I’ve conducted over 2,000 interviews and have trained others in interviewing techniques covering hundreds of thousands of additional interviews. I have consistently trained others to avoid quickly forming first impressions in the interview, emphasizing the importance of competency-based behaviorally interviewing to dive deeply into the candidate’s background and experience. To take the full time allotted in the interview before forming a final impression.
Yet the reality exists that all interviewers (myself included) form an initial impression of the candidate within the first two minutes of the interview. While I do not advocate giving this first impression too much influence on the overall analysis, I am aware of many of my colleagues in the field who consistently form a final impression during that first critical two minutes.
So what does the interviewer look for in those first few minutes of the interview?
- Timeliness. Interviewers are busy and the interview itself is a non-standard part of the work day. In addition, the amount of time allotted for the interview is limited. So it is critical that you, as a candidate, do not have a strike against you at the outset by being late for the interview. Plan to arrive to your first interview at least 15 minutes early. You can always spend the extra time reviewing your materials and/or the employer materials as final prep.
- Appearance. Yes, the interviewer will judge you based on your appearance. This judgment can vary based on the employer’s standards. Interviewers are assessing both competency fit as well as cultural fit. The cultural fit can often be assessed in part based on how you are dressed for the interview. Do your research in advance to make sure you are dressed per employer expectations for the interview. If you’re not sure, ask the person who is scheduling your interviews. If in doubt, err on the conservative side. You can always dress down later as an employee.
- Posture. You may already be seated in the interview room when the interviewer arrives. Always stand to shake hands. Some candidates remain seated, a definite miss and negative first impression.
- Handshake. Simple enough, yet many candidates fail this simple act of greeting. Your handshake should be firm enough to match the grip of your interviewer, no more and no less. Extend your hand to meet the interviewer’s hand at the soft part between your thumb and pointer finger, then grip as the interviewer grips, release as the interviewer releases.
- Eye contact. If you are unable to maintain eye contact, especially in the first few minutes of the interview, it will convey a lack of confidence and/or enthusiasm for the role. Make consistent eye contact with the interviewer throughout the interview, but especially at the outset.
- Facial expressions. Smile. Not a big open mouthed grin, but a pleasant slight smile that conveys interest, warmth, confidence and a positive personality on your part.
- Warm up greeting. Most interviewers will ask a warm up question unrelated to the interview itself as you are both being seated, such as: “How was the traffic coming in this morning?” or “How have the other interviews gone for you so far today?” Keep you answer short, positive and concise.
The opening minute or two of the interview technically has little to do with your ability to perform in the role for which you are interviewing. Yet it does matter in how the interviewer forms an initial first impression of you. If you form a positive first impression, you can continue to build upon it over the course of the interview. However, if you form a negative first impression, you will likely face an uphill battle digging your way out during the interview. And for some interviewers who come to final decisions quickly, you may never recover.
So prep in advance by performing a mock interview, either through your college career office or simply through practicing with a friend or family member. Make sure your mock interview includes this critical opening sequence of the first minutes of the interview.
For more information on interviewing skills, including answers to the most common interview questions, please visit the Path to Interview Success at CollegeGrad.com.