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Your guide to interviews: part 2 - first impressions

Posted on from Alexander Lloyd

Making a good first impression is a key part of the interview process. Tom Martin gives his tips on how to impress from the start in the second installment of in the Alexander Lloyd interviews series.

First impressions matter

Our first article in the Alexander Lloyd interview series discussed the importance of research in your preparation for interviews; your rehearsal prior to opening night. So with your lines learnt, and the house lights up, you stride on stage to face the audience, or in other words to meet your interviewer.

As a senior HR professional, you know the importance of this initial first impression; you yourself have been on the other side of the table enough times to understand its magnitude in the decision making process.

The scary thought is that this reaction occurs within the first few seconds of actually meeting someone, not as a result of careful assessment of a character over time. Whilst we might not relish in admitting that we have instinctive responses to others, the truth of the matter is that interviewers are humans and not machines, and subliminal reactions can easily over-ride years of training.

Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University carried out a really interesting piece of research into interviews and first impressions where two trained interviewers carried out a full interview with 100 candidates and completed detailed surveys on the character traits of each. A clip of the filmed interviews that saw the candidate entering the room, shaking hands and sitting down was then screened to other interviews trained in the same manner. From that short 10 second clip, they then completed the same survey. In nine out of the eleven character traits, the same conclusion was drawn by both, suggesting that our conclusions are on the whole drawn within the initial few seconds of meeting.

So even the research backs supports what we all really know. The question is when you are in the role of a candidate, what can you do to influence those crucial first few seconds?

In my opinion, the answer is there is only a little you can actually control and those are all the back to basics concepts that we’ve had drilled into us over the years.

You'd expect by the time an HR professional has reached a senior level, these are automatic checks and precautions that you don’t really think about and this usually is the case. I would however give a word of warning about complacency. Because you are so familiar with the recruitment and interview process it is easy to overlook the little details that really make a big impression and therefore there are some key things I recommend to keep in mind.

Sharpen up your appearance

This is a simple thing you can control - of course you dress appropriately and make sure you are presented professionally, neat and tidy.

Be aware of your demeanour

This one might sound a little strange, of course you will great your interview pleasantly with a smile but I’m not just referring to your manner within the interview itself, but everyone with whom you interact in the locale. It’s very easy to forget, particularly when the nerves are making themselves felt that you are making first impressions from the moment you arrive.

In the car park, the reception area, the lift; you are being assessed by all the employees that you meet and you never know when you might come face to face unwittingly your interviewer. There are plenty of horror stories where a candidate has unknowingly made a bad impression before they even entered the building and of course, didn’t get the job as a result.

Be prepared

This is all about presenting a professional image to the interviewer. Having a copy of your own CV to refer to is a must.

Also bring with your questions that you have prepared; taking with you a binder or presenter with a notepad included in it will demonstrate to your interviewer that you give the impression of being ready for anything.

Your body language

There is reams of information written about body language and if you take Albert Mehrabran’s view then 55% of communication is physical, 38% is vocal and only 7% is words. Therefore your body language is key when meeting someone for the first time. There are certain techniques that you can utilise, one in particular is mirroring, when you pace your own physical and verbal response to the tone of the interviewer that enables you to create a rapport with the person on the other side of the table.

To conclude, you need to be aware of yourself in your surroundings, from when you arrive to the end of the interview. You are selling your skills, experience and personality in an interview and you need to bring your A-game to the table and make that first impression count.

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