Three, two, one. That’s all it took for anyone who may have glanced your way while you were reading that sentence to form an opinion about you. Human beings identify things quickly, and friend-or-foe is only the tip of the iceberg.
In a short, snappy three seconds, people calculate opinions about others based on their physical appearance, their clothes, posture, body language, mannerisms, and demeanor. It’s often subconscious, but we as people read each other faster than we could ever hope to read a book.
There’s an old platitude out in the wild that states, “the first impression is everlasting.” The implication therein is that first impressions, while fleeting, tell a person almost all the information they’re going to ever use in forming an opinion.
It might sound counterintuitive, as I’m sure we’re all currently friends with someone who didn’t rub us the right way upon first meeting them. But on the flipside — how many people seemed interesting or friendly when you met them, only to end up worth avoiding? We’ve all been there, too, I’m sure of it.
You and I don’t count as evidence, though, so thankfully Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy, along with fellow psychologists Peter Glick, and Susan Fiske conducted a study on this very matter.
Not only did they conclude that the brain renders judgements in a flat two or three seconds when forming its first impressions, but it really only acts on two criteria: the likelihood of trusting someone, and the likelihood of respecting someone.
That’s all, during a first impression, the brain is interested in figuring out.
That means worlds to anyone involved in conducting or participating in job interviews. Applicants seeking a position within a given company would do well to leave a first impression with their interviewer in order to increase the odds of landing their dream job — and they have to be perfect for three seconds.
The formation of a first impression is a small, fleeting moment in time, but it matters more than the rest of the interview. If you’re meeting someone for 45 minutes, then 44 minutes and 57 seconds of that time takes a backseat to the first 3 seconds.
On the flip side, employers who really want to impress a candidate know that they’re representing the company with their eyes on a prospective employee as a prize. Obviously, the interviewer would do well to avoid spilling their coffee on the floor upon walking in and screaming “son of a bitch!” This could scare away a well-to-do dream employee.
Sounds like a risky notion to put your chips behind, but it’s true. A good first impression is way more important than nearly anything on your resume, and as a job seeker, you’d do well to focus on nailing this true critical component of your interview.
Don’t get nervous, though. We make first impressions all the time, whether we want to or not. Your interviewer would form an impression on you if you passed one another in the hallway. You form these impressions of the cashiers who check you out. By the time you’ve subconsciously done so, they have, too. It’s natural, so you may as well get it over with, and not lose sight of the ultimate prize — becoming a member of your dream team!
Here are some of our favorite, and proven tips to helping your interviewer form a positive first impression of you. You’ve always heard about employers and managers looking for someone who “jumps off the page” — here’s how you do it!
(Side note – It occurred to us that you could take a shortcut and pay someone clumsy to trip in front of you and your interviewer, so the heroism of you helping them up would impact their impression of you, but we explicitly recommend avoiding paying people to take falls. It could get messy, and Pieter has tried it at least twice as a workplace motivation tactic. None of us have changed our impressions of him, so.)
1. Be on Time
We hesitate to start somewhere so obvious, but maybe it isn’t — you have to show up on time! It boggles the mind to see how many interviewees, who by definition, are there to impress the interviewer in order to join their ranks, make this critical mistake.
Being late to a job interview brings up all sorts of red flags. Off the top of my head, it tells the interviewer that you gaffed on a situation that you (likely) had adequate time and resources to prepare for. Many interviews are scheduled roughly one week or more in advance, so tardiness here is really looked at as a big no-no.
Consider how it might reflect on your reliability and performance on the job, should you be offered a position. If you were late to your interview, what’s telling the interviewer you won’t show up to the job late?
That wastes time, and money. Businesses don’t like employees who waste time and money.
2. Be Yourself
This applies to interviews, but every other aspect of life, too. It’s very scalable.
As far as interviews are concerned, being yourself goes a long way. First, consider that the person(s) interviewing you aren’t at their first rodeo — it’s likely they’ve met, and will continue to meet, hundreds of people.
Surely, the Secret Service is even better at it, but your average recruiter is quite good at ascertaining whether or not someone is being authentic, is nervous, lying, telling the truth, excited, confident, or hiding something.
Putting on a front is natural — really, it is. We all assume certain defensive mechanisms in order to protect ourselves from embarrassment, failure, or other pains. The simplest example might be falling off your bike. WHAM! Your knee is in excruciating pain. Your colleagues come to a skidding halt next to you to see if you’re alright. They’re worried, but giggling.
“Are you alright?” They ask.
“I’m totally fine,” you reply, in agony, mounting your bike like nothing happened. “Let’s hurry on.”
That’s called putting on a front, and every human being in the world is guilty of it. It’s very natural.
However, you have to ditch it during an interview. You have to be yourself, which is for the benefit of yourself, and the company. If you’re not acting like yourself, then the person whose interests and personality you’re assuming might land the job, making the real you miserable in the long run.
The company would suffer, too. If they hire someone who seems like they thoroughly enjoy the job, but only thought so because the interviewee put on a convincing front just to do the job, they’d have an unsatisfactory employee on their hands — not to mention the likely hiring and training costs of finding their replacement later on down the line.
If you’re sold by the pragmatism of doing something, then being yourself is more time and more money for everyone.
Being yourself will allow you to better judge whether or not the position would be right for you. It’ll also help you to avoid setting off any red flags in the minds of your interviewers.
3. Dress Sharp
“Dress for the job you want.” This is one of those platitudes of the working world that really do seem to work. It’s a bit misunderstood, though. It doesn’t mean you should wear, say, an apron to a job interview at a restaurant. It really means that you should dress for upward mobility — like you care about your appearance, and about advancing in the world.
In an example, let’s say two twin sisters are interviewing for one open position at a company. Let’s say they’re broadly the same in every appreciable category — perceived intelligence, knowledge about the company, and body language. Now, imagine they give near-identical interviews that earned them near-equal consideration.
Imagine that the first of these twins interviewed wearing business-professional attire, and seemed as if her appearance was of utmost concern. All other things being equal, this personal would seem caring, and conscience of the environment. This is a person that would appear professional in the eyes of an interviewer.
Now, finally, imagine the second of the twins interviewed in her sweatpants and college hoodie, with unkempt hair that looked like Albert Einstein’s. All other things being equal, this person might seem uncaring, or content to wear what’s comfortable for them, and not what’s best for the business. In a business environment, this could be a liability, so the better-dressed applicant would probably get more preference than the sister who seems lazy or uncaring.
You don’t have to dress like the Great Gatsby, but taking a clear interest in your appearance shows that you are an astute individual who has the ability to maintain things on a regular basis. Dressing well shows that you have plans for your future, a penchant for quality, and an air of professionalism about you that companies everywhere are looking for.
4. Let the Interviewer Talk First
This is a tough one to talk about, because it’s not exactly an empirical subject. What I mean by that is that there’s a lot of flex in what recruiters think about this particular topic. Some will call this spot-on, while other recruiters may see ways around it or see no need for it at all. To each their own!
While the onus is on you to impress your interviewer and make yourself seem like an ideal fit for the company, the interviewer is essentially running the show — a show that’s been outlined, blueprinted, choreographed, and field-tested umpteen times. He or she is there to steer the ship, if they’re doing things right.
So, don’t attempt to take control of a room — that’s probably a given. Don’t surrender too much airtime, either. Another given. Find a nice balance, starting with letting your interview talk first, which allows them to set the tone, and to lay out information for you.
This is purely anecdotal (meaning it’s based on my experience and not any studies), getting the interviewer to talk a little extra in the beginning of an interview couldn’t hurt, and provides a great opportunity for laughing over a joke, or making some all-important non-awkward smalltalk. To do this, you could ask them to elaborate on a few of their initial points, ask a question or two, or if you’ve got a silver tongue, talk about the day’s news. Be brief, as this is just the kickoff phase of your interview, but you can score lots of points vis-a-vis confidence, professionalism, and tact by acting the part, and letting the interviewer lead you where they want to take you
5. Be Confident, Comfortable, and at Ease
Not everybody is confident, especially during an interview — cut them some slack! Confidence is hard, for many, to come by. Since we’ve already taken comfort in a platitude in this piece, we’ll do so again. “Fake it until you make it” works a lot better than you’d ever thing.
Now, “hold up,” you’re probably thinking. “Didn’t you just tell us to be ourselves?”
I sure did, and you must. It’s always imperative that you be yourself in an interview. What if you go into one, put on a facade, and day 1 of the job because miserable and impractical for all involved? Don’t waste time and money. Find a good fit for yourself, and that always starts with being yourself.
On the other hand, it’s as I said: confidence comes hard to a lot of people. Looking others in the eye, which is normal, easy, and assumed of many, is completely impossible for some. You know how some people have no problem approaching the opposite sex at, say, a bar? For every one of those people you see, there are two outside getting physically sick on the sidewalk over the notion of meeting strangers.
It’s common. No, there’s nothing wrong with these people. Humans come in many flavors, and confident isn’t always one.
It’s uncomfortable for me to say, therefore, that confidence is something of a requirement in job interviews. It’s the job of an interviewer to determine whether or not an applicant would be a good fit for a company. Their (the prospective employee’s) job duties could include stepping up, or being a leader of some kind. It’s imperative that employees are happy, love being challenged, and feel good about overcoming problems.
Someone who isn’t confident may not check a lot of boxes an interviewer hopes to check off during an interview. If a company is seeking a manager, then a timid, demure individual who looks at the floor and speaks softly is automatically going to be a bad candidate for the job — no matter their qualifications.
However, if someone is boastful, confident, and acts as if there’d be nothing easier and more fun than performing the duties of the job, they’ll likely stand out in the recruiter’s eyes.
Don’t fake it, like the platitude says. These people (recruiters) are literally trained to recognize lies, and break through people’s fronts in order to eliminate potentially bad hires. Be yourself, but be the best, most confident version of yourself that you can be.
If you need a boost, as many people do, ask your friends and family for lots of luck before the interview. Just knowing they’re behind you might give you a small, well-timed boost of bravado.
6. No Phones!
Another one you’d think would be obvious, but you’d be just as wrong as us. Most people agree that letting your phone ring in a movie theatre is rude, so it stands to reason that people would have the same ideas about letting one ring during a job interview.
This doesn’t seem to be as clear-cut as it should be. We’ve conducted — sincerely — hundreds of interviews with applicants whose phones rang or trumpeted notifications while meeting with them. Worse yet, we’ve had a few interviews where applicants have used their time in between answering questions to answer texts.
There should only be emergency reasons for keeping your phone on during an interview, and if you’re expecting one, or feel you may need to take an emergency call during your interview, you should be upfront with the hiring personnel. They’ll likely be more than accommodating, especially if you tell them in advance.
In all other cases, we highly recommend totally forgetting about your phone during, and before, an interview. It has no place in an interview, and can only serve to be a distraction in an environment where appearing professional is the name of the game.
7. Actively Listen, Don’t Passively Talk
There’s a key, yet easily-digestible difference between active listening, and passive talking. Active listening is when you’re hanging onto someone else’s words — you’re not thinking of your response mid-sentence, or letting your mind wander. If you’re focused on one thing, it’s the image someone is painting you with their words. When people are actively listening, they’re being empathetic, and are considering what someone is telling them.
Passively talking, on the other hand, is when others’ conversation serves as little more than time for you to catch your breath and plan out what to say (about yourself) next. It sounds devious, but it’s human nature, and it takes a little focus to master this. It pays dividends, though — people can absolutely tell whether or not someone is listening to them, or taking in the words haphazardly.
Consider an example. Let’s say a friend comes to you in need of help, and says, “Hey, my tire popped on the way home from work. I went to change it to the spare, and then I realized we took it out a few weeks ago to make room. So I decided to call AAA but my cell died as soon as I tried to call. It was a seriously awful day.”
Also consider the concept of active listening. An active listener would not interrupt, and would not gloss over the frustration that the imaginary friend (with three wheels) is trying to convey. Instead, they would listen intently, and attempt to achieve the most amount of information and value from the conversation as possible. They’re participating, and building trust.
On the other hand, consider passively talking. Passively talking would more closely represent a situation where your friend came to you, and right about when they hit the words “tire popped,” you’d zone off thinking about a time when your tire popped that was much more interesting, and would fade in and out of the conversation until you found an opportunity to tell them about it. You might not hear about their battery dying.
If you’re not actively listening, and instead, are just waiting for opportunities to talk, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
8. Body Language is Everything!
There’s a lot more to language than simply talking. We communicate with our bodies, too. Simple example? Your eyebrows. They’re incredibly expressive, and even without words (see: mimes), they can convey a lot of information about how we’re feeling.
Also on that list? Not to freak you out, but to name a few: your eyes, your eyebrows, your lips, your cheeks, your shoulders, your chest, your arms, and your legs all communicate information to the people around you. It’s true: people sitting next to a stranger or someone they don’t like are far more likely to “block” that person out by crossing the leg nearest them.
The next time you have Thanksgiving dinner and have all your in-laws seated to your right, see how often you cross your right leg over your other one. It’s very, very common!
In your interview, it’s important to use positive, confident body language. Rolling your eyes or showing disinterest or “wearing your emotions” can bite you if you have negative thoughts. It’s best to present a bold, confident, curious, interested individual, albeit an honest and true-to-self one.
Do your best to make sure you have good body language for an interview. This can be your posture, the way you take a chair, or how expressive you are with your hands. Keeping them in your pocket the whole time might be a red flag, for example.
We’ve went over 8 tips to nailing your interview, and making a rockin’ first impression on your interviewers. It’s just as applicable everywhere else, too. First impressions are fleeting — it only takes us three seconds to form one. It takes a lifetime to change one.
That’s why it’s so important to leave a great one during a job interview.