Barney Stinson may have been a shallow SOB on the “How I Met Your Mother” TV series, but the one thing the guy got right was the notion of dressing to impress. Looks matter. It’s definitely not what we want to hear, nor what anyone cares to admit, but as human beings, it is, unfortunately, our nature to make judgments based on first impressions.
An interview is the start of a relationship, and as with any relationship, how you present yourself on the first meeting speaks volumes within the first minute. Vast research has been done on this – from Princeton to UCLA, Cambridge and beyond – and much of it shows that the first minutes of a meeting and interview can determine how the rest of the interview will go if someone will like you or not, hire you or not, keep listening or not. Within seconds of meeting you, based on a single observed physical trait or behavior, people will assume to know everything about you, according to Social Psychology by H. Andrew Michener, John D. Delamater, and Daniel J. Myers. Also, research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA shows that appearance and body language accounts for 55% of the first impression.
We are not discussing whether you look like a supermodel or are eligible to land a GQ cover. In the job search and placement industry, this is about whether you have shown that you care enough about the image you portray as a matter of respect for the interviewer and the company. Everything counts in the interview. Maximize your chances for an offer by paying attention to the details – because the interviewer will be.
Show the Company You Care
Personally I feel that judging one’s abilities on first impressions can be dangerously deceptive. There are multiple cases in history where smooth talking, good looking, well-dressed people have been arrested for serial murder, right? Enlightened and experienced interviewers know to not judge a book by its cover. But the fact remains, the majority of mankind makes initial judgments based on appearances and presentation; an interviewer will assume that how you present to them is how you will present to clients, teams, or investors.
Since my goal is to get you hired, let’s focus on what you can do to put your best foot forward to elevate your career and chances for interview success.
- Plan everything out ahead of time including timing, what you will wear, what you will bring and what you will say. Are you showing up to an interview disheveled, flustered from traffic? Did you miss that big white spot of toothpaste on your shirt from brushing your teeth before? Are your buttons bulging open on your shirt because it’s too small or are your pants too tight leaving little to the imagination? Do try on the clothes you plan to wear to the interview BEFORE the big day to make sure it all fits, is not stained, does not need pressing, etc. Time everything out – from getting ready, to getting to the interview 20 minutes early so you can compose yourself in the car and review your notes.
- Get enough sleep the night before. If you look tired and are lethargic in the interview, their takeaway will be that you may have trouble showing up to work on time, staying focused and being productive. If you have little ones, ask your significant other to take on the task of getting up in the middle of night so you can get a solid night, or ask if they can do an overnight at grandma’s house. Try to make your bedroom an oasis for blissful slumber the night before and do all you can to create a calm atmosphere so you are on your game on interview day.
- Be confident, shake hands firmly. Does your handshake convey confidence, or do you need to practice a stronger, more assertive handshake? Are you able to make and maintain good eye contact during an interview? Have you researched enough the company to ask intelligent questions that no other candidate will ask? Do this. See #5 below. Then practice your rap. Even for seasoned professionals (and young professionals just starting out), it’s time well spent. Gather your significant other, roommates or a couple of friends and practice your greeting, handshake, small talk and questions so that you are confident on the big day.
- Bring copies of your resume and cover letter as well as the reference page. You may be meeting with one person or several so be prepared with your materials and ready to hand these out to anyone who asks. These are your marketing materials to sell yourself – make sure they are top notch, error-free and a solid representation of your abilities.
- Bring a small notepad and pen to the interview. Have your questions prepared ahead of time (to show you have done your homework on the company) jotted down on the notepad and use it to take notes on the important things mentioned in the interview. This will be important information you use to create an outstanding follow-up letter on ways you can help the company with their current challenges and needs.
According to Robert Half & Associates, a successful placement firm with a very lengthy history, interviewers put about 50% weight into technical skills and background and the other 50% into whether you will fit the company. Do you share the company values, will you be comfortable in their culture, will you fit well on the company team and will the clients respond positively to you?
By paying attention to how you present during an interview, and finding out as much about the company culture as you do about the job description and its technical requirements, you are far more likely to make a great first impression and be invited back for the next round – or better yet – receive a job offer.
A few resources below may help you discover information about the dress code and company culture prior to your job interview:
- Visit the company website and review its social media accounts – LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. If you live nearby you can also visit the parking lot at start of day or end to see what people are wearing into the office.
These sites include past and current employee reviews and may include insights on dress, atmosphere, salary, perks and more:
Keep in mind that most of these sites will usually carry more complaints than praise because that's how reviews on companies and site work.
Nonetheless, a little preparation will go a long way in ensuring your first impression knocks their socks off. You've got this – now go get it!
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