What does acting have to do with a job interview? In both cases, your success can hinge on how you enter the scene – the first impression you make when you walk on stage, or in the case of your job search, when you meet the interview team. In my previous career as an on-camera spokesperson and actress for over 10 years, we rehearsed everything, including our scene entrances. This same approach applies to your interviews. Preparation matters.
Consider these first impression statistics: within seconds of meeting you, a person will judge if you’re trustworthy, charismatic, adventurous, or leadership material, among many other traits. Here’s how to set yourself up for success in those first 15 seconds, and beyond:
Start Preparing at Least One Week in Advance
One of the biggest complaints I hear from hiring managers is that the candidate didn’t seem that enthusiastic about the position. I get it – you’re concerned about answering the next question, and it can be hard to express enthusiasm while doing that. But if you prepare beforehand, you’ll be calm, confident and ready to shine.
To make a winning first impression, master these essentials in advance.
- Do your research. Before I approach a candidate about an opportunity, I do my homework on them, learning about their education, their skillset and what sets them apart. When it comes to a job interview, you need to follow a similar research approach. What is the company’s culture like? How big are they? Who might you report to? Who might be on your team? Has the company done any major transactions recently? While you’ll learn more about these specifics during the interview, having a general idea about potential coworkers, supervisors and company culture helps you highlight the right parts of your background
- Prepare smart questions. Doing this research will help you confidently ask the right questions during your interview. Prepare several specific questions in advance that highlight your research. For example, “I saw the company just completed an acquisition; will that impact this role or department?” demonstrates you’ve done more than simply read the “about us” description on the company website.
- Know what you’re wearing. Don’t scramble at the last minute looking for clean clothes that are ironed, well put together and fit appropriately. I keep several outfits prepared just for business meetings so I can always grab a fresh shirt at a moment’s notice, and a similar approach can be helpful if you’re in the midst of multiple interview rounds. Make sure your shoes are scuff free, your nails are clean and your jewelry is minimal. The last thing you want to do is panic the morning of your interview.
- Know where you’re going. Google map the address ahead of time and save the directions in your phone. Allow plenty of extra time to arrive. If your schedule allows, I recommend arriving 30 minutes early and stopping at a nearby coffee shop to review your notes and collect your thoughts. Then, head into the office 10 minutes prior to your scheduled interview time.
The First 15 Seconds Interview Checklist
You’ve done your homework and feel prepared for your interview. Now, let’s make this count – here’s how to handle the first 15 seconds when you walk in.
- Turn your phone off. Few things sink an interview like a poorly timed phone call. Don’t let that happen to you: turn your phone off (not just on silent), put it away, and forget about it until you’re outside the building.
- Maintain good posture. This should happen from the moment you walk into the building. Assume everyone will be paying attention to you, from the receptionist to potential coworkers and supervisors who casually pass the waiting area.
- Offer a strong handshake. Deliver a world-class handshake: Go in at a 90-degree angle with your elbow and lower arm, reach halfway, and meet the pressure of the other person. A handshake says so much about how you feel being there and how you feel about the person you’re shaking with, so practice yours to ensure it’s strong. Don’t linger, either – straight up and down, two shakes will do it.
- Look them in the eye. Make a connection, person to person. It’s a big moment, that first time meeting someone. Slow down. Enunciate your full name. When they introduce themselves, repeat their name while saying how nice it is to meet them.
- Don’t sit until everyone else has. Even if your feet are killing you, wait for the interviewer to sit and tell you where to sit. You don’t want to accidentally steal the seat of, say, the CEO of the company.
What’s your biggest concern before a big interview? Share your first impression questions in the comments below.