3 things to make the right first impression
Behavioral research studies in the USA over many years of corporate data have proved conclusively that first impressions count – and how!
Most decisions about people are made in the first 1 minute of meeting them. The rest of the meeting is only about ratifying that decision.
Is that a frightening stat or what? So it’s critical that you come in with your guns blazing into the meeting, figuratively speaking. Fixing a bad first impression is an uphill task but we will try and cover that in the next blog. For now let’s talk about what you need to do to get it right the first time. This applies to personal situations as well as professional ones but for our discussion, I will limit myself to ones involving those in corporate meetings such as job interviews. These apply with some slight variations to sales meetings as well. Much of it you are or should be doing already but it’s worth restating it.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
a. Know your own past data well
Frequently candidates when asked about an older job are fuzzy about the details. I know some CEO’s in interviews who have asked questions starting from way back in the candidates work history while others may just focus on the last job or two. Questions like why you did what you did, what were the challenges on that job or specific situations and how you handled them. Nothing is off the table in an interview so it’s best to be prepared with not only facts and figures but also reasons and actions.
b. Know your strengths and areas of improvement
Trying to project strengths where you have none can land you into a messy rigmarole trying to get out of while all the good stuff you have done never gets covered. While you can’t predict what will be asked, it’s best to have a clear positioning in your mind about who you are and what you bring the table. Covering up or lying can get caught out by a smart panel or interviewer. So if you had a setback or two, it’s better to own up to it and if you don’t know something, say so. Some people just hate to say ‘I don’t know’!
c. Know the role, the company and preferably the interviewers well
Just talking about what you did in the past is all very well but you are there to sell yourself as a potential employee for a specific role. So it’s essential to know what the role involves – key deliverables, its fit in the organization’s structure, reporting both ways, touch points with other functions. You must also know the potential employer well – market positioning, competitors, culture, performance indices, products and services, locations, employees, turnover etc – especially if you are in a business role but even otherwise. Lastly check out who will be on the panel from your recruiter or HR contact within the company, do your research about them, have you interacted with them in the past, ask friends who have worked in the company or with the interviewers. In the networked internet world, everyone is two handshakes away!
d. Prepare your pitch
Doing mental role play or practicing with someone at home or in the mirror maybe some ways but do whatever works for you. Make your notes or a PPT if that’s usable in the interview. Position the good stuff you have done but don’t be shy about owning up to some mistakes or setbacks in the past. As most people are trying to cover up, an honest candidate will be a refreshing change for them as long as that mistake was not career threatening! The funniest weaknesses candidates come up, which no one buys, are like ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I am too demanding of myself’ – Really!
- Be comfortable and relaxed
a. Settle your own mind so you are not wound up like a spring
Now that you are as prepared as you can be, relax. You know you have done your best so there is no mileage in getting stressed before the interview, however crucial this job is for you. Being over eager is sometimes worse than being casual as it can be seen as desperation. You also tend to stumble and forget under high stress.
b. Wear appropriate attire
In the more relaxed corporate world today, far more informality goes compared to the past but its to be overdressed than underdressed, is my advice to candidates. So unless you are interviewing for the shop floor or a creative shop, wear at least normal office wear. If you are fidgety around a tie and jacket, either you try it on earlier and be comfortable in them or just stick with a shirt and trousers. Unfortunately, impressions are made on how you look, walk and talk rather than just the great stuff on your CV!
c. Bring your paperwork
Carrying two copies of your latest CV as sent to the employer are useful to have with you, as many times the interviewers omit getting a copy to the interview. It’s easier to converse with a hard copy than someone having to keep looking at a screen for it. Also keep your awards, certificates, past employment records, compensation documents, maybe right up to your high school certificate. I for one always felt more comfortable having it with me rather than dying wondering if it might be needed for any reason.
- Listen more than you talk
a. Make your 1 minute pitch
Position the good stuff you have done if you have the chance to talk in reply to standard opening questions like ‘Why should we hire you?’ or similar. Importantly relate what you did in the past and your strengths to the role being interviewed for. However, you must do this only if you get an open ended question as above, otherwise you might want to let them talk first and ask their specific question.
b. ‘Listen’ for non verbal cues as well
You can pick up nuances and interest (or lack of it!) from the way someone looks at the other person on the panel or at their shoelaces (OMG!). Not every communication in your presence will be verbal. If one person is clearly the decision maker, then you can figure that too and act accordingly.
- Maintain eye contact with each person on panel
Equal eye contact with the person addressing you is important rather than looking down or only at one person on the panel. People judge, unconsciously or otherwise, that you are trustworthy or not based on your eye contact. Keep your gaze pleasant, confident and enthusiastic rather than steely or diffident.
d. Speak when spoken to and answer to the point
Either giving them ‘more than they asked for’ or beating around the bush are strict no-no’s. You are not in a Just-A-Minute show to fill every available silence. Sticking to brevity and some small talk is fine. If you don’t know or are not sure, please don’t guess or adlib! Its best to say you are not sure or you don’t know rather than getting into a cesspool which can drag the entire interview into that hole and your chances with it.
I realize this blog has become way longer than intended so hope you had the patience to reach this far. Stuff you already knew you could run through fairly quickly. While some of this sounds obvious, it’s surprising the number of times even middle and senior managers get marooned on these.
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