Importance of making a good first impression at interviews

Your skills and qualifications are nothing without impressing in the first 20 seconds

A smile goes a long way when it comes to facial expressions and first impressions at interviews.

Going to an interview can be a daunting experience, especially when it is for a dream job or if your family are dependent on you getting the job. When we are faced with strong internal pressure, it is easy for the most confident person with the skills required for the job to fail in the interview.

I have researched how non-verbal communication can influence interview outcomes, and the conclusion is that first impressions really do count .

Self-doubt is one of the most destructive mindsets that we can bring into an interview room with us. It can cloud our judgment, make us panic and ultimately result in us being unable to sell ourselves in that room. The feeling in the pit of your stomach as you walk out the door knowing that you did not make the right impression can be distressing and disheartening, and most of us have at one point experienced it.

The reality is that, in order to get a job, we need to pick ourselves back up and get back out there again. But it is important that we try to empower instead of doubting ourselves, try to exude confidence even when we may not feel it at that moment in time.


Positive force

Apart from the particular skillset needed to be competitive in the interview process, there is a parallel issue that we often need to remind ourselves of – that is first impressions. How important are they and how can we try to ensure we make a positive one?

A study on first impressions in interviews by Bryan Swider and colleagues at Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, found that interviewees who made a good initial impression on the interviewer(s) received better scores for the questions they answered in the interview than those who made a poor first impression. Research indicates that the first 20 seconds – the initial greeting when you enter the room and walk across to your chair – in an interview could be key in determining the outcome of the entire interview.

In a study conducted by Prof Tricia Prickett and colleagues at the University of Toledo, Ohio, the decision that trained interviewers made in a 20-minute interview looking at job experience and skills was predicted by random observers looking only at the first 20 seconds of the interview.

So, how can we create a strong positive first impression within those first 20 seconds of a job interview? Psychologist Albert Mehrabian in UCLA found that non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and appearance, accounted for 93 per cent of first impressions.

Personal appearance

The importance of your physical appearance in an interview can go a long way. If you want to act the part, you need to look the part. Taking the time to ensure that we look good can increase our confidence, which ultimately helps us perform well in the interview.

Decide on your interview attire a few days before the interview and allow yourself the time to ensure that you have what you need ready for the day of the interview. There is nothing worse than the panic that can set in the night before or day of an interview when you are feverishly looking for an appropriate outfit. Having this preplanned reduces unnecessary distractions allowing you time to get prepared for the actual interview.

Body posture is another key factor. Try postural feedback/power posing before an interview. While at Harvard University, Amy Cuddy conducted research on power posing. She suggests that our body language controls how we think and feel about ourselves. This means that how we hold our bodies can have a big impact on our minds.

The results of her study found that those who sat in a high-power pose (expansive posture) for two minutes before an interview felt more powerful and had more successful outcomes in mock interviews than those who sat in a low-power pose (legs crossed, leaning inwards) for two minutes.

A smile goes a long way when it comes to facial expressions and first impressions. Research conducted in Cornell University by Prof Vivian Zayas suggests that facial expression can predict how you are initially judged. People who smile are viewed as more intelligent, relaxed and reliable than someone who does not smile.

A smile can portray your enthusiasm about the job, and lack of enthusiasm in an interview is a commonly cited drawback according to interviewers. In fact, having a neutral facial expression can negatively impact on your likability.

Suitability demonstrated

It is important to remember that while first impressions are very important, they do not overpower job experience and knowledge in an interview. Ultimately, your ability to do the job should be the critical feature. However, you and others are being called to the interview because the panel consider you all to have the skills required, now it is up to you to show them you are the most suitable person for the job.

By ensuring you make a positive first impression, you leave the rest of the time available to display your ability and skills. What you don’t want to happen is that that ability gets clouded because of negative first impressions that may be formed within the first 20 seconds of an interview.

Remember, it is easier to confirm a positive first impression that to convert a negative impression into a positive one, especially under the time constraints in an interview. As the famous saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Make yours count!

Dr Eimear Nolan is an assistant professor in international business at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin