Upon meeting you, an interviewer can decide if he or she likes you, if you’d fit in the company culture, and if they should hire you — in the time it takes for you to finish reading this paragraph.
Psychologists call it “thin slicing”, which means making quick decisions based on limited information.
Welcome to the wild world of first impressions. Where people are judged with the speed and ease no less than hitting a “like” button.
Many job candidates make the mistake of trying to be perceived as smart or witty. They show up with all-too-ready answers or awkwardly force in one-liners that comes out limp. It usually ends with a painful, indefinite wait for a phone call that will never come.
Don’t try to be the smartest guy in the room, if you want to get in the room.
In her book “Presence”, Harvard Business School professor and Ted Talks sensation Amy Cuddy  distills the science of the first impression into two simple questions:
1. Can you be trusted?
2. Can you be respected?
The qualities that you need to have (or at least be perceived as having) are warmth and competence respectively, according to psychologists.
Even Cuddy admits that most people in a professional setting believe that competence is the more important factor. Naturally, you’d want to prove that you’re smart and talented enough to handle the organization’s business.
But the first requisite of warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how your prospective employer will evaluate you. Competence remains highly coveted, but it is evaluated only after trust is established.
With those insights in mind, here is how can you leave a great first impression:
Be Who You Are
Your interviewer can meet up to dozens of job candidates every month. What makes you — and your first impression — different from others? Having interviewed over 300 people in my career, my first piece of advice is: Be yourself. Sure, there could be many eligible candidates, but there is only one you.
Who you are, what you stand for, what drives you, your set of work and life experiences, and your values as a professional and a person, set you apart from everyone else in the field. The good news is, your interviewer wants to get to know this real side of you.
The bad news is, you may feel the need to conceal it. Or at least veneer it with some slick, corporate gloss you see everyone else using.
Authenticity is the origin of all trust.
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t fake-laugh to fill up a silence. Don’t fake enthusiasm, be enthusiastic. Don’t boast of big things you’ve never done before, speak passionately of the small things you’ve actually done that made a big difference. Don’t try to be the next Elon Musk or Richard Branson, be the first (your name here).
Now I’m not asking you to show up and behave like you’re with your childhood friends at a backyard barbecue. It’s a job interview. Do be pleasant. Do be positive. Do be professional.
Find Common Connections
It amazes me that people still show up for interviews without doing any homework on who is interviewing them. With Google, LinkedIn, and company websites all literally at your fingertips, this one is just one notch below not showing up at all.
When you subtly share what you know about your interviewer — his or her past experience, milestone achievements, significant work, press interviews — you’re saying, “I respect you and getting to know you obviously matters a lot to me.” Respect is a two-way street. As you give, you’re more likely to receive.
Just as important is the opportunity to find and build on common grounds. You probably already know that humans actually like other humans who are like them.
Do you homework well enough, and you may discover that you went to the same school as your interviewer. Or are fans of the same football team. Or are advocates of the animal-rights movement. Or are hardcore workaholics. This won’t land you the job right away but imagine the human connection you can make.
Perfect Your S.H.E.
The basics of good body language in a professional context can be summed up in this neat acronym: Smile, Handshake, and Eye contact.
Smile from you heart. If that’s not clear, smile like you really mean it, like you’re actually happy to see your interviewer. Not the plastic “See, I’m smiling for you” smile. Not the creepy “I’m still smiling after 13 minutes” smile. Not the non-smile.
Give a good hearty handshake. Firm but not crushing (especially important when shaking a female interviewer’s hand). Smile (see above). And hold eye contact (see below).
Keep a comfortable level of eye contact with your interviewer when you’re speaking. Always look at them when they are talking. Never sneak-check your phone. Or steal glances at the lush office interior. Your interviewer just need to catch you looking away once while he or she is talking to break the connection.
Turn Weakness into Strengths
Perched atop the Interview Questions Hall Of Fame is the all-time classic “What is your biggest weakness?”
There are many, many resources that will prep you well for this one. Many of them will advocate answering this to come out looking like your weakness is some sort of a misunderstood strength. Your interviewer will see right through it and smile politely with an “um-hum”, and make a mental note that she’s been served some corporate-level PR.
Many interviewers will privately admit that it’s not your weakness they want to know, but how you express and address your weakness that they are more interested in. I’m one of them. They know absolutely nobody is without weaknesses, but they are looking for somebody who is honest, self-aware, and willing to improve.
To build a connection based on trust and authenticity, actually tell your weakness. Look them in the eye and admit to a weakness that isn’t a deal-breaker (such as you’re careless but would like to be considered for the role of senior accountant). Let them know how you’re aware of it and the specific actions you have taken or are taking to improve on it. Keep it short and professional.
Only when your interviewer feel that they can trust you as a professional can they look into your competencies and fit for the organization. Keep these strategies in mind as you work on being and showing the best version of yourself.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
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