The impact of a first impression lasts long after meeting someone for the first time. When you’re in the running for a new job, it’s critical to make that first impression count. Learn why it’s so important to establish a positive image of yourself and how to make a good impression at a job interview.
The importance of a good first impression
The first interaction makes a lasting impact
Think of any person who plays a significant role in your life–your spouse, for example, or your boss. You can probably still remember clearly the first time you met them. Regardless of whether your opinion of them has changed from that initial interaction, your first meeting likely influenced your early relationship and its trajectory.
A first impression can color a person’s opinion of you well after you’ve first met. This is especially true in a job search when a hiring manager only has your limited interaction and your resume to go on when making a decision about you. So, it’s in your best interest to make that impression a positive and accurate one.
A strong first impression can make you more memorable
Your first impression determines whether you’ll stick out in an interviewer’s mind after they speak with you or if you’ll fade into the background along with the many other candidates they’ve talked to. Being memorable is key to staying on a hiring manager’s mind so you can be added to their shortlist and advance to the next round of the hiring process.
Making a good impression helps make you likable
When you meet someone for the first time, they decide whether they like you or not within a few seconds. Fair or unfair, likability plays a big role in getting hired. An interviewer is more likely to feel strongly about a warm and personable candidate versus one who’s aloof and disinterested.
When it comes down to deciding between equally qualified candidates, it’s not unusual for a hiring manager to choose the person they like more. Being likable indicates that you’re easy to get along with and will be a good “team player”–qualities that can help you land a job offer.
How to make a good impression at a job interview
1. Research the company and your interviewer
A genuine, memorable interaction is the foundation for a good first impression. That starts with knowing who you’re talking to.
Researching the company and your interviewer is essential for crafting solid answers to interview questions, but it goes beyond that. When you understand the background of the individual you’re face to face with, you can speak to them in a more personalized way that resonates with them.
For example, if you found out your interviewer held the same job title you currently have earlier in your career, this would give you a great shared experience to talk about and reference when describing your skills and strengths. Plus, it makes for a more memorable conversation, which benefits you when it comes time for the interviewer to assess all the candidates they’ve talked to.
2. Dress appropriately
Your outfit makes a statement about you before you even open your mouth. Depending on what you wear, that statement could be reassuring and confident OR it could be offensive and alarming.
Dressing appropriately communicates that you’re taking the interview process seriously. It also demonstrates that you value a polished appearance, which matters when presenting yourself to colleagues, clients, and company leaders.
3. Pack your manners
Manners are a must for making a good impression. They apply when you’re interacting with your interviewer and anyone you come into contact with during your interview.
A few basic manners that apply in a job interview setting include:
- Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- Saying ‘bless you’ if someone sneezes and ‘excuse me’ if you sneeze
- Holding the door for someone entering or exiting behind you
- Extending your hand for a handshake when meeting someone
- Standing up from your chair to shake hands
A warm smile sets the tone for a pleasant interaction, but it has even more significant capabilities. Science has shown that smiles promote “social cohesion,” essential to our survival as a species. When you smile at another person, they will likely smile back at you in return, and a bond is instantly formed. It’s powerful stuff!
Practice smiling with your eyes and mouth, making the expression feel more joyful and authentic.
5. Give a firm handshake
A good handshake signifies self-assurance and goodwill toward the other person. Grasp their hand firmly–but not too firm!–and pump one to two times before releasing your grasp.
6. Master small talk
Some people love small talk, while others hate it. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s a good thing to prepare for when walking into a job interview.
Small talk helps break the ice between you and the interviewer and allows you to feel each other out on some low-stakes topics before moving on to the more substantial conversation points. It can also be helpful if you interact with others in the company, like shadowing a prospective colleague.
Typically, the interviewer will take the lead with a conversation starter like “How’s your day going?” or “Were you able to find the office easily?” Try to avoid one-word answers that stop the conversation short. Instead, offer more information and ask open-ended questions that allow them to respond, like “My day’s going pretty well. How about yourself?” or “I found the office easily. I noticed the cafe downstairs looked new. Has it been here long?”
While it may seem silly to spend time on inconsequential chatter, small talk sets the tone and helps people ease their way into a conversation, both of which are important steps in making a positive impression.
7. Find common ground
It’s a known fact of psychology that familiarity breeds liking. In layman’s terms, this means we’re more apt to like people who seem familiar or similar to us. Capitalize on this human trend by finding common ground with your interviewer.
This might come up in small talk, like discovering you root for the same sports team. It could be something you learned while doing your research, like the fact that you both studied communications in college. Or, it could be a point that comes up during the interview, like your shared passion for using technology to solve consumer problems.
There are many avenues to find common ground, but if it doesn’t seem to be happening naturally, don’t force it; this could come off as inauthentic and try-hard. If you do notice something you and the interviewer share in common, however, it’s a great idea to call attention to it during your discussion.
8. Be enthusiastic
Let your excitement and interest in the position show. Giving off enthusiastic energy can influence a similarly enthusiastic assessment of you.
As much as possible, speak in favorable terms rather than negative ones. For example, if you’re asked why you’re leaving your job, don’t expound upon how dissatisfied you are with your company’s poor morale. Instead, flip the answer to focus on a positive, like “I’m excited about the opportunity to join a team that’s known for its great culture.”
9. Be mindful of your body language
Your body language during an interview is another great asset in establishing a warm, connected feeling between you and your hiring manager.
Don’t slouch; stand/sit up tall with your shoulders back. When sitting, position your body so that it’s pointed toward your interviewer. Show engagement by looking your interviewer in the eye and using nonverbal cues like nodding to demonstrate that you’re actively listening to them.
10. Be authentic
The best way to make a good impression at a job interview–and to ensure you’re actually a good fit for the role for which you’re interviewing–is to be your true self. Be authentic and honest in your responses. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say you’re unsure or ask for a moment to think about it.
Highlight your accomplishments while showing humility; for example, if you’re speaking about your part in a group effort, recognize your colleagues’ efforts with a statement like “I couldn’t have done it without the support from a strong team.”
11. Ask thoughtful questions
As you approach the interview’s end, it will likely be your turn to ask questions. Don’t kick up your feet just yet! Finish strong by asking thoughtful questions emphasizing your interest in the position and respect for the company. Some good questions to ask in an interview include:
- What are the biggest goals for this position in the first year?
- How would you describe the team dynamics?
- What’s the best thing about working for [company]?
- What’s the company’s stance on employee development?
12. Express your gratitude
Seal the deal on a great first impression by closing with gratitude. At the end of the interview, shake your interviewer’s hand once more while thanking them for their time. Later that day or the following day, send a sincere note to everyone you spoke with using our guide for writing a winning thank-you email after a job interview.
With first impressions, the little things matter as much as the big things. Paying attention to the details and preparing with the tips above will help you become a trustworthy, capable, and likable candidate the company would feel lucky to have on the team.