You’ve spent hours writing your cover letter, days perfecting your résumé, and weeks preparing for the interview.
But all that hard work can easily go down the drain in just seconds.
“How you conduct yourself in the first few minutes – or even seconds – can have a profound impact on your ultimate prospects, because this initial introduction is so pivotal,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.”
“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Taylor says. “Like it or not, it counts for a lot and it’s how we’re wired. When you’re being interviewed for a job, you’re being evaluated with a microscope.”
During the interview, the hiring manager is considering more than your answers. They’re assessing how you present yourself, your level of professionalism, whether you appear to be a good cultural fit, and the gut feeling they get, Taylor explains.
Here are 14 tricks for making those first few minutes (or seconds) with the hiring manager count:
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Before the interview starts:
Confirm the appointment
If you have a morning interview, call or email a confirmation with your main contact in the afternoon the day prior, Taylor suggests. “If it’s an afternoon interview, confirm it that morning. First, it may save you time if something has come up, and second, you will appear professional even before arriving.”
Arrive on time
This demonstrates reliability, as well as respect for the interviewer, she says.
“If you’re late for the interview with no credible, urgent reason, your hiring manager will just assume that being tardy might well be an issue.”
They also might be left feeling like you have no respect for their time, and that you’re disorganized or irresponsible.
Taylor notes that a lame excuse can be worse than being honest on misjudging traffic.
Be friendly and upbeat with the receptionist
Many companies seek the receptionist’s feedback on job candidates, so don’t discount their role, Taylor warns.
“Even making small talk and politely asking, ‘How are you doing today?’ is a good start. Don’t go overboard and keep them from their jobs, or, worse, be flirtatious. Just remember, the interview has already started.”
Stay professional in the lobby
You may be tempted to quickly brush your hair in reception, or check your phone to review some last-minute talking points, says Taylor. “The receptionist may well take notice of your level of professionalism, and, you never know when your interviewer will suddenly show up.”
Don’t chat on the phone, eat, apply cosmetics, or groom yourself. And definitely don’t play games on your phone (unless you’re interviewing in the mobile gaming industry).
Have your belongings organized and compact
This will free your hand for a handshake, and help avoid embarrassment. If you’re holding your frappuccino – and the hiring manager almost trips over your purse, laptop briefcase, or shopping bag, that’s a bad start, she says.
Give a firm handshake and smile
A firm handshake (not a limp or clammy one) and genuine smile will convey confidence – which is a great first message to send the hiring manager.
- AIGA RALEIGH/flickr
During the interview:
A helpful mindset is to assume you’ve already aced the interview and landed the job, says Taylor. “Show interest in what the interviewer has to say – and make sure your energy is up when you speak. A monotone introduction could make the hiring manager look for an escape hatch.”
Have great posture and use positive body language
“You don’t have to overdo it and look like a stiff board, but sitting straight does convey a sense of poise and command of the situation,” she says. “Remember to smile, make good eye contact, lean forward, gesture, and show high energy. Avoid crossing your arms or looking down or away.”
This will result in your best and most targeted answers. “Avoid starting out with a big sales pitch or thinking about the next thing you’re going to say while the manager is talking,” Taylor advises. “We have two ears and one mouth; let the interviewer start the conversation.”
Offer to help get your water or coffee
The hiring manager may offer you a beverage as you begin the interview.
“At least offer the gesture of helping go get it, as your prospective hiring manager isn’t your waiter,” Taylor says. “Chances are they won’t take you up on it, but it’s the polite thing to do.”
Show knowledge of the company and position
At your earliest opportunity, demonstrate that you understand the employer’s industry and job requirements, Taylor says. “Make it clear that you’ve done your homework.”
Be approachable; someone you’d want to hire. Show your lighthearted, human side – and even some well-placed, appropriate humor, she suggests.
“Emotional intelligence is more valued today than ever; people prefer working with those they like. Don’t try any opening lines from your favorite comedian or rib your worst-nightmare presidential candidate, as funny you think the dialog might be.”
Discreetly scan their office for cues about them
Without looking obvious or nosy, take note of what they display, whether they are meticulously neat, they’re a people person, they have a big family or a lot of pets, etc.
“If they seem to be a fellow fan of your favorite sports team, it’s okay to bring that up. However, don’t get too personal and inquire about sleep deprivation with the new baby featured on the credenza,” Taylor says.
Demonstrate respect for the interviewer
It may seem that it goes without saying, but be mindful of using phrases such as “please” and “thank you.”
“Wait until you’re asked to take a seat before doing so. Also, faux pas such as leaving your phone on and letting it ring -or leaving your cell on the hiring manager’s desk – are no-no’s,” she says.
- Pabak Sarkar/flickr
If you mess up, it’s not necessarily over …
The good news is that you can still overcome a bad first impression with your own version of “refresh” – and ultimately redeem yourself, Taylor explains. “Especially if you’re aware of what needs to be corrected.”
First, she says, don’t panic. “It’s easy to fall into the ‘I’ve lost my momentum’ mode and feel there’s no turning it around. But stay with the program.”
Think about the misimpression you may have given and decide how to counter it.
For example, if you mispronounce the company or the interviewer’s name and realize it seconds later, don’t fret for the next hour over it. Either decide whether it’s worth correcting yourself on the spot, or find an opportunity to pronounce the name again, accurately.