shoes, but it's more important that your handbag fit your overall look; you may also have a portfolio (with extra copies of your resume), a notepad and high quality pen.

Make-up/ Nail Polish

Wear natural looking make-up that helps you look fresh and professional. Do not over-apply lipstick, blush, eye make-up or powder. Make sure your hands and nails are clean. Wear a neutral colored nail polish. If you have chipped nail polish, or if you bite your nails, remove the polish.

Perfume

It's recommended that you avoid wearing perfume or only apply a minimal amount.
Keep in mind that your interviewer could:
  • Be interviewing you in a small room where your cologne could be stifling and distracting
  • Be allergic to colognes
  • Negatively associate the scent of your cologne with someone they know who wears the same brand

A Word on Smoking

If you smoke, or live with someone who does, make sure your clothes don't smell of smoke during the interview. Give your clothes a good airing and use a spray deodorizer to neutralize any lingering smell. If you must smoke beforehand, make sure you have some mints with you. The odor of cigarette smoke is offensive to most non-smokers, and, while not a legal employment practice, companies may discriminate against you. They may believe that if hired you'll take frequent smoking breaks and be out sick more often, because you smoke.

Your Personal Hygiene on Interview Day

The matter of personal hygiene is just as important as how you dress, for the day of the interview, in terms of the impression you'll be giving to your interviewer(s). While we all are assumed to know what constitutes "good hygiene," habits that we learned from very young, a lack of attention to detail to one or two aspects of your personal hygiene on interview day could spell disaster. Below is a head-to-toe review of hygiene tips:

Hair
  • Make sure your hair is properly washed and doesn't look greasy. There is a difference between hair that has a sheen because of hair product, and greasy looking hair.
  • Keep your hair well-trimmed and manageable. Depending on the position you are interviewing for, long hair or a pony tail on men is typically not appropriate. Since norms can vary widely, do your research ahead of time for your specific industry, function and company of focus to get an understanding of what is considered acceptable. For women with long hair, do a 30-second check in the mirror just before the interview to make sure your hair is in place, and you don't have any flyaway strands of hair.
  • Flaky dandruff is a turn off for many people and looks unsightly on the shoulders of your dark suit. If you have a dry, flaky scalp, make sure you use an effective dandruff shampoo to remedy the condition.
  • Certain hairstyles such as mullets or big, frizzy hair should be avoided. In general, conservative, well-trimmed and simply styled hair is universally acceptable for the interview.
Eyebrows
  • Your eyebrows are referred to in the plural because there should be two of them. Overly bushy eyebrows can also draw unnecessary attention. If you find yourself in either of these unfortunate predicaments, invest in getting your eyebrows done.
Facial hair
  • For men, being clean shaven or having a well-trimmed beard or mustache is usually acceptable in most professional environments. However, ultra-professional business environments such as investment banking may frown upon facial hair, at least for the interview - once you're hired, you usually have at least a little more freedom to keep your facial hair the way you want to.
Moisturizing the face
  • If your face tends to flake or looks dry, make sure you use a light, non-comedogenic facial moisturizer that won't clog your pores.
  • If you have chapped lips, apply a lip moisturizer with an SPF of 15 or greater.
Hands
  • Dry hands could lead to crackly skin and unsightly hang nails. To keep your cuticles looking healthy and well-manicured, apply a nourishing moisturizer often to your hands, gently working the moisturizer into your cuticle.
  • Make sure that your fingernails are neatly trimmed and that no dirt is caught underneath your nails.
  • If you wear finger nail polish, make sure that there are no chips in the polish. If there are, redo your nail polish or remove the polish entirely.
Oral hygiene
  • In addition to the obvious brushing, flossing and using mouthwash, make sure that you don't have food particles caught between your teeth. Have mints readily available to freshen your breath when needed. Do not chew gum during the interview.

  During the Interview

First Three Minutes (The Entrance, Handshake, and Small-talk)

It is critical to establish a quick rapport with the interviewer from the first moment you meet them. Doing so will help you get the interview off to a good start. Awkward silence, speaking at the same time, and humor that misses the mark are just some of the ways you can fail to establish rapport with your interviewer. Below are the key things to consider during the first three minutes of the interview:

The Entrance

Enter the interview room confidently, standing up straight, and with good posture (hint: practice proper posture by rolling your shoulders back and then allowing them to drop to your sides, while keeping your back straight). Look your interviewer in the eyes and greet him or her with a smile and a handshake. When the interviewer introduces themselves, repeat their name as you exchange pleasantries (e.g. "Steve, it's good to meet you.").

The Handshake

There is nothing more disappointing than a limp or "dead fish" handshake. In any sort of business setting, a confident and firm handshake shows confidence and helps put you on more equal standing with the other person, regardless of your relative rank or social stature with them. This also applies to the interview, where the handshake is an important part of setting the tone and making a strong impression. When shaking hands with your interviewer, present a firm grip and give one to two short pumps, while looking the interviewer in the eyes and smiling.

At this point, the interviewer will typically invite you to sit down. Always wait until your interviewer sits before you do so yourself. Likewise, if you are sitting in a lobby or interview room waiting for your interviewer/company representative, be sure you stand up to greet this person as they approach you. If you shake hands with this person, make sure to be either standing, or in the motion of getting up to stand, as you extend your hand towards the person. This shows respect and your awareness of proper business decorum.

Small Talk

One of the hallmarks of US business interactions is small talk-the initial, conversational back and forth exchange between two people before actual serious business topics are broached. Small talk serves the purpose of allowing two people who have never met, or who do not know each other well, to find common ground, while at the same time allowing them to further establish their relationship through an interpersonal exchange. Common small talk topics you can use at the start of the interview include:
  • The weather (a classic conversation starter)
  • Where you live, where the interviewer lives; what you like about the city where the job you're interviewing for is located in
  • How easy it was to find the company's offices (and as far as you're concerned, it was always easy to find the offices if you're asked)
  • Current sports news, especially for professional teams from the city you happen to be interviewing in
  • Any recent travels that you've been on or will be on in the near future; any great restaurants or other social venues that you've frequented lately
To make sure that the topics you cover are "safe" for the interview, apply the 30-day Rule - share only neutral or neutral-positive things that have occurred in your life within the last 30 days or that will occur in the next 30 days.

Finally, pay attention to the flow of the conversation. In typical US business interactions, the conversation begins with small talk, then moves into the business portion of the discussion, before emerging at the back-end of the conversation with lighter topics which are small talk in nature.

You Send Messages with your Body Language

Body language is an important part of the image you convey during the interview, is used by the interviewer to form an opinion of you as a candidate, and to assess your interview answers. When effective, your body language can help to build relationships with others. On the other hand, poorly managed body language can hurt your candidacy and betray your true sentiments, regardless of the words that are coming out of your mouth. Therefore, make sure your body language and your interview answers are aligned and working together to best present you as a candidate.

Eye contact

We expect people to look at us, and people appear shifty if they don't. We may wonder if they are interested in us if they don't bother to make eye contact. You can try an experiment. Tell a friend that you are going to talk with them for 3 minutes, and they need to avoid eye contact. You'll find it hard to concentrate on what you're saying, and you will likely not feel that you're being heard. So when the interviewer is talking, do look at them as they talk. You don't need to stare, and it is fine to look away, especially when you are thinking of what to say. Return your focus to the other person or people as you begin to verbalize your thoughts.

Two other important components that work with eye contact to convey a positive first impression are nodding and smiling. Studies have shown that these three simple actions are the most powerful ways to be viewed favorably by someone. Used in an interview, these actions can help you quickly build rapport with your interviewer.

TIP: If you feel uncomfortable holding eye contact with people, look at their forehead, just above their nose.

Gestures

Some gestures can be helpful, such as the way we will use our hands when we are talking to emphasize a point, and perhaps raising an eyebrow if something is interesting. We don't want to do too much, or it could become distracting to the interviewer. Keep your hand and arm gestures within an imaginary square that starts from the top of your head to the middle of your torso and from the outer edge of one shoulder to the other. This will keep your gestures controlled and not overly exaggerated, which may be distracting to the interviewer.

Be mindful of the types of gestures and hand movements you exhibit during the interview. When some people are nervous they fidget, such as tapping the desk, playing with their hair, or twirling a pen. Fidgeting occasionally is fine, but too much is distracting. Take care not to accidentally hit the table with your watch, or any rings you're wearing, while you are gesturing.

And again, remember you can smile-you don't need to be serious all of the time, and this demonstrates warmth to the people you meet.

Posture

Your posture conveys immediate messages to others about your confidence, level of comfort with yourself and others, as well as your overall mood and emotional state. The interviewer will notice your posture whether you are standing up, walking or sitting down. As you enter the interview room, walk in with your head held high, looking confident. Give the interviewer a genuine smile and a firm handshake. Wait until you are invited to sit down to actually seat yourself.

Some people will slouch in their chair. This suggests laziness and a lack of interest. So, practice in advance sitting more upright with both feet on the floor. You can lean forward slightly, which subtly demonstrates interest in what the other person is saying.

Avoid the temptation to lean on the interviewer's desk, as they are likely to see this as an invasion of their personal space, and that won't help you to develop rapport. Also, avoid having your arms crossed in front of your body. It might feel comfortable to you, but to others it looks defensive or standoffish, or at the very least, not open .

Common Body Language Mistakes Committed During the Interview

We have worked with thousands of highly competent business professionals on their interview preparation. Through our work with these individuals, we know that even well-prepared candidates will still stumble in interviews through the unintentional display and use of incorrect body language. Take note of the following common body language mistakes to avoid, and make sure you receive feedback from a friend, spouse, colleague or professional interview coach on whether you commit any of these mistakes in your interview performance.

Eye contact
  • Do not roll your eyes when recounting something unpleasant about a past work experience or work colleague (and even better, avoid these topics altogether).
  • Avoid fluttering your eye lids when you answer a question. This conveys insincerity or nervousness. Neither will help your cause during the interview.
  • Be mindful if you tend not to make eye contact, or if you make minimal eye contact, with the interviewer. Eye contact is essential for establishing trust and making a connection.
  • Do not look directly up when you are thinking about your response to a question you've been asked. This conveys uncertainty and undermines your credibility. Take a moment to look down at the table in front of you or down and off to one side of the interviewer as you collect your thoughts.
  • Avoid staring at your interviewer. It is fine to occasionally look away (see previous point) as you gather your thoughts or as a natural pause in the conversation. In general, looking at your interviewer 80-90% of the time is ideal.
Gestures
  • Avoid using overly dramatic or pronounced hand gestures. Keep your gestures to the imaginary square that starts from the top of your head to the middle of your torso, and from the outer edge of one shoulder to the other.
  • Avoid either intentionally or unintentionally hitting the table in front of you while speaking.
  • Do not point at the interviewer with your index finger (you should always extend all fingers in any direction you may be pointing to - referred to as using "shovel hands," since your hand forms the shape of a shovel).
  • Avoid giving the interviewer a weak handshake (known as the "dead fish" handshake.) This conveys a lack of confidence and engagement with the interviewer).
  • Do not twirl or tap your pen during the interview. Likewise, make sure you do not doodle or start writing extensive notes during the interview. You should be engaged in conversation with the interviewer.
  • When shaking hands with the interviewer (use your right hand), do not touch the interviewer's hand, arm or shoulder with your left hand. This is a more intimate gesture saved for familiar colleagues and friends with an ongoing and well-established relationship.
  • Do not touch your face or hair during the interview. To that end, do not lace your hands together behind your head. Likewise, do not scratch yourself anywhere during the interview. If you have an itch, bear it until you are out of the presence of the interviewer.
  • Avoid exaggerated head movements, either shaking your head, nodding or moving your head from side to side.
Posture
  • Avoid slouching or leaning back in your chair. You should be sitting up straight in your chair, leaning slightly forward to show engagement and interest.
  • Do not sit with your legs extended in front of you or with your feet resting on a rung of a chair. Both your feet should be planted on the floor directly, or nearly directly, below your knees.
  • Avoid nervous leg movements, such as bouncing your leg up and down or moving your leg from side to side. These movements are highly distracting to the interviewer and detract from what you might be saying.
  • Do not cross your arms during the interviewer. This suggests defensiveness at worst, and a general lack of openness at best.

Voice Inflection

Voice tone Make sure your voice projects a positive energy, and that you come across with enthusiasm for the role. Any sort of tiredness that the interviewer picks up in your voice will lead him or her to believe you lack the energy and drive to perform well in the role. This sort of tiredness can come out particularly if you've had a succession of unsuccessful interviews, and if your frustration or disappointment about your job search comes through in your voice. It is absolutely critical to manage this aspect of your first impression.

Make sure your voice projects a positive energy, and that you come across with enthusiasm for the role. Any sort of tiredness that the interviewer picks up in your voice will lead him or her to believe you lack the energy and drive to perform well in the role. This sort of tiredness can come out particularly if you've had a succession of unsuccessful interviews, and if your frustration or disappointment about your job search comes through in your voice. It is absolutely critical to manage this aspect of your first impression.

If you have had quite a few interviews, you may find that you have answered the same question over and over again. Make sure you still sound fresh, despite having to repeat the same answers. You have to convey enthusiasm and make your answer sound as though you are saying it for the first time. This can be a challenge, especially if your answers are very polished from repeated practice. In order to sound more natural, try to insert transition phrases into your answer such as "Like I was saying before...", "I think one of the things that was notable was...", and "...and, perhaps you've experienced the same thing." These are just a few simple examples. The key is to keep your answer sounding conversational, enthusiastic and engaging - you're sharing your experience, thoughts, and ideas with another person, not simply pushing "play" on a recorded answer.

Answer delivery

In an interview situation, which can be seen as quite stressful, our voice may often change from our normal speaking style, delivering answers that are high pitched, jumbled or trail off at the end of a sentence. This is when practicing answers to questions can help. The more you practice answering interview questions out loud, the more your voice is likely to sound confident.

There is also a tendency for people to rush though their answer - talking so fast that the interviewer can't grasp what they have said. Take your time and speak more slowly, putting emphasis on certain words. This is particularly important if you tend to speak quickly when you're nervous. By speaking more slowly, you will not only be better understood, but you will also avoid going down a string of conversation that may make you say something you didn't intend to. Also, for individuals who speak with a heavy accent, speaking slowly is the best cure for those hard to pronounce, or hard to understand, words.

Many people have a tendency to use filler words such as "um," "ah," "you know" and "like." These filler words can be a difficult habit to break. We are often not aware when we use them. So, be conscious of this habit and try to reduce the number of times you use these verbal crutches. Also, keep in mind that people tend to use filler words when they are unprepared or less prepared than they'd like to be. This is, of course, all the more reason for why you need to prepare very well for your interviews through practice.

"The Day of" Details You Need to Consider

While you will probably have many things on your mind the day of the interview, it's important to be mindful of specific things that will help you make the best first impression you can. Below is a checklist of things to keep in mind on interview day. Most are small, common sense action items for you to consider, that done together, help to form the impression that you are a candidate who is well-organized, professional and serious about the position you are interviewing for.
  • Make sure you know how to get to the location of the interview in advance, taking into consideration traffic delays, public transportation delays and the like.
  • Take the phone number of the person who arranged your interview to the company's offices (or wherever your interview is being held). This is usually an HR professional/recruiter or the hiring manager.
  • Bring a professional looking (usually dark-colored) portfolio or folder to hold copies of your resume, a notepad and a pen. Be sure to bring enough copies of your resume for all the people you are scheduled to interview with, plus a few extra copies.
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early to your interview and leave yourself enough time to do a 30-second check of yourself in a bathroom mirror. Straighten your suit. Make sure your hair is in place with no flying strands, your face isn't shiny and you don't have any food particles stuck between your teeth.
  • Be prepared to address the interviewer by "Mr." Or "Ms." unless they address themselves by their first name, which give you inherent permission to use their first name, as well.
  • Listen carefully to the interviewer's questions, and let them finish asking a question before you begin your answer. Do not interrupt the interviewer mid-question.
  • Don't bring unnecessary personal items with you to the interviewer. A portfolio containing several copies of your resume, a notepad, pen and perhaps any supporting documents are all that you should carry into the interview room.
  • Be sure to completely turn off your cell phone or other mobile device. Putting your phone on vibrate is not acceptable. By no means should you answer your phone during an interview. If your phone rings and/or vibrates, turn it off as quickly as possible and apologize to the interviewer(s) for forgetting to turn it off.
  • At the end of the interview, have 3-5 well-prepared questions to ask your interviewer(s). These could be a combination of questions covering the interviewer's perspectives on the industry/business, expectations for the person to be hired into the position, the interviewer's own career path, things they enjoy about their work, etc. Be careful not to bring up controversial subjects such as recent negative company news (e.g. layoffs, missed quarterly earnings, corporate malfeasance, etc.)
  • After the interview, send your thank you notes within 24-36 hours of your interview. In your thank you note, thank the individual for their time speaking with you and briefly make any additional points you think would help support your candidacy.

Putting it all together

It is said that "the devil is in the details," and indeed, making a strong first impression is all about taking care of many small details that collectively help you to present your best self to the interviewer. By consistently making these behaviors and skills a regular part of your interview performance, as well as a regular part of all your business interactions, you will show yourself to be a professional who is highly polished and "gets it." That "it," of course, would be the makings of a great first impression.

Best of luck with your interviews.