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5 Powerful Ways To Make a Great Impression at an Interview

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Want to make a great impression at your next interview? You only have 15 seconds to do it…

We have only a brief time to make a great impression at an interview. Fifteen seconds – that’s all. That’s according to research conducted by Oregon State University.

A study showed that an observer could predict whether or not the interviewee would be offered the job just from watching just the first 15 seconds of an interview – that’s the handshake, the greeting… and very little else. Those first few seconds determine whether we will be offered the job, or not.

Early mankind and its ancestors had to decide 3 things from an encounter with another creature:

  1. Can I Eat it?
  2. Can I Have Sex With It?
  3. Can I Be Killed By It?

First impressions were (and still are) a survival instinct. And through social development, we still employ it. Our assessment of new people is much more sophisticated and extends to the point employers ask, on meeting a candidate: Do I Like This Person? Can I Work With This Person? Is This Person Trustworthy? Will This Person Be A Good Ambassador For My Organization? All these things questions are assessed and concluded within seconds.

“First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships [..] In a sense, it’s a little like the principle of chaos theory, where the initial conditions can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome. A first impression is your initial condition for analysing another human being.” – Professor Frank Bernieri of Oregon State University

The Factors of the First Impression

What makes up the ‘First Impression’? You already know, but perhaps don’t know that you do. Because you assess them every time you meet someone. In an interview, there are a handful of factors that form the First Impression.

  • Your appearance: Are you neat and tidy? Do you have good personal hygiene? Are you attractive? Are you considerate of your appearance?
  • Your smile: A smile is crucially important and should appear natural
  • Your handshake: A firm handshake is essential
  • Your greeting: Make sure you use the other person’s name
  • Your location: Sit only if asked to, or often your interviewers have

1. Your Appearance

  • I advise wearing simple, clean and well-ironed clothes – e.g. a suit
  • Wear solid, neutral colors. If your suit has stripes, make them be thin ‘chalk’ stripes
  • Wear a white shirt, or one close to white
  • For pete’s sake, make sure the colors are coordinated 🙂
  • Don’t wear bulky jewellery

2. Your Smile

  • Don’t enter the interview room already beaming a smile. This looks phony. Instead, take a moment to glance around the room at the people present, and then smile at who you think is the person in charge (they’re normally in the center)
  • Make it a full, but relaxed smile
  • Your mouth should be a little open – don’t be tight lipped
  • Use your eyes in the smile too – they should sparkle and be fully open

3. Your Handshake

  • A strong, firm handshake is what you should aim for
  • And when I say aim, try to make sure both hands in full contact and the clench extends to each of your thumbs
  • Don’t clench too hard – broken fingers are not a good start
  • Don’t shake too ferociously too
  • Make sure your hands are dry and grease free
  • Maintain eye contact at all times

4. Your Greeting

  • Say something like ‘Nice to meet you, Jane’ or something to that effect
  • Don’t address your interviewer as ‘buddy’ or ‘cochise’!
  • If you’re ever asked ‘How Do You Do?’ (common in my native UK) – the CORRECT answer is ‘How Do You Do?’, too

5. Your Location

  • Your most likely to be sat during the interview – sit only when asked to, or once everyone else has sat down
  • If offered a choice of a number of chairs, choose the one most central in aspect to your interviewer or interview panel
  • Don’t sit in a sofa or soft chair – this will make you slouch
  • Sit with a straight back
  • Rest your arms on your knees or legs
  • Don’t sit cross-legged
  • Don’t sit with your arms crossed
  • Don’t fidget or tap your foot
  • Don’t dump your bag or briefcase on the table in front of you

All of these factors will be assessed within those first few moments. Your actions and appearance are what are used to assess them. Don’t bungle any of them, and you’re well on your way to making a great first impression and landing that job!

Become an Expert at the First Impression

I recommend this book if you’re SERIOUS about making that First Impression perfect: First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You by DeMarais and White.

This book shows how your body language affects peoples view of you, and how they affect your conversation. It even demonstrates how sex appeal has a bearing on it. Each chapter has a checklist that you can fill out to see what areas you may require development in. The methods are simple and sensible. You will find this a constant reference! Buy First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You today!

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This post is part 8 of 18 in the series Interview Preparation

About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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