The first 30 seconds of an interview of an interview is a make or break moment: True or False?
Common wisdom says True. First impressions can leave lasting impressions in people’s minds and this is often intensified in job interviews. There is no shortage on career advice on making a good first impression:
- Be on time. No, be early.
- Dress appropriately, better to be overdressed than under-dressed.
- Have a firm handshake.
- Make eye contact.
- and on and on…
The lists of “dos and don’ts” in interviews can grow long and arduous, until you are so worried about gracefully performing your handshake/smile/eye contact combo that you end up tripping on your own feet as you rise from your chair. (OK, maybe you don’t. I, on the other hand, have done that.)
It is easier for me to learn the “Why” behind something instead of remembering a bunch of rules.
Ann Demaris and Valerie White give a great explanation of why first impressions are so important in First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You.
Psychologists have shown that people weigh initial information much more heavily than later information when they evaluate people. It’s a simple fact: The first information people get about anything – a person, a place, an idea – influences the way they process later information. In other words, people are more likely to believe that the first things they learn are the truth.
How does this translate to the job interview? Perhaps you got lost on your way to the meeting. Maybe traffic was horrendous. Or a raincloud dumped on you right before you entered the building. No matter what, be positive. Don’t let a negative comment lead to a negative first impression.
Interviewer: “Did you have any trouble finding us?” You: “No problem at all.”
Interviewer: “I hope you didn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic.” You: “I got here with no trouble, thanks for asking.”
Interviewer: “Wow, it sure is pouring outside!” You: “Finally, we’ve really been needing the rain!”
You get the idea.
Remembering why first impressions are so important makes it easier to think about how to act. If your first impression comes across engaging and warm, it may not matter that later in the interview you say something a bit off-putting. Conversely, if your first impression is distracted and self-absorbed, this information is weighted more heavily and will require many positive behaviors in the interview to overcome the initial negative impression.
Once people have formed a first impression of you – and it’s good – they look for information to reinforce their belief. Everyone wants to think they are a good judge of character, so they’ll be looking for things you say to reinforce their initial impression. This puts you in an excellent position in the interview – the person talking to you believes you are a good person and is looking for evidence of that belief. Give them some proof!
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Andrea Ballard, Career Coach