Jared entered the interview room late. “Caught in traffic, sorry” he offered breezily. I didn’t care how good his CV looked, this guy was going to have a hard time getting over that gaffe. He stood in the doorway, chest expanded, strike two – so intimidating to the front desk staffer. Then he shook the hand of the senior partner of the firm and I could see from his wince Jared had gone in too hard. Strike three. He wasn’t going to get the job.
We have the opportunity to make first impressions every day. Much of the time those impressions are not important, but in a job interview the stakes are high. Our highly evolved brains make a rapid fire snap judgment in 1/100th of a second. It takes about 7 seconds to confirm that judgment then quietly re-evaluates over the next 30 minutes (Willis & Todorov 2006). The office manager concluded, “Jared’s too self confident.” She was right, even though the job called for strength of character.
Influence is a very subtle thing. It’s a range of behaviours related to presence – a ghost like trait researcher’s find hard to pin down. Some influence rests in verbal cues, some in non verbal ones. Let’s look at five things you can self manage to create a winning first impression.
1. Arrive early! Get to all your appointments in Goldilocks time. If you are too early you will fret and become anxious. If you arrive late you will form a bad impression.
2. Watch the way you walk in. Don’t mince in quietly and don’t stride in overconfidently. This goes for the space you take up as well: do not be a turtle (shrinking down) and do not be a bear (taking up the whole space).
3. Watch your contact points. The handshake is probably the only time you will make physical contact with a person first time round. It should not be too light or too loose (you’ve heard the proverbial fish in the hand-shake) and not too tight or tough. Put hand moisturiser on in the morning so your hands are soft but not sweaty. Keep them in your pockets. Warm hands are perceived well.
4. Do not answer questions straight away. Overly agreeable people seem weak willed. Do not agree all the way through the questions either. Being over eager is annoying. From time to time wait a full two seconds before answering a question (Fox-Cabane, 2014).
5. Use your voice to your advantage. Your voice is a very subtle tool and sometimes the first time a person meets you is over the phone. Lower voices are perceived better than higher ones. Watch your use of slang like saying like a lot, or “cheers mate” or “you blokes.”
Fox-Cabane, O. “The Charisma Myth.” 2014, Chapter 1.
Willis, J. & Todorov, A. “First impressions: Making up your mind after 100 ms exposure to a face”. Psychological Science, 2006, Volume 17, Number 7, pp. 592–598).